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Red Mesa‘s New Home: Popular Boyne City Restaurant Makes a Splash in TC

Nancy Sundstrom - December 23rd, 2004
When chef Mary Palmer moved to Boyne City seven years ago, she saw a void in the region for affordable, high-spice, fun ethnic food. In a quest to help fill that void, Red Mesa Grill (RMG) was created in Palmer’s new hometown. The response was overwhelming, with customers traveling from all over northwestern Michigan to enjoy its Latin American-inspired cuisine.
Fast forward to 2004, when a second RMG opened in Traverse City on November 23, at its new home on US 31 North, just 1/8 mile east of the Traverse City State Park. Now fans don’t have to travel quite so far to partake of signature RMG dishes such as Corn Roasted Walleye, Tequila and Lime Fajitas, Roast Pork Enchiladas, and Achiote Citrus Chicken. Add in great service, a selection of more than 100 specialty tequilas, and regularly-scheduled special events like the Caribbean Tour and Cinco de Mayo, and it’s not hard to see why the new eatery has been packing them in.
Palmer, a Culinary Institute Graduate, is a partner, along with Jim Cartwright and Fred Moore, in Magnum Hospitality (“Purveyors of Fun and Innovative Dining in Northern Michigan”), the group that also owns Pearls in Elk Rapids and The Fish in Harbor Springs. She says a large part of the restaurant’s appeal is that it simply does things a little bit different.
“We explore more of a taste of Latin America, which is something that still is rather unique in northern Michigan,” explained Palmer. “There are traditional Mexican dishes on our menu, but the real emphasis is on specialties from countries like Peru, Brazil, and Costa Rica.”
Those are areas where Palmer has visited and sampled local fare. As a result, she’s become a tireless cheerleader of Latin cuisine, and is intent on winning over her patrons, one meal at a time.
“Those first seven years, we were heavy on burritos and enchiladas, which were safe, but different from what most people had experienced,” said Palmer. “As time progressed, we gained their trust and were able to put more daring entrees on the menu. The chicken burrito will always be a good staple, but diners seem just as ready to try something like the Brazilian Skirt Steak with its high flavor profile.”
Moore, who has lived in Traverse City since 1977, spent 17 years with Schelde Enterprises and has spent much of the past seven years commuting to and from Boyne City, agrees with Palmer that in addition to the more distinctive differences in RMG fare, it’s the subtleties that set RMG apart.
“Everyone likes a burrito,” he reasons, “so you’ll like ours, and if you’re a foodie, then you’ll not only like ours, but appreciate how truly special our enchilada sauces are. It’s a big part of what sets us apart.”
RMG is open seven days a week, serving lunch from 11 am-4 pm, and dinner from Sunday through Thursday from 4-10 pm and on Friday and Saturday from 4-11 pm. The extensive menu features appetizers, soups and salads, sides, fajitas and combos, tacos and tostadas, specialties that range from Argentina Pork Churrasco and Costa Rican Garlic Steak to Sonoma Tuna and Cuban Black Bean Cakes, burritos and enchiladas. There are plenty of options on the Kid’s menu, and for dessert some of the most popular items include Habanero Fried Ice Cream, Mojito Flan, and Chocolate Quesadilla.
Every item on the menu is available for carry-out, as well as other specialty offerings such as Fresh Squeezed Sour Mix, Roasted Tomato Salsa, Red Mesa Tortilla Chips, Homemade Guacamole, and Smoked Tomato Ranch Dressing.
Weekly and special events are also big at RMG. There are Tamale Tuesdays, with homemade tamales created from old family recipes and served only during dinner on Tuesday. The end of the week brings Fish Taco Fridays, where different varieties of fish are creatively prepared and stuffed in freshly-grilled corn tortillas and served with jalapeno slaw and chile-crusted French fries. Limited-time-only specials include a Caribbean Tour in February and March that showcases islands-themed dishes for just those six weeks, a Latin Tour in May and June, and an annual Cinco de Mayo fiesta every May 5. This year, look for a Carnivale night to be held on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent, where the tradition goes that one overindulges themselves before giving up worldly luxuries for the holy season.
No rundown on RMG would be complete without mentioning their vast choices of tequilas. There is a Tequila Bar Club 104, which is a special chance to taste some of the almost 120 tequilas carried by RMG, one of the largest in the state and certainly in this area. On Thursday, December 16, the Traverse City RMG will host a mescal tequila expert from Mexico who will be on hand to discuss with and offer tips to customers on the drink.
Palmer, Moore and Cartwright are all very proud of what they accomplished with RMG in Boyne City, and feel that their newest venture is poised to carry on the tradition.
“There’s nothing else quite like us here,” concluded Moore. “RMG has evolved over time, and the Traverse City one will, too. Being here has given us new focus and energy, but we know it’s a different market here than what we’re used to, with much more competition. We’re very respectful and aware of that, so our daily job is to dazzle our guests during holidays and present everything we’re doing in a positive light.”

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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