I’m just now emerging from a food coma that enveloped me this weekend after nibbling my way through the inaugural Taste of Traverse City, a waist-expanding culinary festival. One word, YUM!, sums it up, with the added suggestion that anyone interested in good food presented in casual, fun settings — and who isn’t? — should put this three-day edible event on their calendar for next September.
It started with a Friday night Downtown Grub Crawl, where a shuttle conveniently dropped participants at some 20 restaurants and boutiques for sips of local wines and micro-beers and tastings that ranged from the Blue Tractor’s barbecued brisket and pulled pork to chicken jambalaya, eggplant marinara, fried zucchini with pesto dipping sauce, and cherry bread pudding served up at Little Bohemia.
“This is the best street food ever,” said my companion as we stood near the State Theatre, treating our taste-buds to Amical Bistro’s apple cider-glazed pork tenderloin and butternut squash gnocchi with sage brown butter.
Under glorious blue northern Michigan skies and sunshine, we spent Saturday grazing our way around the city’s “Open Space” festival area as folk music wafted from a stage and boats bobbed in the bay behind it. Memorable tastings included a chocolate mole chicken dish by the Grocer’s Daughter and a very rich concoction of short ribs, gouda polenta, shiitake mushrooms and fried onion rings from Little River Casino.
We also spent time watching the festival headliner, Darren McGrady, aka “The Royal Chef,” whip up several tasty dishes and share anecdotes from his 14 years cooking for Britain’s Royal family, including Queen Elizabeth II, the late Princess of Wales, Diana, and her two young sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. I admired how he managed to cook and tell stories at the same time, without missing a beat, and it made me want to buy his book, “Eating Royally,” which was given to attendees at a VIP reception that night. It was held in an unusual venue, The Box, the former Traverse City Cigar Box Factory that’s now the living quarters of a local couple. I participated instead in the weekend’s Foodie Film Festival, joining friends at the Dennos Museum Center’s Milliken Auditorium to watch Stanley Tucci’s 1996 film “Big Night.”
Stuffed as we were from our two-day eating binge, we still had to make room for Sunday’s “Best of Brunch,” a culinary throw-down pitting teams from six Traverse City area restaurants. They created delicious small plates using fresh local ingredients — and each one was better than the last. My favorite also proved to be the crowd favorite with the team from West Bay Beach, Traverse City’s Holiday Inn Resort, winning top honors for its presentation: fresh quail eggs and asparagus on grilled cranberry sourdough bread with orange-flavored Bernaise sauce and spicy capicola, served with a bananas Foster crepe and oatmeal morning milkshake. Sublime!
To learn more about this event and start planning ahead for next year, check www.tasteoftraversecity.com