Mine and Jonathan’s recent visit to Traverse City included a stop at Trattoria Stella with my mom. It’s in the old state hospital building, which was slated for demolition years ago but, with some agitation from my dad, become a haven for a number of excellent businesses.
The brick walls provide a good rustic feel, and the dim lighting and white tablecloth clearly indicate a somewhat upscale establishment.
We started our dinner with the bruscetta which included basil pesto, tomato and cheese.
The pairing of sharp roasted tomato, creamy cheese, and butter toasted bread made these go down very easily.
For my entrée (or, technically, “primi”) I had the squash blossom pasta. The squash blossoms (which I’d never had before) were wonderful with a distinct squash flavor with none of the typically unappealing texture or starchiness of squash. They were filled with ricotta amidst a mild garlic butter / olive oil sauce. Whil this was generally balanced and very tasty, it was perhaps a bit on the rich side.
My mom ordered the Tuna Bolgnese, a very unique dish which included finally chopped tuna and seared shittake mushrooms. It was excellent, and one of the most innovated uses of fresh tuna I’ve tasted.
Jonathan had the spaghetti with beef and veal meatballs, which he very much enjoyed. He liked the meatballs so much that he requested we order more. Our waitress was very accommodating and we were able to get four more meatballs on the side. The pesto on top was a nice touch.
Stella also has an excellent selection of beer, wine and spirits. I started with a Sunset Pepper, a cocktail with New Holland Hopquila–essentially an 80 proof distilled beer tasting oddly like tequila–with grenadine and orange juice. It was excellent, and I later tried to get a bottle of Hopquila but the liquor store was out. With my meal I had a locally vinted Left Foot Charley Pinot Blanc, which is essentially a fruiter Pinot Grigio. It was also excellent, and I picked up a bottle later for future consumption.
Stella is very much worth visiting. One would never know that the building used to be part of a mental institution which was closed decades ago when the state cut off funding and released all of the inmates. The food and setting are both outstanding. Perhaps next time I might order something off of the Secondi menu, which includes scallops, strip steak and ribye.