September 24, 2007
Traverse City, Michigan, the self-proclaimed Cherry Capital of the World, sits at the bottom of Grand Traverse Bay in northern Michigan. We have vacationed there often, although we always arrive well past the Cherry Festival in July, preferring to go after Labor Day to miss most of the crowds.
That part of Michigan offers fun throughout the whole year. Close to Lake Michigan, and situated on the Bay, water sports are a given. There are beaches, fishing areas, boats to rent, even yachts for dinner cruises. Sleeping Bear Dunes are a remarkable National Park and there is a very scenic drive leading to the top of the dunes.
Grapes find the climate around Grand Traverse Bay very hospitable and so you can tour close to 20 wineries in the area and sample the fruit of the vine. We always come home with new wines to enjoy throughout the year.
Skiing and golfing are also popular sports in the area with several resorts dedicated to those pursuits in and around Traverse City.
The charming towns of Petoskey and Charlevoix are easy drives from Traverse City and make great day trips if one is based in Traverse.
In the area around Traverse City you can drive past miles and miles of orchards, mainly cherries. There are cherry-flavored foods everywhere you find food. That and fudge. What is it with Michigan and fudge? I’m not complaining, mind you. But nowhere else will you ever find as many fudge vendors as in northern Michigan. It’s uncanny.
The last two times we visited Traverse City we dined at the North Peak Brewing Company located downtown at 400 W. Front Street. We had such good food that one time we ate there two nights in a row just to get their delicious Cherry Porter Barbecue Ribs. It is an outstanding dish, just the right amount of sweetness with the depth of flavor that the porter brings. The ribs are served with perfectly cooked french fries and the best Chinese mustard slaw I’ve ever had. You can understand why we keep patronising that place. Oh, yeah… the beers are great, too.
I have been looking for cherry barbecue sauce recipes ever since our last meal at North Peak. Last night I prepared grilled pork chops with cherry barbecue sauce, one of Mario Batali’s recipes, simple and great. You can find it here. Later this week, we are having ribs with the rest of the sauce. I can’t wait. We won’t have perfectly cooked french fries, but I may try to make a Chinese mustardy slaw if I can find a recipe that looks good. Cold beer, too, needless to say.
While I’m expounding on the culinary delights of Traverse City, I must mention another place that we always visit, usually around lunch time, just a block down the street from North Peak. Folgarelli’s is an Italian deli/gourmet market, with much more that just Italian food on the shelves. They roast their own coffee beans, sell wines, olives in barrels, bakery breads, and gourmet, exotic food staples of every stripe. Naturally, the place smells terrific. If that weren’t enough, they have a huge deli menu with so many wonderful sandwich offerings that it boggles the mind to select one to eat. We usually buy just one sandwich (they are BIG), get some olives, a bottle of wine, and head somewhere for a picnic lunch. Great! One of the best specialty groceries I’ve ever seen.
Here’s the BBQ sauce recipe, if that’s of interest to you. (Thanks, Molto Mario!)
Cherry Barbecue Sauce
– Makes about 3 cups –
1 medium onion
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup frozen sweet cherries
1. In a medium saucepan, cook the onion over medium-high heat, until it softens, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and chili powder and cook 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes, orange juice, ketchup, sugar, and cherries and cook 5 minutes more, stirring frequently.
2. Transfer the mixture to a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade and blend until smooth. Transfer to a plastic container and keep cold in a refrigerator or ice-filled cooler until ready to use or for up to one week.
(Note from Morgana: I cooked the sauce a lot longer than Mario suggested. After I added the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients, I brought the sauce to a boil and then turned the heat to low and cooked it for about 2 hours. Then I pureed it with a stick blender. The sauce was dark, and thick and just how I like it.)