My husband Mark and I just celebrated our anniversary with a long weekend in Traverse City. TC has always been one of our favorite places. We have been going there for so long that we have a long list of favorite places to eat, drink and hang out at when we are there. For this trip we wanted to break out of our comfort zone and explore some places we hadn’t been before
BALLARO WINE LOUNGE at Pepe Nero
Mark and I were looking for someplace nice to go for dinner. The Bartender at the Mitten (a pub) in Northport recommended Pepe Nero. She said that it was an authentic Italian restaurant and that the owner was from Sicily. Exactly what we were looking for!
We wanted to go early because we had other places to check out after dinner. I saw online that the their Ballaro Wine Lounge offered some Happy Hour specials that sounded pretty interesting so we decided to give it a try.
Pepe Nero and the Ballaro Wine Lounge are located in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. The Commons, formerly the Michigan State Mental Hospital, is a huge complex that has been renovated and is now filled with boutique shops, and upscale restaurants.
Soft mood lighting and the perfect background music created a super chic ambiance. We sat at one of those cozy curved booths. The waitstaff were very attentive predicting our every service need. Waters were filled, dishes were whisked away and Servers popped up at just the right moment to bring you another glass of wine or dessert.
I found the “wine wall” used to divide the sections clever and sophisticated. We started our orders from the Happy Hour menu which featured 5 cocktails and 8 wines at $5 each as well as 3 Beer choices at $4 bottle. I had a delicious glass of Nero D’Avola and Mark had Pinot Grigio. Our wine was served in the traditional style of Italian Happy Hours, accompanied with small dishes of marinated olives and candied walnuts.
There were 4 different Cicetti (small snacks or side dishes) to choose from for $5 each. Mark chose the Arancino Risotto ball served in a small pool of sauce, while I ordered the Olive All’Ascolana, sausage and cheese stuffed green olives that had been breaded and lightly fried.
For dinner we ordered from the small plates menu. I went for one of my favorites, gnocchi with a glass of Chardonnay from Sicily. Mark ordered the Filetto Steak and Menabrea an Italian Beer. Both of our meals were spectacular.
potato gnocchi, porcini mushrooms, crimini mushrooms,
smoked scamorza, guanciale, fresh herbs, truffle infused
olive oil, shaved Grana Padano -11
All Natural Black Angus Fillet (grass fed) – Creekstone Farms , dried figs,
barolo wine reduction, wild mushrooms, soft white polenta – 22
I certainly did not plan to order dessert, however the Waitress dropped the word Tiramisu in my ear and I was in. She informed me that the presentation was very different because it came encased in a hard chocolate ball dusted with cocoa powder. Once it arrived, I cracked open the chocolate and was pleasantly surprised by the delightful creamy tiramisu filling inside. What a perfect end to our experience.
Our next stop was Low Bar. A Speakeasy located in the basement level of a downtown building. They specialize in Cocktails and Concoctions. And I was in the market for a Negroni. I developed a taste for them on our trips to Europe, and it is sometimes hard to find a place that makes them, let alone makes them well in our area.
We have several friends who love Low Bar, but it had just never fit into our itinerary before. This trip we didn’t really have a set plan, so I was sure to finally put it on our list.
When we arrived, we took a tiny elevator to the lower level. The walls and ceilings were all painted black and the lighting was very low. We wound our way through the dark room until we found a couple of high back wing chairs in an alcove near the bar. This place offered an authentic Speakeasy vibe. Alex, our Bartender brought us the impressive Cocktail Menu. Seriously, it was like a small book with the number of options available!
As you can see, I got my Negroni and it was delightful. Complete with burned orange peel garnish. Mark steered toward their Concoctions for his drink, The Boss.
THE BOSS – 11
V I D A M E Z C A L , C O U R V O I S I E R V S ,
C H E R R Y H E E R I N G A N D O R A N G E
L I Q U O R . C H I L L E D A N D S E R V E D
I N A C H E R R Y W O O D S M O K E
It was really interesting how his drink was served in a smoke filled (St. Germaine) bottle with a cork. Alex instructed him to uncork it and pour a small amount at a time over ice. Recorking the rest until he was ready for it. This was such a fun experience. I will definitely be back!
7 MONKS TAP ROOM
The 7 Monks Tap Room is located just upstairs from the Low Bar. Both of our checks listed 7 Monks at the top and they share a website so one would assume they are part of the same larger company (although I cannot officially confirm this).
7 Monks is a typical Taproom pub with lots many Michigan craft beers on tap. I opted to skip the beer, but Mark ordered one from their large list. I was happy people watching all the Michigan State fans filing in for the upcoming playoff game.
Mark and I had a wonderful stay in Traverse City for our anniversary. We love the area so much. I am happy that we finally made it to the Low Bar and the 7 Monks Taprooms. I know for sure that we will add Low Bar to our list of Favorites. I couldn’t have been happier with our experience at the Pepe Nero – Ballaro Wine Lounge.
I love when you have the time and flexibility in your schedule to just let a day happen. It is rare that we do not have a list of places to go and people to see preventing us from checking out some of these hidden treasures. There is something to be said about slow travel, but some of us have a hard time letting go of the reins. Baby steps!
If you find yourself in Traverse City, I hope you will check these places out. You wont be disappointed!