April 17, 2024

Your Winter Restaurant Guide: Eight Eateries to Cozy Up in This February

Let's dive into lobster, saltimbocca, burgers, poutine, salad, coffee, wine, and tacos
By Northern Express Staff & Contributors | Feb. 17, 2024

Mmm…comfort food. Whether your go-to is bubbling soup, buttery grilled cheese, hearty pasta, or something else entirely, you’re sure to find it in one of these NoMi restaurants. Below, we look back at eight establishments Northern Express writers have visited over the past few months to share the places where food, drinks, and ambiance combined for an especially memorable experience. The menus might have morphed since we were last there, but that’s all the more reason to head out and go find your new favorite dish.

Kane’s Lobster Pot & Bourbon Bar

Gaylord

Restaurateur Kat Steinbrecher is known for her popular family of restaurants in Gaylord. There’s Mary’s Stein Haus, offering German and American fare. Porter Haus, with a menu featuring steaks, burgers, and seafood. Abi’s Bistro, open for breakfast and lunch. And now there’s Kane’s Lobster Pot & Bourbon Bar.

Her latest venture opened in July and offers an impressive menu of New Orleans-inspired fare and one of the best bourbon selections around.

“We painted the walls the colors of New Orleans. We had a company print murals of alligators and bourbon barrels and added swamp decor,” Steinbrecher says of the eatery housed in the former Bearded Dogg Lounge. “We turned it over in a couple of weeks.”

On the Menu
Steinbrecher did her own research to create the Big Easy-influenced menu, gathering some tips from Bryant Bells, the culinary chef at Gordon Foods (and originally from New Orleans), and her own staff, many of whom have been with her culinary enterprises for years.

While many of the dishes are traditional, Steinbrecher added her own touches. Standouts include Pork Belly Bites, Jambalaya, Shrimp and Grits, Crawfish Boil, and Maine Lobster. “The lobster is shipped in overnight. If we don’t get it overnight, we don’t accept it,” she says, adding that’s only happened once.

The dessert selection leans Southern as well, with bourbon pecan pie, peach cobbler, and bread pudding among the offerings.

Including a top-notch selection of bourbon was a no-brainer for the restaurant. “Bourbon is America’s greatest spirit, and it’s really made a comeback,” Steinbrecher says.

The bourbon offerings include familiar brands such as Buffalo Trace, Angel’s Envy, Eagle Rare, Blanton’s, Colonel Taylor, Weller, and no less than three hard-to-find Pappy Van Winkle bourbons on the shelf.

Kane’s also offers customers an unusual option for their cocktails. They can smoke their own drinks (a technique usually left to bartenders). “It’s a lot of fun. Try smoking a gin and tonic. Once you do, you’ll know what you’ve been missing,” Steinbrecher says.

Find Kane’s Lobster Pot & Bourbon Bar at 302 S Otsego Ave. in Gaylord. (989) 448-2444; @KanesLobsterPot on social media.

The Golden Stag

Manistee

The Golden Stag in Manistee opened its doors July 2023 to glowing reviews and enthusiastic repeat customers. In fact, first timers not only returned to the Mediterranean restaurant, and returned quickly, but they brought their friends along as well.

“The response was overwhelming during the summer,” explains owner Jamil Alam. “People were waiting at the door. It was almost immediate.”

The Alams spent 26 years in the restaurant business in Birch Run before relocating to Portage Point Resort in Onekama, where they own and operate Lahey’s Pub, Portage Point Café, and the Portage Point event space.

Jamil, with 40 years of culinary experience, works the kitchen. Wife Laura fine-tunes the recipes and works the front of the house. The stunning logo is the creation of their son, Merek, a graphic designer. And son Victor takes care of the business end as well as social media. They are a family committed to the business. “Our heart and soul are in this,” Jamil says.

On the Menu
Starters and salads include a trio of vegan Stuffed Grape Leaves, Fresh Hummus, and Tabbouleh; Saganaki, seared goat cheese with sherry and lemon and house-made pita; and Spanakopita, the traditional phyllo crust with spinach, feta, dill, ricotta, and fresh herbs.

Diners can expect “built in the pan” traditional specialties, including Lemon Chicken Piccata, Chicken Marsala, and Pasta Carbonara. Abbacchio A Scottadito is composed of marinated lamb chops, grilled medium rare, over rice with mint marmalade. Shish Tawook and Shish Kabob (chicken and beef respectively) are loaded with peppers, onion, and grape tomatoes, served with a tahini drizzle.

When asked about customer favorites, Alam says that the namesake Golden Stag, their version of traditional saltimbocca, is the biggest seller. The dish features medallions of Nevada-raised elk, with shallots, garlic, fontina, and prosciutto, in a pan deglazed with red wine. (Filet can be substituted for the elk.)

And who can resist a rustic, wood-fired pizza? Choose from one of eight options, or design your own from two dozen available toppings.

Desserts include warm baklava, with local honey, pistachios, and walnuts, and wood-fired cobbler made with fresh local fruits, served in its own skillet. Both offerings come with a serving of gelato du jour.

Find the Golden Stag at 318 River St. in Manistee. (231) 299-1200; thegoldenstagrestaurant.com. 

Art’s Tavern

Glen Arbor

Chances are, if you spend any time exploring the Leelanau Peninsula, you’re going to end up eating at least one meal at Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor.

This welcoming throwback to another era stands proudly on M-22 in the heart of Glen Arbor, welcoming tourists and locals alike, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost every day of the year. Staples like burgers and tater tots and a rotating selection of Michigan craft beer and other ales keep customers coming back.

But it’s more than that. Art’s Tavern is a big personality in a small resort town and has been serving meals for generations; this year, the beloved landmark marks its 90th anniversary.

“Art’s has been at the corner of Lake Street and M22 for a long time,” says Bonnie Nescot, who, along with her husband, Tim Barr, are the current proprietors, the third owners since Prohibition. “Many people enjoy coming back and seeing that Art’s is still there. For a lot of people that have property in the area, gathering at Art’s has become a family tradition, something going back generations.”

On the Menu
Art’s served only burgers and fries when Barr and Nescot took over more than two decades ago. Today’s menu includes breakfast staples, everything from eggs to pancakes, and a variety of sandwiches, salads, and entrees like parmesan crusted whitefish and European perch. Dessert options include Art’s chocolate chip cookies and Moomers vanilla ice cream.

But what has continued to make Art’s Tavern relevant in an ever-changing and growing tourism town has been consistency.

Tried-and-true menu items—burgers, tater tots, chicken jalapeño soup, grilled cheese, chili, and mac and cheese—endure and remain as popular as ever. Art’s has also continued the tradition of 2-for-1 burgers on Mondays through the winter months, much to the delight of locals. While seasonal businesses in Leelanau County’s resort towns close during the winter, Art’s keeps the lights on and the grill going.

“The diversity of our visitors and the experienced, top-notch staff keep things interesting at Art’s,” Nescot says. “There are always new stories to share.”

Find Art’s Tavern at 6487 Western Avenue in Glen Arbor. (231) 334-3754; artsglenarbor.com. Cash only.

Foundry Craft Grillery

Elk Rapids

Foundry Craft Grillery celebrated its Elk Rapids opening last summer in the space previously occupied by American House Pizza and, before that, Siren Hall. Here you’ll find upscale bar food in generous portions in a no-nonsense industrial environment that creates its own fun, invites lingering, and caters to all ages.

The venue might be new to Elk Rapids, but its sister location in East Jordan has been prospering since 2019. With the rapid growth and success of the East Jordan venue, owners Andre Bushell and Loren Akerman set out to expand the brand. They were joined by entrepreneurial couple Adam and Nichole Earle, owners of two Firehouse Sub locations in Traverse City and Gaylord, and the group turned their focus to the Foundry Craft Grillery in Elk Rapids.

On the Menu
The menu is a big, sophisticated spin on the standards, with bold flavors and ample portions. Garlic Cheese Curds are a big favorite. (“The best” says more than one patron.) Also try the Pig Iron Fries topped with smoked pulled pork, three cheese sauce and roasted red peppers, or the Molten Beer Cheese Sliders, with roasted jalapeños, caramelized onions, bacon jam, and white cheddar on pretzel buns. And don’t forget the seven variations of chicken wings, one for every day of the week.

Burgers are crafted from Zeeland’s Michigan Craft Beef. Channel your “inner ironworker” with a burger of the same name, featuring double patties topped with caramelized onion, garlic aioli, cheddar, and bacon. (Bushnell indicates that it is the most popular item on the menu.)

Sandwiches include buttermilk chicken, served two ways, and Da Reuben, a gutsy take on the classic with Michigan sourdough piled with corned beef, white cheddar, sauerkraut, and crispy onions smothered with stone-ground Dijon honey mustard.

If you really want the Foundry dinner experience, try the Foundry Poutine, a Canadian-inspired dish with a spin—think crispy fries and cheese curds topped with grilled steak and smothered with fresh beef gravy.

Elevated bar offerings are the standard, and you can expect the Foundry to take craft to the next level with beer, wine, and spirits.

Find Foundry Craft Grillery at 151 River St. in Elk Rapids and 101 Main St., Ste. B in East Jordan. foundrycraftgrillery.com 

Jax Northside Food & Spirits

Charlevoix

It’s not every day a popular restaurant changes hands.

But that’s been the case with Jax Northside Food & Spirits, a dining and drink destination in Charlevoix that’s been around in various incarnations for decades and has been a go-to for year-round and seasonal residents, tourists, and golfers.

Jax’s new owners are the Wineguys Restaurant Group. “It was a bit of a new community for us, and this presented an opportunity for us to be more involved in that community,” says Joe Keedy, a partner in the Wineguys Restaurant Group. “It really made a lot of sense for us.”

On the Menu
The restaurant is well known for casual food, and the new owners see Jax as Charlevoix’s answer to the 21st-century roadhouse. The expansive restaurant includes a sports-style bar, enclosed porch, and an umbrella-covered patio. On the menu, you’ll find ribs and steaks, John Cross whitefish and salmon, and a selection of half-pound specialty burgers, along with other standard favorites. The salad bar is a standout as well.

“Every single customer we talked to loved the salad bar,” Keedy says. “It’s a fun thing and unique in this day and age. People like to mix it up.”

Sandwiches include classics like the Reuben and a Chicken Buffalo Wrap and creative options like the Brisket Melt, slow-roasted brisket with Swiss cheese, sauteed onions, and garlic pesto and served with au jus; and the Cheezie Carson, made with melted gruyere, cheddar, and muenster cheeses, grilled onions, and rosemary buttered toast.

Menu changes have been minimal. However, both prime rib, slow roasted and lightly smoked, and marinated flank steak are popular selections at City Park Grill, and they have been added to the ranks.

The new owners also updated the wine program. “Wine is a big part of what we like to do. We expanded offerings by the glass and by the bottle to cover a lot of ground and bring more options to our guests,” Keedy says, noting the emphasis is on New World wines with local offerings among them.

Find Jax Northside Food & Spirits at 757 Petoskey Avenue (U.S. 31 South) in Charlevoix. (231) 437- 6400; jaxchx.com 

NoBo Mrkt

Traverse City

NoBo Mrkt inside Commongrounds Coop of Traverse City is a collaborative café, retail spot, and food court, anchored by an eye-catching beverage center with Higher Grounds coffee on one side—their second brick-and-mortar site—and craft brews, wines, and spirits on the other. The entire space seats up to 100, including the outdoor patio.

The ethos of the place is devoted to supporting small-scale, regional food and beverage purveyors, including farms, markets, breweries, vintners, and distilleries, through retail sales and from the fresh, wholesome dishes emerging from the NoBo café kitchen.

On the Menu
Enjoy breakfast sandwiches, grilled cheese, and French Onion soup finished with port wine, among other offerings. Here’s a little detail to whet your appetite. The must-try breakfast sandwich is oven toasted with Leelanau Cheese raclette, Sleeping Bear Farms Star Thistle Honey, house made garlic aioli, and Anavery Fine Foods scrambled eggs on your choice of 9 Bean Rows Bread—sourdough, multigrain, or ciabatta.

NoBo’s staple salad changes based on seasonality and is always named after the bird that the colors best coincide with; for example, the present and delightfully purple salad is named the Starling, made with radishes, pickled beets, port cranberries, Ginger Gold matchsticks, and Idyll Farms goat cheese.

The café received its liquor license in December, and launched brunch and dinner service this year. Chef James Thomas III says the menu will include some traditional American/continental and French cuisine (his favorite) like Steak au Poivre, and Chicken Quarters in Herbs de Provence, as well as seasonally available fish. “Folks can easily order several of each…to sample, share, and eat socially in our cozy dining room overlooking the river,” he explains.

Chef James adds the menu will change throughout the seasons in response to local and regional ingredients. “I hope to have a diverse menu…that will be incredible and [show] how important it is [to] support our highly valuable local farmers and businesses.”

Currently, NoBo partners with Cherry Capital Foods, Leelanau Cheese, Idyll Farms, Grocer's Daughter Chocolate, 9 Bean Rows, Light of Day Organics, Earthly Delights, Food for Thought, Michigan Farm to Freezer, and NanBop Farm. Other partners will be added as NoBo Mrkt continues to grow.

Find NoBo Mrkt at 414 E. Eighth St. in Traverse City inside Commongrounds Coop. nobomrkt.com

Gilchrist Farm and Winery

Suttons Bay

(Pictured: A snapshot of Gilchrist's Thanksgiving spread.)

As the summer season wound down in Suttons Bay, Gilchrist Farm and Winery swung open its doors. With their kids by their side, founders Elizabeth and Marc Huntoon celebrated the opening of their brand-new tasting room inside a renovated turn-of-the-century home with peekaboo views of the bay.

Both Elizabeth and Marc are retired doctors turned vintners, but Elizabeth’s green thumb always kept her busy gardening and tending to hobby orchards before turning farming into a family vocation.

“Starting a winery is a lot like medicine in the sense that one has to be prepared to delay gratification for several years,” Elizabeth says.

On the Menu
The farm’s top-selling wines include Four Daughters, a red blend paying homage to Elizabeth and Marc’s own four daughters, and the Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, a white that business manager George Brittain notes isn’t too “oaked or buttery.”

For gifting, Brittain recommends the 100 percent chardonnay sparkling wine. “It’s very easy to drink and all about celebration,” he says. And, to thaw out from a crisp afternoon of snowshoeing the shoreline, he points to a warm glass of spiced mulled wine sipped inside the tasting room.

Of course, Gilchrist Farm doesn’t only grow—or serve—wine.

To complement their drink menu, the tasting room’s chef-led kitchen offers brunch and dinner options, like a heaping bowl of locally-raised bison gumbo or a plate of creamy Basque cheesecake topped with cardamom cookie crumbles. Before anyone gets their heart set on one of these tasty dishes though, Chef Deanna Mikalauskas, one of Gilchrist Farm’s five chefs, says their daily offerings are unique and dependent on what the farm and local vendor farms have available.

Each day, the kitchen team inventories their own ingredients, then collaborates with other producers like Loma Farms, Guernsey Farms Dairy, 9 Bean Rows, and Fustini’s Oils & Vinegars to brainstorm one-of-a-kind meals for Gilchrist Farm’s guests. It keeps Chef Deanna and the rest of the kitchen testing their creativity from one dish to the next while ensuring a sustainable, minimal-waste kitchen.

Find Gilchrist Farm and Winery at 417 N Saint Joseph Street in Suttons Bay. (231) 916-3902; gilchristfarmwinery.com

Happy’s Taco Shop

Boyne City

Ten years ago, Drake Nagel of Ellsworth and Drue Wright of Boyne City set out to create a good product and a friendly vibe with the help of a used step van. That good product was, of course, a taco.

In Petoskey, Happy’s Taco Shop operates out of a refurbished shipping container located at The Back Lot, the year-round, pet-friendly venue with five food trucks and two bars. On a Saturday in the off season, they serve around 200 patrons, twice that in the summer.

You can also find a Happy’s truck at Boyne Mountain, parked at the base of the Express lift throughout the ski season.

Once the snow melts, Happy’s Headquarters in Boyne City, where all food is prepared, will serve lunch and dinner, spring through fall, from their food truck adjacent to the brightly colored outdoor dining area fashioned to match the Happy’s brand.

On the Menu
Look for fresh and innovative taco variations, like the Crispy Shrimp taco with green curry mayo, red chili jam, cabbage and fried shallot; or the Spicy Pork version with Napa cabbage kimchi, ssamjang glaze (spicy Korean paste), and togarashi (Japanese 7 spice). And you don’t have to be vegan to fall for the Smoked Potato Taco with chile sour cream, pickled veggies, and pepita crunch.

The biggest seller is the Super Burrito, with a choice of roasted pork, smoked potato, shrimp, griddled kimchi, or pinto beans, with chihuahua cheese, salsa verde, chile sour cream, cabbage, and tortilla strips. Weekly specials depend on whatever the staff feels like cooking.

Sauces are all house-made, and Nagel, the self-described “ranch freak,” has created a macha ranch, made with homemade salsa macha with dried chilies, roasted garlic, miso, olive oil, and sesame seeds, all mixed with mayo, traditional ranch spices, and a few ingredients which must remain a secret.

“It all goes on our Crunchwrap Royale, and it is sublime,” he says. The Crunchwrap Royale offers a choice of pork, smoked potato, shrimp, kimchi, or pinto beans, with pickled veggies, tostada, lettuce, and chile jam, folded up and grilled in chihuahua cheese. Sublime sounds about right.

Find Happy’s at The Back Lot at 425 Michigan St. in Petoskey and their food truck at Boyne Mountain, Friday through Sunday, in Boyne Falls. happystacoshop.com

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