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Tastemakers: The Cook‘s House; Circa Estate Winery

Rick Coates - June 6th, 2011
The Cooks’ House
When chefs Eric Patterson and Jennifer Blakeslee opened The Cooks’ House in downtown Traverse City four years ago they did so under the premise that their patrons would be able to BYOB (bring their own bottle of wine or beer). The formula worked at first, with an 18-seat eatery The Cooks’ House was too small to obtain a liquor license under Michigan law. 

The Cooks’ House quickly climbed to the ranks of one of the best restaurants in the region and reservations were often needed a month out. Their success was built around a menu that features local ingredients along with the BYOB advantage. 

Everything seemed to be perfect until someone complained about the BYOB. Now Michigan laws are cloudy when it comes to BYOB and events that have complimentary alcohol at them (last fall the Express ran a three part series on the issue). Just over a year ago The Cooks’ House was told by the Traverse City Police they could no longer offer the BYOB despite the fact that other local businesses were actually giving away free beer and wine at various events during the year. The decision hurt their business and they lost nearly 50 percent of their reservations over the past year. 

Realizing that it could take years to change the law, Patterson and Blakeslee moved their location around the corner where they would be able to seat 25 people and qualify for one of the new economic development liquor licenses. Well, that license arrived last week and now The Cooks’ House is selling cocktails, wine and beer to pair with their exceptional menu. 

This is great news for a restaurant that has brought a fresh approach to the local culinary scene. In addition to their restaurant, the two chefs are often sought out for private parties. 

Michigan has to get with it. Governor Rick Snyder pledged during his campaign that he was going to work to make Michigan more competitive and a pro-business state. Certainly overhauling several of the outdated liquor laws would be a great idea, starting with developing a BYOB program that neighboring states currently have in place.

  The Cooks’ House is located at 115 Wellington Street (next to Jack’s Market) in Traverse City for lunch and dinner. Check out to see the menu and for specific hours or call 231-946-8700 to make reservations. --Rick Coates 

Circa Estate Winery

wning a winery and a vineyard isn’t just about being in business for oneself, it is a lifestyle. Just ask Margaret and David Bell of Circa Estate Winery on the Leelanau Peninsula. The Bells opened Circa a couple of years ago after moving to the Leelanau Peninsula in 1992 with a five year plan to open their winery. “It ended up being a 17 year plan but we were okay with that because we wanted to do it right, so we didn’t rush the process and it was worth the wait,” said Margaret Bell.

Living in Chicago and pursuing other career paths early in their marriage the couple were hobbyist winemakers using concentrate to make their first wines. Eventually during vacations to the area they began picking grapes for Leelanau Cellars, receiving grapes  in lieu of paycheck. They would return to their suburban Chicago home where their basement served as a makeshift winery.

They were hooked and eventually bought a 50-acre abandoned farm just north of the village of Lake Leelanau and planted three acres to start (now they have 20 acres of vineyards). 

At first they sold their grapes to other wineries in the area. “Bruce Simpson was our mentor and bought grapes from us first and encouraged us to keep on the path,” said David.

Margaret is the winemaker while David focuses on sales and marketing. “Our philosophy is that we want our wines to represent this fruit growing region and to be proud of every wine we make. We believe that wine should be accessible to everyone, that it is a luxury you just can’t do without,” said Margaret. 

Circa also features a new exhibition of art each month. For June the Bell’s are displaying works from their private collection of several artists from the region. They also host events on Friday nights such as Vinyl Night where people are encouraged to bring their favorite records (this Friday, June 10).   

Along with 15 other wineries from the region they will be at the Leland Wine Festival  this Saturday from noon to 6 pm.

As for the wine, if your preference is something with a hint of sweetness, check out their Improvisation -- a blend of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Vignoles and Seyval Blanc -- perfect with spicy dishes or Leelanau sunsets. The Circa Chardonnay is lightly “oaked” and pairs with summer salads; and be sure to try their Pinot Grigio: it is a nice match with seafood or aged raclette from Leelanau Cheese. For more information on their wines, tasting room hours and location check out or call them at 231-271-1177.

--Rick Coates 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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