This will be the first of three reviews for restaurants in Traverse City, Michigan. Cleveland readers may ask, “Why should I read this?” First, the beaches on the shore of Lake Michigan are beautiful and clean. The pictures below are from a few years ago (Sarah the photographer didn’t come along this time) but not much has changed:

The state of Lake Erie is a bit sad in comparison. Sleeping Bear dunes, about 35 minutes away, are great as well, where you can climb to the top or just look down at a stop along the scenic drive. I grew up in Traverse City and visit both of these sites regularly when I go back. The winters are brutal, though, which might be part of the reason everyone is so happy (with gratitude) in the summer.

But anyway, the food scene is excellent there as well. I visited Jolly Pumpkin Brewery twice, once with my family and once with friends. Jolly Pumpkin is nationally known and has locations in both Ann Arbor and on the Old Mission Peninsula just outside TC. The restaurant is a three minute walk from the lake, and Jonathan spent some time gathering seashells while we waited for a table.

The snack plate was outstanding:

The meats were very good, especially the smoked turkey, and the apricot cheese was a great combination of sweet and tart. For some reason neither of these were included on my second visit, and in general the plate wasn’t quite as good.

We also had to order some beer:

This included everything they had on draft in 5 oz. portions. The Bam Biere (their standard pale Belgian–top row, second from right) was especially good, as was the pomegranate basil (bottom left). This included brews from North Peak, and I especially liked the bittersweet Diabolical IPA. My friend Jason preferred JP’s drier wheat IPA. On the whole the sampler was a bit much–we could have have lived without the light beer, for instance. A four beer sampler would have been better. This also didn’t include the best beer of the lot, Oro De Calabaza, an oak-aged strong Belgian ale available only in the bottle with a strong hop presence. Despite it’s price ($13 / 24 oz.) it’s well worth trying (I had it on my first visit).

My dad ordered the ribs on the condition that we’d help him with them. We had no problem polishing them off–they were tender and smoky with a good sweet / tart barbecue sauce.

Other items we ordered included the warm BLT, which included very thick-cut, crisp-chewy bacon, Leelanau raclette cheese and ale mayonnaise. It was a sandwich that would be easy to eat a few times a week.

The smoked chicken salad was also good, but the texture of the slow-smoked chicken, with no sear or carmelization, was a little unusual. My friend Sarah ordered the rocket arugula salad with mango ginger cheese, which was better. I would also recommend the trout in tomato and chorizo stew my stepmom Jacqui ordered. The stew was a little watery for my her (I think she was hoping for more of a sauce) but I loved how the overtones of spicy pork in a tomato broth accented the trout.

Their pizzas are also very good. Jason gave the carnivore’s pizza (which included steak and bacon) high marks, and Jason and Sarah’s 4 year-old daughter Charlotte liked her cheese pizza. The crusts are thin and chewy, and the roasted tomato sauce is fresh and savory. Jonathan also enjoyed his mac and cheese, which was a cross between Kraft-style and more gourmet versions.

The service was excellent during both visits. The servers are very friendly and knowledgeable about the beer while at the same time very accommodating to children.

I would very strongly recommend Jolly Pumpkin and look forward to more visits in the future.

Jolly Pumpkin on Urbanspoon

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