Downtown Traverse City is hopping. Just a mile or so wide and a few blocks deep, this bayside strip is home to an impressive selection of restaurants, cafes and breweries.
Each spot had character and personality. None of the places we visited felt overly touristy or stuffy.
Here are the Traverse City restaurants we got to check out when we were in town. For more suggestions on where to eat in Traverse City, check out our interviews with the city’s cab drivers »
After driving in from Grand Rapids – exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes along the way – our first stop in Traverse City was Trattoria Stella. What drew us to this Italian restaurant was its location. Trattoria Stella is one of several businesses to set up shop in Grand Traverse Commons, a former mental institution about a mile from downtown.
We were feeling adventurous so we kicked off the meal with one of Trattoria Stella’s “chef’s tastes”. That day the selected appetizer was lamb brain ravioli.
Read more about that one time we ate brains in a mental institution »
Our waitress at Stella’s recommended we check out The Towne Plaza for brunch. We headed there the next morning to kick off the day with Bloody Marys, chorizo-stuffed peppers, and eggs Benedict.
Everything was delicious, but what made this meal so special was the company. A freak storm kicked up just as we were digging into our meals. We were one of the few diners in the restaurant’s courtyard sitting at a covered table. Emboldened by our Bloody Marys, we invited a couple at the next table to sit with us. We ended up hanging out with them for two hours while we waited out the rain.
We had several chance connections with strangers in Traverse City. The rumor about midwesterners being beyond friendly held true for us.
We popped in here to look around, but the bevy of free samples turned our shopping trip into a mini feast.
There was cherry mustard, cherry salsa, cherry sausage, and cherry chips, just to name a few. At the bar you could get the teensiest free samples of cherry Rieslings, cherry cider and cherry sangria.
This cider house and cafe is run by a small team of northern Michigan farmers obsessed with organic foods. We sampled lavender, elderberry and peach ciders while wolfing down local cheeses and fruits.
The cider was a refreshing change of pace from beer, our usual beverage of choice. (Side note: Traverse City’s brewery scene is top-notch.)
This Greek restaurant has been dishing up gyros and pitas since 1937. It’s one of the few Traverse City restaurants opened late-night. We hit up the U & I after an evening exploring the city’s breweries. Everything tasted fresh and the bill was beyond reasonable.
The vibe was laid back and there were plenty of people hanging at the bar.
Beers are the star of the show at this brewery on the edge of downtown. But the small menu holds its own. We sampled local pickles, elaborate grilled cheese sandwiches, and homemade pretzels and fondue.
The Workshop Brewing Company is also a performance venue. We watched a documentary about the dwindling freshwater supply in the Great Lakes before a local band took the stage.
I nearly spit out my beer when they announced the band’s drummer originally played in the Gin Blossoms. They were one of my favorite bands in the 90s!