Destination Dining: Where to Eat in Traverse City, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Frankenmuth

Take a culinary trip across the state
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Detroit has become the prized possession of Michigan’s culinary scene. What happens when you venture outside of southeast Michigan? Equally buzzworthy food and drink options are abundant. Grand Rapids, Lansing, Traverse City, and — yes — Frankenmuth lead the way.

Lansing

From burgers to fine wine bars, there’s plenty to discover in Lansing’s culinary landscape // By Ashley Winn 
Lansing Brewing Co - Lansing
Pair one of Lansing Brewing Co.’s 12 tap beers with a creative pizza or the Great White North Poutine, made with the brewery’s Amber Cream Ale. // Photograph courtesy of Lansing Brewing Co./James Lenon

Lansing Brewing Co.

This easygoing neighborhood taproom is the perfect setting for downing a local handcrafted brew after a long day traipsing around town. But as comfortable as it is, Lansing Brewing Co. is not lacking in style. Scarlet tufted-leather booths contrast with metal chairs, exposed ductwork, and wooden accents to make a statement against the otherwise neutral palette and natural textures of the bar’s interior.

Though the taproom also offers bar bites like nachos and burgers, the real star is — naturally — the brews. From pilsners to porters, Lansing Brewing Co. has an option for every beer lover. On tap, find local favorites such as the Amber Cream Ale, Angry Mayor IPA, and Velvet Villain Porter. 518 E. Shiawassee St., Lansing; 517-371-2600; lansingbrewingcompany.com 

The Creole Burger Bar and Southern Kitchen

Formerly the Creole, the now gourmet burger bar was once a higher-end restaurant with higher-end prices. But after a menu revamp and some tweaks to the interior, it remains a Lansing staple.

The updated menu is centered on — as its name suggests — burgers. Varieties include the Creole Burger with smoked gouda, fried shrimp, and horseradish sauce; and the Pimento Cheeseburger, featuring red onion, housemade pimento cheese, haystack potatoes, and a special sauce. Though it’s the restaurant’s star dish, there are also plenty of options beyond a good burger. 1218 Turner St., Lansing; 517-371-1361; thecreolelansing.com 

Bordeaux

If you’re looking for a luxurious dining experience, this swanky, modern spot inside the Crowne Plaza Lansing West hotel offers the kind of elevated experience that is surprisingly hard to come by in Michigan’s capital city. What’s more, the wine-centric restaurant is quite literally built from mitten-state pride. The restaurant’s bar is made of recovered Timeless Timber logs, which are hauled from the depths of the Great Lakes to mitigate deforestation and to imbue establishments like Bordeaux with a foundation of regional flair.

Bordeaux also has a drink menu that is brimming with beverages hailing from within state lines. The wine selection includes options from local growers such as Chateau Grand Traverse and Leelanau Cellars. 925 S. Creyts Road, Lansing; 517-323-4190; bordeauxlansing.com 

Grand Rapids 

In Grand Rapids, new eateries and hundreds of breweries position the city as a must-visit for bites and beer // By Lyndsay Green 
Brewery Vivant - Grand Rapids
Stop into Beer City USA’s Brewery Vivant for a farmhouse ale and a taste of the Hunter’s Board, a selection of cured meats and accoutrements. // Photograph courtesy of Brewery Vivant

One Twenty Three

Opened this past October, Studio Park is a playground for Grand Rapids visitors. The colossal development boasts a nine-theater cinema, a 200-seat concert venue, a yoga studio, and various shops and eateries. Among dining destinations at Studio Park is One Twenty Three, a New American restaurant serving classic dishes and artisanal cocktails out of a sleek, contemporary setting.

On the menu, One Twenty Three puts a spin on traditional plates with unexpected ingredients. Here, crispy Brussels sprouts are topped with grapefruit and wonton strips, deviled eggs are buffalo-style and filled with blue cheese, and a pulled-pork sandwich is served with sweet potato salad. Vegan diners will be enticed by such items as the Veggie “Meatballs” made of Parmesan polenta, and it won’t take much to persuade kids to try the PB&J “Sushi,” silky peanut butter and sweet jelly sandwiched between white bread, rolled, and sliced into sushi-like bites. 123 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids; 616-900-9123; 123tavern.com 

Forty Pearl

Formerly a wine tasting room pairing reds, whites, and rosés with small plates and cheese and chocolate truffles, Forty Pearl has been reestablished as a full-service restaurant. Last fall, the downtown Grand Rapids eatery — operated by brother duo Ed and Robert Brengman of the Brengman Brothers Traverse City winery — introduced a vast food, wine, and cocktails menu. Start with East or West Coast Oysters, charcuterie, or one of many varieties of bread made by Grand River Bakery. Toppings for the fresh bread include sweet, golden honey, whipped duck fat, and tomato jam, among other offerings.

Main dishes, such as Pumpkin Risotto served with crispy kale, spiced nuts and seeds, and coconut milk foam and a baked Chicken Pot Pie with parsnip, carrot, onion, and green peas and topped with crunchy shallots, are served on whimsical plates decorated with floral designs, suitable for photo ops. 40 Pearl St., Grand Rapids; 616-608-7741; fortypearlgr.com

Brewery Vivant 

Brewery Vivant Of all of the beer destinations in Grand Rapids, a locale that has become synonymous with great beer, we suggest starting at Brewery Vivant. There’s a lot that makes this place unique, starting with the location — a former funeral home. Secondly, sustainability is at the forefront of the mission here.

Brewery Vivant is the world’s first LEED-certified microbrewery and sources all ingredients for its farmhouse ales locally. And paired with great beers are farm-to-table plates befitting any fine-dining establishment. 925 Cherry St., Grand Rapids; 616-719-1604; breweryvivant.com 

Traverse City 

Where to eat and drink in Traverse City, the northwest Michigan community known for its cherries, wineries, and small-town charm // By Emma Klug 
Aerie - Traverse City
Celebrate the scenic views from Aerie’s top-floor space with a pour from the restaurant’s extensive wine menu. // Photograph courtesy of Grand Traverse Resort & Spa

Poppycocks 

With hand-printed dining specials found on scalloped-edge chalkboards, handmade artwork lining the walls, a no-frills seating arrangement, and a waitstaff that thoughtfully explains the menu between juggling piping hot plates, Poppycocks radiates a family-restaurant vibe. But don’t be deceived by the comforting setting. This restaurant takes good food seriously. Take Poppycocks’ rotating soup options. Served with fresh garlic herb rolls, the Tomato Spinach Swiss soup is always available, along with two additional soups of the day. If you can’t settle on one, opt for the Soup Trio and try small portions of all three.

Poppycocks’ flair for flavor extends to the rest of its menu, but the specials are where the restaurant excels. Embracing seasonal ingredients sourced locally, there’s a daily pasta, a vegetarian item, and a “gold” special — a luxe dish that has previously featured ingredients such as grilled sirloin and sautéed shrimp. 128 E. Front St., Traverse City; 231-941-7632; poppycockstc.com 

Trattoria Stella

Like skipping Sleeping Bear Dunes or roadside cherry vendors, it’s hard to say you’ve been to Traverse City without paying a visit to Trattoria Stella. The restaurant serves up farm-to-table Italian cuisine from the surprisingly cozy basement of a former asylum. Myles Anton, Stella’s executive chef and one of its owners, is inspired by his trips to Italy and what’s available at the restaurant’s 45 to 50 partnering farms when crafting the menu.

There are several Stella staples — pizza, a Spanish octopus appetizer, handmade burrata — but Anton says the thing that surprises people the most is the amount of offal on Stella’s menu. The eatery launched a full-animal, in-house butchery program nine years ago, and it sometimes features brain, unique sausages, and elaborate charcuterie plates. “We’ve been able to teach our servers how to speak to the different cuts and make that approachable,” Anton says. 1200 W. 11th St., Traverse City; 231-929-8989; offthemaphospitality.com 

Aerie Restaurant & Lounge

Located on the 16th floor of the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, this New American restaurant offers 360-degree views of lush Traverse City greenery. Its wine and beer menus, which feature Michigan wineries and breweries, serve up a diverse range of pours. But the cocktail menu, displaying the best of restaurant manager Alex Turner’s creativity, is the star.

The Tart Cherry Vodka Sour — a frothy egg-white drink that mixes local favorites including Grand Traverse Distillery’s cherry vodka and Michigan cherry liqueur — is a must-try. “There had to be a cherry drink on the menu,” Turner says. 100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd., Acme Township; 231-534-6800; grandtraverseresort.com 

Frankenmuth

Frankenmuth is no longer just a winter wonderland — it’s becoming a dining destination for every season // By Lakshmi Varanasi 
Prost! - Grand Rapids
A spread of fun drinks, charcuterie, and savory appetizers including sausage with peppers and onions from Prost! // Photograph courtesy of Prost! Wine Bar & Charcuterie

Prost!

A few years after Prost! opened in 2014, the popular digital media site Buzzfeed labeled it one of the best wine bars in Michigan to get “classy drunk.” That should tell you a lot about this contemporary wine bar, which also boasts an impressive craft cocktail list and an extensive range of snackable accompaniments, including imported Manchego, dry Italian salami, Mediterranean olives, and a Frankenmuth favorite — caraway seed mustard. “We offer a lighter fare and shareable atmosphere for people to sit down and enjoy what they’re eating while talking with friends, as opposed to many other restaurants in Frankenmuth that are there just to fill you up and get you moving on to the next,” says Erin Bradley, Prost!’s general manager.

Bradley says that while Prost! carries a pretty extensive wine list for the area, it’s the old fashioned that she finds herself ordering most often. “It’s the best I’ve ever had, and I try an old fashioned everywhere I go.” Pair that with one of the restaurant’s make-your-own cheese and charcuterie boards featuring Moody Blue from Wisconsin. “That cheese is spectacular,” Bradley says. 576 1/2 Main St., Frankenmuth; 989-262-8690; prostfrankenmuth.com 

Dig Café

Sensing a growing desire for organic, farm-to-table eateries among Frankenmuth diners, Lynne Parlberg opened Dig Café in May 2018. “Frankenmuth didn’t offer many options for vegans or gluten-free eaters. We have been pretty successful in covering everyone’s allergies and helping them find something delicious to eat,” she says.

The café sources all of its produce from local farms, including La Fattoria Farm and Leafy Solutions, and vendors across the state, including Light of Day Organic Teas in Traverse City, Nutcase Vegan Meats in Grand Rapids, and Oliver Farm Cheese Co. in Fostoria. Parlberg’s favorite menu item is the Foodie Bowl, a nourishing combination of steamed and raw greens, fresh red peppers, and beans, over quinoa, raw veggie noodles, or cook’s choice of grains. “We top it with this dairy-free garlic aioli drizzle that people go nuts for.” 975 N. Main St., Frankenmuth; 989-262-8179; digthecafe.com 

Frankenmuth Brewery

The legacy of this Frankenmuth institution dates back to the 1860s, when cousins William Knaust and Martin Heubisch opened what still stands as Frankenmuth Brewery — now the oldest microbrewery in the country and Michigan’s first craft brewery.

Today, its lineup of 36 craft beers (there are 15 on tap at any time) is overseen by brewmaster Steve Buszka, who brings almost three decades of experience with him. Be sure to try the Batch 69 American IPA. The recipe won Buszka a gold medal at the 2015 World Expo of Beer. 425 Main St., Frankenmuth; 989-262-8300 ; frankenmuthbrewery.com. 

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