By MIKE NORTON After a week of stunningly clear, warm weather, things started behaving more November-ish this weekend. It's been a great season, but the onset of cooler, wetter weather made me glad that Traverse City isn't just the outdoor recreation capital of the Midwest, but its culinary capital as well. On Friday night, we dined at the city's least-known and most exclusive restaurant - a place where the food is so good and the schedule so intermittent that you have to reserve a dinner table weeks in advance. Even lunch reservations (though a bit easier to get) need to be done ahead of time - but it's well worth the effort. The name of the place? Lobdell's. You're forgiven if you've never heard of it before, because Lobdell's is a "teaching restaurant" for the Great Lakes Culinary Institute. Located on the second floor of Northwestern Michigan College's Great Lakes Campus, with an awe-inspiring evening view of West Grand Traverse Bay and the Great Lakes Maritime Academy pier, Lobdell's serves as a working laboratory for culinary students and is open to the public for lunches and dinners throughout fall and spring semester. The Culinary Institute's work in training a rising new generation of chefs and food service workers, is one of the prime reasons for Traverse City's growing reputation as one of America's rising "foodie" towns. The Institute's facilities include four culinary labs including a bakery, an introductory and food skills kitchen, an advanced cooking kitchen, a garde manger kitchen, a beverage management outlet (fancy talk for a fine bar) and the 90-seat training restaurant, named for longtime supporters Wayne and Terry Lobdell. I'd only been to Lobdell's for lunch until this week, and that was an amazing experience in itself, but Friday's dinner was flawless. Those students were unbelievable. If you want to check out their lunch menu, learn more about the Culinary Institute or make a reservation, check out their website at http://www.nmc.edu/resources/lobdells/index.html As long as we're talking about food, this may be the best time to answer that annual nagging question: which restaurants in Traverse City will be serving meals on Thanksgiving. It's not as easy as you might think, since T-Day isn't a big restaurant day, and many places shut down to let their employees be with their families. Here's my current list; it's definitely a partial one - and if you know of any other places that'll be open, please let me know!

Yummy Offerings at Minerva's
Yummy Offerings at Minerva's

Aerie Restaurant (Grand Traverse Resort) - Open noon - 7 p.m.  Buffet - turkey, garlic shrimp, broiled walleye, ham, and more. Adults:  $29.95  Kids 6 - 12 yrs: $14.95  6 and under are free.  231-534-6800 Bluebird Restaurant - Open 11:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.  Traditional Thanksgiving Turkey  Adults: $19.99  Prime Rib Adults: $21.99  Kids 2 - 12: $7.99  Reservations recommended 256-9081 The Boathouse - Open 1 p.m. - 6 p.m.  Thanksgiving Favorites plated dinner or order from the regular menu. Kids menu available. Reservations are highly recommended...223-4030 Cottage Café - Open 7 a.m. - 8 p.m.   Traditional Buffet  Adults:  $13.99  Kids 12 yrs and under:  $7.00  Also regular breakfast, lunch and dinner from regular menu. Reservations for large parties are recommended...call 947-9261 Firefly - Open 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.  Grand Buffet...turkey to sushi and all in-between.   Adults: $19.95 Kids 4 - 12 yrs: $13.95 3 yrs and under are free.  Reservations recommended...call 932-1310 Giovanni's Roadhouse - Open 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. Traditional thanksgiving Day buffet. Adults: $13.99  Kids 4 - 12 yrs: $6.00  3 yrs and under are free.  Reservations recommended...... 276-6244 Great Wolf Lodge - Open 12 p.m. - 8 p.m.  Traditional Thanksgiving Buffet plus prime rib and fish dish.  Adults: $21.99  Kids 11 - 15 yrs:  $14.99  Kids 4 - 10 yrs: $8.99  3 yrs and under are free.    941-3600 Hanna Bistro - Open 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.  Appetizers, soups and more off regular menu.  Entrees include turkey, whitefish, scallops, prime rib, and pork roast.  Includes 4 thanksgiving sides with each entrée - stuffing, potatoes, brussels sprout hash, cranberries. $16 - $24      946-8207 Holiday Inn West Bay - Open 11:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.  Traditional Thanksgiving Buffet w/turkey, ham, chicken, beef tips, and other.  Adults: $16.95  Kids 12 yrs and under: $8.95  Under 4 yrs are free.     947-3700 Jolly Pumpkin - Open 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Traditional Buffet  Adults: $19.95   Kids 6 -12 yrs: $12.95  5 and under are free  Reservations are recommended...223-4333 (Mission Table closed Thanksgiving Day) Minerva's - Open 11 a.m. - 2:45 p.m. Traditional Buffet    Adults: $17.95  Kids 12 yrs and under: $8.95  Reservations recommended....946-5093 Shanty Creek Resorts - Lakeview Restaurant Brunch includes turkey ...Open 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.  Traditional Buffet.  Adults: $22.95  Seniors: $20.95 Kids 5 - 12 yrs: $11.95  4 yrs and under are free.  Evening - regular menu includes turkey. Reservations are recommended...231-533-8621  ext 7100 Closed on Thanksgiving Day: Mabels                                      Martha's Leelanau Table        Old Mission Tavern Mission Table                            North Peak                                Schelde's Olive Garden                             Red Ginger                                Tuscan Bistro Tra Vino                                    Trattoria Stella