“Have you been to Traverse City yet? What’d you think? Isn’t it awesome? Where’d you go? God that place is awesome. Didn’t you love it?”
“Robbie, I haven’t even taken the job yet. I’m still in Texas.”
“Dude. Seriously. You have got to get to up there.”
Ever since I had an inkling of an idea that I’d be spending work-time in Michigan, my friend Robbie had been cheerleading for the little village of Traverse City. Dangling from the bottom of the Grand Traverse Bay on the eastern coast of Lake Michigan, this is a place I never would have ended up visiting without some serious cajoling. It definitely would have been my loss.
The whole area is absolutely gorgeous- bursting with hillside vineyards, epically large sand dunes, long enchanting drives, apple orchards stolen from postcards, and people so friendly it’ll make your teeth hurt. When we finally got up there in the middle of September, we had so much fun I seriously started pricing out real estate.
Obviously, we could never own property in an area that wasn’t energized on the food front, so I thought I’d found an easy out. But then we had lunch at Frenchies Famous.
Anyone who opens a restaurant that only seats 10 people is either terrible at math or has an overriding passion to wrestle a sense of intimacy and community back into the dining experience. As far as I can tell, French Clements and his wife Alisa aren’t having any trouble with the ciphering.
This mini-café, wedged between a tree and a head shop on an unassuming side street, is a study in made-from-scratch, labor of love eating. Currently, they’re only open for breakfast and lunch but the amount of house made goods that they pack in- baguettes, madeleines, jams, pastrami, tarts, condiments, pickles, pâtés- you might not find in other restaurants if they churned out ten meals a day.
Not to mention that French had a past life as a coffee auteur in Seattle and imported all of those sweet skills as well. He’ll happily show them off too with the slightest provocation, working with a shiny and personable La Marzocco espresso machine that takes up a large but justifiable percentage of the cafe’s counter space.
Frenchies Famous’ menu changes frequently but keeps itself rooted in classic western European style with forays into the tastiest of the colonial influences. When we were there, we started with an impressive cod taco with chipotle cream. The whole package was a bit too juicy, but the flavors were spot on. The fish was firm, sweet and flaky, wrapped in a double dose of toasty corn tortilla and topped with a neat balance of smoky cream and bright, piquant pico.
Skipping from surf to turf, we moved on to the pastrami sandwich with sweet hot mustard. Damn. Everything on this pile of goodness is made in house except the cheese. They were a touch too generous on the mustard front, but after we scraped a little off I started having inappropriate thoughts about luncheon meats and my eyes rolled back a bit.
They ran out of baguette halfway through but gamely carried on with some fresh baked focaccia.
Because two sandwiches are never enough, we also tried out the black pepper chicken banh mi. If you’re a banh mi purist, Frenchie’s version isn’t from the traditional school. If you keep an open mind though, the pulled chicken is incredibly moist and gets complemented quite nicely by the crusty bread, sweet, crisp carrot and daikon and the garlicy aioli.
Finally, even though we were stuffed like build-a-bears, no one in their right mind could turn down a plum tart like this. French brought it out with a side of slightly sweetened crème fraiche and two thoughfully brewed espressos. The tangy fruit and crumbly, buttery pastry were a light and satisfying combination. While I can’t say I usually follow lunch with a chunk of pie, this is one time I’m pleased to have made an exception.
There are plenty of reasons to visit Traverse City but if you find yourself there for any appreciable amount of time, I can’t think of any good enough to not go to Frenchies. You might not get a table but I guarantee you’ll get a hell of a meal.
619 Randolph Street, Traverse City, MI 49684 (231) 944-1228