Now that my daughter Ashleigh was busy with law school, our times together were few and far between. I was really missing quality time with my girl. So, I suggested a mother-daughter getaway over her Christmas holiday break. Ashleigh jumped at the idea.
We’re both passionate foodies. When she was in high school, the two of us were always experimenting with different recipe and flavor combinations. (Sometimes with success and other times not so much!) I saw that Northern Michigan’s own Traverse City was named as one of the Top Five Foodie Towns in the country by Bon Appetite magazine, so Ashleigh and I decided it was the perfect place for us to reconnect while sharing our love of food.
After checking into our hotel, we headed downtown to Bubba’s Burgers and Bar for lunch, the area’s “best burger joint” according to one of Ashleigh’s college buddies who grew up here. We savored the laid-back vibe along with an order of Mac ‘N Cheese Bites. The panko-crusted macaroni and cheese clusters were served with a delicious lime-dill ranch sauce, and Ashleigh made me laugh with her “nom-nom” noises over this ultimate comfort food.
We decided to split a Haystack burger. Good thing because it was massive! A juicy patty made from local beef, topped with melty Swiss cheese, mushrooms and crispy haystack onions. It arrived on a fresh bun slathered with roasted garlic aioli. We chatted away, enjoying both the warm, hearty food and this time to talk freely without our usual stringent time constraints.
Afterwards, we spent the afternoon walking through downtown. We indulged in a little retail therapy, exploring the eclectic shops, and popping into the Michigan Artists Gallery to wander among the surprisingly diverse and sometimes humorous pieces.
We wanted an elegant dinner for our first night together, so we chose the celebrated Asian restaurant, Red Ginger. The place was filled with happy diners and we were grateful we’d made reservations. While debating over appetizers, our waitress suggested the crispy, boneless Dragon Wings. They were amazing! Doused in a spicy Korean red pepper sauce and served with a totally addictive Stilton blue cheese cream. For dinner, I chose the Thai Curry, a flavorful blend of chicken, shrimp, roasted Japanese eggplant and mushrooms simmered in a delicate blend of green curry and coconut milk. Ashleigh went with the Chirashi Sushi Bowl, a delectable mix of fish sashimi served with diced cucumber, avocado, and sprouts. Between mouthfuls of food and sips of our fruit-flavored martinis, we commented on the incredible flavor combinations and how each dish was presented like a work of art.
Leaving the restaurant, we strolled along the snowy sidewalk and window shopped, attempting to walk off that delicious meal. The glow of streetlamps and twinkling lights draped along the bare tree branches overhead gave the charming downtown an almost fairyland feel.
For breakfast the next morning, we headed to Patisserie Amie. Soft French music played, and the entire place evoked the feel of an authentic Parisian pastry shop. We munched on a couple of perfectly delicate macarons while we sipped our coffee. When breakfast arrived, Ashleigh’s protein-packed salmon, poached eggs and caviar were covered with creamy, housemade hollandaise sauce. I shunned the idea of protein with no regrets when my order of deep-fried croissants arrived under their sweet blanket of powdered sugar, fresh banana slices and Chantilly cream. I kept murmuring, “J’adore!” with each bite until Ashleigh threw her napkin at me to make me stop.
Afterwards, we rented fat-tire bikes designed for the snow, and spent a few hours rolling among the beautiful wooded trails of the Vasa Pathway. At lunchtime, we exchanged the morning’s French bistro charm for a bustling Mexican-style taco shop, called Mama Lu’s. We shared fish and chicken tacos in fresh, made-to-order tortillas. And our sides of street corn were incredible, seasoned with lime mayo and chile cotija cheese. We both raved over the homemade guacamole and red salsa, wishing we could buy some to take home with us.
Feeling it was important to keep moving (so we could keep up the pace of our incredible culinary journey) we rented snowshoes and did a little afternoon hike at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area. We tromped through new hardwood forest and across snowy upland meadows, soaking up the tranquility and taking in fantastic views of the city below.
“So far today we’ve done French and Mexican, so… Italian for dinner?” Ashleigh suggested, and I happily agreed.
A quick Google search revealed an Italian restaurant nearby. With its exposed brick, graceful arches and hidden alcoves, Trattoria Stella brimmed with intimate, Old World charm. We ordered the burrata to start, an unbelievable symphony of melted mozzarella to spread on fresh crostini and garnish with perfectly charred tomato vinaigrette. Our server told us that everything from the pasta to the sauces were made fresh, and the menu changed daily based on what ingredients were available. After helping us make our dinner selections, we learned she was also a trained sommelier, and chose the perfect Italian red to accompany our meals.
For our last morning in the city, we decided to do Sunday brunch at amical, a European-style bistro. We were seated next to the cozy fireplace, and I pointed out the beautiful gilt-framed artwork decorating the light brick walls. The brunch menu was extensive, and everything sounded so good it was hard to choose. We both ended up with traditional breakfast dishes, but agreed we had to return someday to try menu items like their smoked whitefish pâté, curried squash wrap and famous chicken pot pie.
After brunch, we caught a movie next door at the historic State Theatre, and got in a little more shopping, until we had time for one more meal before heading back home. This time we chose Apache Trout Grill. The restaurant had a warm, hunting-lodge style atmosphere and served up regional favorites, including locally caught fish. We nabbed seats by the window overlooking the breathtaking blue waves of Grand Traverse Bay. Our waitress brought us fresh-baked ciabatta with their homemade pesto and oil, which paired perfectly with our cups of shrimp-and-lobster bisque. For my final Traverse City meal, I chose their pecan-crusted whitefish drizzled with a tangy cherry-amaretto sauce. Yum! Ashleigh’s Lake Superior walleye was dredged in lemon caper beurre blanc then pan fried. Then we split a ridiculously generous slice of moist carrot cake for dessert.
Completely satiated (a.k.a. stuffed!), we were chatting about our “foodie” weekend with the waitress when she told us about Traverse City’s Restaurant Week, explaining that this annual “foodie tour” of the city would be held the last week in February.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the same week as my spring break!” Ashleigh said, and we exchanged looks, grinning.
The waitress left, and Ashleigh reached across the table to grasp one of my hands, giving it a squeeze. “This weekend has been so perfect, Mom,” she said. “Sharing this time with you, and so many awesome meals…this totally took my mind off the stress of law school.”
“I’m glad,” I said. “We definitely need to do this again.”
“Then it’s a date.” Ashleigh declared. “Restaurant Week here we come!”