By Sarah Jaquay
Some literary critics consider “The Big Two-Hearted River” Ernest Hemingway’s best short story. It’s part of the Nick Adams series Hemingway wrote about his boyhood summers spent in Northwestern Michigan where his parents built a cabin near Petoskey. The Petoskey area is one of those places that inspires Midwesterners to return – to write, paint, swim, hike, bike or simply soak in the natural beauty surrounding Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay. The charming towns of Petoskey, Bay View and Harbor Springs have appealed to visitors over three centuries. The size of these hamlets belie the area’s rich culinary scene, with gourmet retail shops and cafes; fine dining with sophisticated wine lists and a burgeoning wine trail that boasts some of the Great Lakes’ most spectacular vistas.
Petoskey’s allure began with its artesian wells drawing 19th-century visitors for health reasons. The railroad’s arrival in the 1870s meant vacationers could easily get from Chicago (where Hemingway’s family lived), Detroit and other cities to the shores of Little Traverse Bay. This era’s still evident in ornate Victorian architecture – especially in neighboring Bay View. Harbor Springs on the Bay’s north side has long been a summer haven for wealthy industrialists including the Fords and Fishers.
The first venue oenophiles and foodies should check out is Symons General Store in downtown Petoskey, a gourmet shop and deli with a massive wine cellar plus the adjacent upscale restaurant, Chandler’s. The eclectic menu ranges from local cheeses and smoked whitefish to yellowfin tuna and lamb Bolognese, but the surprise is the wine list: Chandler’s presents a16-page list with selections from Symon’s 400-bottle cellar, including 36 Michigan wines.
Tom Symons opened the store in the 1950s and stocked it with coffees, spices and other rarities. The store expanded into freshly-made baked goods and sandwiches. Then Tom’s son, Chandler, opened the eponymous eatery that serves meals in its grotto restaurant, outdoor café and hosts special gatherings in the Wine Cellar.
Michigan is famous for its cherries but grows other delectable fruits and vegetables that Justin Rashid wanted to preserve for the rest of America. So in 1982, Rashid created American Spoon Foods to make preserves and condiments in small batches from his Petoskey kitchen. Today, visitors flock to American Spoon for preserves made with no refined sugar, cherry products, whiskey maple syrup, salsas and other specialty items. Next door is American Spoon Foods Gelato Café where breakfast and lunch menus feature fresh herbs and vegetables, not to mention dozens of all-natural gelato flavors.
When it’s time to burn calories, head to Petoskey’s Bayfront Park and hop on the Little Traverse Wheelway, a 26-mile paved bike path that runs along the water. Two miles north, history buffs may enjoy strolling through historic Bay View, one of America’s best-preserved Chautauqua communities. Although Bay View was dry for decades, guests can now dine at Stafford’s Bay View Inn or the Terrace Inn and enjoy cocktails and wine.
Stafford’s Bay View Inn is part of a group of top regional accommodations and restaurants including: Perry Hotel, Pier Restaurant (that perches over the water in Harbor Springs) and Drawbridge Bistro. Drawbridge specializes in Michigan craft beers and cocktails made with local distilled products such as Grand Traverse Cherry Vodka and New Holland Knickerbocker Gin.
Local winery fans should hit the Bay View Wine Trail. It has eight wineries, some of which offer way more than tastings. Pond Hill Farm is a working farm with extreme entertainment: Harbor Springs Winery; Tunnel Vision Brewery (named after the famous “Tunnel of Trees” drive on M-119); a café and a “squash rocket” that catapults apples, potatoes and squash into a pasture where goats and pigs devour them. Pond Hill co-owner Jimmy Spencer says everyone should get to the vineyard overlook for incredible views of Five-Mile Creek Valley and Lake Michigan.
One of the area’s newest wineries may be its most enthusiastic: Petoskey Farms Vineyard & Winery. Tracie and Andy Roush opened their hilltop tasting room last June. Their biggest sellers are Petoskey White – 100 percent Seyval Blanc – and Petoskey Red, half Marechal Foch and half Chancellor Noir. The Roushes offer small plates of local meats and cheeses, live music on the patio and monthly winter wine dinners. “We’re all about relationships,” Tracie says. She adheres to Will Rogers’ theory that strangers are simply friends you haven’t met yet.
Finally, don’t miss Mackinaw Trail Winery (which has several tasting rooms including one in Petoskey). The Stabile family opened the winery in 2004 with 15 acres of grapes, including Cabernet Franc, Gerwürtraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Today, the winery has a bistro, brewery and hosts unique events including “Woofstock” when guests can bring their pooches, and the Hunters’ Widow Party—where wives toast the venison they’ll likely be cooking later.
Critics can argue forever about Hemingway’s best writing, but there’s little disagreement about the appealing towns on Little Traverse Bay.