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Fresh Recipes from Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay

The breathtaking views around Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay makes it an obvious vacation choice. But the region also has a growing food scene full of fish, local produce and fine dining.

Rich in food and scenery

Thousands of visitors come to Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan, each year to fish, water ski, bike, golf and explore shore towns. But the area's riches run deeper than resorts and golf courses. The lake produces boatloads of whitefish, lake trout and chubs. The lakeshore climate lets hundreds of thousands of cherry trees flourish on the hillsides. Prize mushrooms hide in shady forests. Dairy cows graze in rich pastures.

The recipes featured in the area's restaurants reflect this abundance of food resources. The Chocolate-Dried Cherry Cheesecake (left) -- thick, rich, with a touch of coffee and speckled with dried cherries -- is a favorite dessert at The Cove restaurant in Leland.

Chocolate-Dried Cherry Cheesecake recipe

The Cove

Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau

Cherry Chili

Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, Michigan, sells just about anything made with cherries. Staffers put their tangy fruit salsa to good use in this white-bean-and-chicken chili, which won a local chili competition. They suggest serving it with corn chips or corn bread.

Cherry Chili

Michigan Muffuletta

Stone House Bread Cafe in Leland gave us the recipe for this version of the New Orleans classic, layered with Olive Relish.

Michigan Muffuletta recipe

Olive Relish recipe

Stone House Bread

Cherry Vinaigrette

Chefs at North Peak Brewing Company in Traverse City, Michigan, make this tangy, thick, cherry-color dressing for tossed salads. We like it over fresh fruit, too.

Cherry Vinaigrette recipe

North Peak Brewing Company Bread

Morel Mushroom Cream Sauce With Pasta

The forest floors around Grand Traverse Bay yield delicately flavored morel mushrooms for crepes, omelets and sauces.

This recipe was popular at the former Hattie's restaurant in Suttons Bay, Michigan.

Morel Mushroom Cream Sauce With Pasta recipe

Oatmeal-Cherry Cookies

Dried cherries make oatmeal cookies even more memorable in this recipe from American Spoon Foods, which has locations in the Traverse City area. We like its crisp edges and chewy centers.

Oatmeal-Cherry Cookies recipe

American Spoon Foods

Grilled Whole Whitefish

Visitors find hardworking fishermen at charming Fishtown in Leland, Michigan, west of Traverse City. On the other side of the fish case, staff members at Carlson's prepare that day's catch for sale. Whitefish is the local favorite used here in their recipe.

Grilled Whole Whitefish recipe

The Cove's World-Famous Chubby Mary

Ordering this drink at The Cove in Leland is an experience. A Bloody Mary mixture arrives in a tall glass with a whole smoked fish sunk, head up, into the beverage. Play along, take a sip, and prepare to be pleasantly surprised at the smoky flavor the traditional Bloody Mary gets only when a smoked chub plays the role of swizzle stick.

World-Famous Chubby Mary

Creme Fraiche

George and Sally Shetler (left) shared this versatile recipe using two products from their Shetler Dairy in Kalkaska, Michigan. It's similar to sour cream, only sweeter. They like it in soups, sandwiches and wraps -- and as a fruit dip.

Creme Fraiche recipe

Shetler Dairy

The bounty of the lake

Most summertime visitors to Grand Traverse Bay spend part of each day in the warm, clear waters, which are lime green in the shallows, cobalt in the deeps. The lake provides another kind of bounty to the generations of fishermen who have made their living from it - and to the chefs who create memorable fish dishes.

Hanna Bistro-Bar in Traverse City provided the recipe for an unusual rub for salmon using paprika, ginger, nutmeg, pepper and cayenne.

Grilled Salmon

Hanna Bistro-Bar

Guacamole and hummus appetizers

Short's Brewing Company in Bellaire, Michigan, gave us a recipe for a chunky guacamole. It's great scooped with tortilla chips - or served, as the restaurant suggests, on grilled jumbo shrimp with pineapple-mango salsa.

At TraVino Wine and Grille, overlooking the Grand Traverse Resort, the tapas might include hummus with grilled pita bread. Tahini, a sesame-seed puree, can be found in large supermarkets, Middle Eastern markets or specialty food stores.

Guacamole & Chips recipe

TraVino Hummus recipe

Short's Brewing Company

TraVino Wine and Grille

The Cherry Capital

Since the first cherry tree was planted here in 1852, the Traverse City area has grown into the world's self-proclaimed Cherry Capital. It's a prime part of Michigan's Fruit Belt, which grows 75 percent of the country's tart cherries and about 20 percent of the sweet cherries. The area holds an annual National Cherry Festival in July, and the fruit stars in local soft drinks, wines, bratwurst, ice cream, jams, salsas and pies.

Here are two of our favorite cherry pie recipes.

Something Special Apple-Cherry Pie recipe

Cherry Pie

'Smooching the moose'

While the Traverse Bay region features nearly a dozen fine dining restaurants, not all of the region's exceptional food comes served on white linen. Serious chefs make regular pilgrimages to Sleder's Family Tavern, a white frame building that opened just west of downtown in 1882. "Except for the electric lights and fans, everything is pretty much the same as then," says Deb Cairns, a Traverse native who, with her husband, Brian, has owned the hugely popular eatery since 1992.

Under the tin ceiling and stuffed animal heads, diners feast on fresh-ground burgers, fried perch and smelt. It usually takes a few beers before diners plant the traditional kiss on the nose of a moose head. Afterward, they can buy T-shirts reading, "I Smooched The Moose."

Maybe it's odd, but it's decidedly local. And that, like everything around Grand Traverse Bay, is the secret to the flavor.

(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® March/April 2006.)

Sleder's

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