"As chef Carrie Trogan at Hanna bistro in Traverse City put it, "the whole farm-to-table movement is very strong here. If you're not doing it, people look at you like, 'Why not?' "
Contrary to what you might think, local sourcing doesn't mean that every restaurant ends up serving the same kind of food. Among the places I found were a terrific French bistro with a surprisingly authentic menu, a very successful sushi and Asian fusion place, and an ethnic café and carryout with mouthwatering curries. Yet chefs at all three talked at length about local foods and how important they are.
Before leaving Detroit, I called chef Harlan (Pete) Peterson, whose beloved Tapawingo in Ellsworth closed in the recession, for his take on the state of northern Michigan's restaurant scene.
"It's not just hype," said Peterson, an adviser to the culinary program at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City.
The number and diversity of restaurants has increased in the past few years, he says. Chef-driven places large and small are doing creative, substantive food. "I'm kind of excited that we have these choices up here, when it used to be so safe and predictable."