The Towne Plaza

(Traverse City, MI) — After a successful showing in the BBQ competition in Traverse City, Cookie and LettersToJ are ready to kick back and relax at dinner with us. But, where to go? Although we’ve passed by it many times, The Towne Plaza has not yet enticed us to explore further. Until today, that is. We find convenient parallel parking a block away, then stroll to the restaurant, soaking in the early evening sunshine and gentle warm breeze blowing in from the shoreline...

He Fed:

About a month ago, I received notification that Cookie and her crew were dining at The Towne Plaza. I immediately hopped online to check out the menu. Ooh... from escargot to rillette, this place seemed to have everything we foodies crave. “Please tell me you ordered the ostrich,” I wrote back. She hadn’t, missing it among all the other menu options. So, when Juliet and I decided to dine there, I already had my entree picked out.

It’s way too nice to sit indoors, so we ask for outside seating. Our hostess leads us out on the concrete patio, leaving us to contemplate the well-curated wine and beer lists, both heavily featuring Michigan made adult refreshments. I start with a cold glass of Odd Side Ales’ Citra Pale while pondering choices.

Everyone is in the mood for shared multiple courses, as it turns out. Juliet and Cookie select soup, and LettersToJ gets phyllo filled with Leelanau raclette, topped with fruit compote. Although I mean to order pork cheek, I accidentally say “pork belly”. It’s quite the shock when it arrives, though lovely to look at, pork hunkered down in the middle of fried green tomato slices. The pork is salty/fatty/sweet, seared perfectly. I can’t get enough of the tangy balsamic drizzle. A dish of grilled romaine sprinkled with parmigiana and pancetta is also acquired, as well as pork confit nirvana in the form of rillette cakes. You know..."snacks".

Somehow, we muster enough appetite to move on to mains. Juliet gets high praise for braving the gargantuan bone-in pork chop, cider-glazed and crusty from the roasting oven; I cast my eye at LettersToJ’s buffalo steak, perhaps a bit too overdone; Cookie plays it sensible with plump, expertly cooked shrimp and large, pillowy gnocchi in a saffron, tomato and fennel broth. My choice has been foretold: ostrich!

I’ve had ostrich before—dry, lean, and nearly flavorless burgers—but never prepared as an entree. The meat is cooked rare, much like duck, with blood seeping out from two thin steaks. Steamed broccolini adorns the meat, while underneath is a landscape of caramelized onion jus and mashed potatoes. Chef must really like balsamic, because it’s been drizzled over this dish too. Not that I’m complaining; it brightens up the earthy components. At $29, ostrich isn’t an inexpensive choice though worth every penny. I’d gladly eat it again.

By some miracle, nobody is craving dessert. Not even room for ice cream, to fill in the cracks? Nope. We recline in our chairs, watching as the last of the sunlight ebbs into twilight. We can faintly hear Styx performing near the lakeshore, where the annual Cherry Festival is in full swing. With the BBQ competition behind us, we want to savor this moment, sipping wine and beer, enjoying each other’s company with thoughts of the long drive home tomorrow kept at bay.

She Fed:

I’m surprised at how easily we find parking for dinner tonight. I assumed the first weekend of the Traverse City Cherry Festival would mean nightmarish traffic and no parking to be found. Thus far it’s been wonderfully pleasant and crowd-free. Seated on the large patio, the people watching tonight is even better than the night before. Not only do we see a few bachelorette parties strut by, but we even see a city bus clip a street sign when the driver is distracted by one of the lovelies. Dinner and a show!

We start as we always do—with drinks—and I go for the Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux Blanc. It’s a solid and extremely affordable bubbly that pairs well with a lot of things. It’s my go to drink at Reserve in Grand Rapids and a welcome sight when I spy it on other menus.

Our foodie routine continues with a mess of appetizers to share and some small plates for dinner. We begin with the grilled romaine dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, sprinkled with Parm and pancetta, and served with some baguette toasts. We’ve grilled romaine at home but it’s never turned out this beautiful. Slightly charred on the edges yet still intact at the roots. The flavor is amplified by the grill and the greens remain crisp and crunchy.

Next we have Leelanau raclette cheese in puff pastry with a summer berry compote and a sticky sweet glazed pork belly with heirloom tomato slices. Both are solid dishes and tasty, but nothing I haven’t seen on other menus before.

The sun begins to set and the temp is dropping so I order a bowl of the wild mushroom bisque. It’s neither creamy nor rich tasting like a bisque, but more the consistency of blended mushrooms with stock. In fact, after a few sips I find it’s almost gritty with the mushroom tidbits. But the flavor is deep and earthy, and it warms me to the bones. Very comforting.

I’m expecting we’ll pay the tab and depart, but Jeremy wants to order an entree. Specifically he’s eyeing some meat. Turns out, so is LettersToJ! We just spent the last day and a half working a barbeque competition, so meat is the last thing I want. I decide to go with the root vegetable gratin and broccolini, but then I surprise even myself when I order the Berkshire pork chop feature. The whole table does a Scooby-Doo head-cock “whaaaaa?” as our server departs. What the hell did I just do?

The chop is a behemoth Fred Flintstone cut, perched atop a square of cauliflower gratin and asparagus spears. I cut everyone a slab of meat, knowing I’ll never be able to handle this alone. It’s juicy with pronounced pork flavor and a hint of gaminess. The gratin and asparagus are perfect. I end up eating all the veggies and leaving more than half the pork. Luckily I am a Navy Seal when it comes to Gerard Bertrand, leaving no glass of bubbles behind.

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