Good Eats on the Horizon

Five new restaurants to whet northern Michigan appetites

REGION – Northern Michigan will soon have five new answers to the eternal question: "Where do you want to eat?" Ready your palates for a Florentine-style trattoria in Lake Leelanau and a comfort food hangout in Lake Ann, and in Traverse City, a downstate Mexican chain moves up, a wood-fired artisanal pizza joint moves in, and an old local favorite is born again.

Bella Fortuna North

104 W. Main St.

Lake Leelanau, MI


Leelanau County will be getting a taste of Florence come summer 2012. Peripatetic couple Dr. Jane Fortune and Dr. Robert Hesse – residents of Florida; Indianapolis; Leland and Florence, Italy – have undertaken an extensive remodel of the former Key to the County building in Lake Leelanau. Their intent? To transform it into an intimate trattoria with a small, formal dining room; a terrace for al fresco dining; and gift shop – all showcasing the Tuscan region.

Joining the couple is Executive Chef Paul Carlson, former owner of Black Star Farms' Hearth & Vine Café; Paul's wife, Susan Carlson, who will handle the restaurant's marketing; general manager Powell Smith, and his wife, local artist Nell Revel Smith, who's aiding in the interior and terrace design.

Chef Paul received a firsthand Florentine culinary education when he and Susan traveled with Fortune and Hesse to Italy. There he was invited to cook with the culinary team of famed Florentine restaurant Trattoria Pandemonio di Firenze, as well as meet other notable Florentine chefs like Benedetta Vitali, cookbook author and owner of Trattoria Zibibbo.

Both owners bring extensive cultural pedigrees to the project. Jane Fortune is the founder and chair of Advancing Women Artists; cultural editor and columnist of The Florentine – an English newspaper in Tuscany – and the author of books such as To Florence, Con Amore: 77 Ways to Love the City and Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence.

Bob Hesse is the founder and chairman of Indianapolis City Ballet and former president of Robert R. Hesse Associates, a real estate executive placement company. He's also served as the executive director of the Joffrey Ballet, president of Medaille College; and senior vice president of UNICEF. He has also worked as a professional violinist with the Erie Philharmonic, the Amherst Symphony, Utica Symphony and Seventh Army Symphony.

Bella Fortuna – which translates to "beautiful fortune" in Italian – is aiming for a soft opening in late June, a grand opening in early July, and to be year round.

Full Moon Pizza

910 E. 8th St.

Traverse City, MI 49686


After 13 years helping other people create and run restaurants, Nathan Knickerbocker has realized that dream for himself. Full Moon Pizza, which opened in February 13 inside the space formerly occupied by Massagio's Salon, is the Grand Rapids native's twist on the humble pizza pie. He and partner Mark Nelson, the former general manager of Chili's in TC have anchored their menu with eight artisanal pizzas, each cooked in a 3,000-pound wood-burning oven. The menu is rounded out crusted salmon, roasted potatoes, and mixed green salads.

Knickerbocker admits that relying on the mammoth oven as his only piece of cooking equipment will be a challenge, but it's one he feels will set him apart from the competition. Other aces up his sleeve: made-from-scratch ingredients, access to fresh breads from nearby Potter's Bakery, and the speed at which he creates his dishes.

Full Moon seats up to 15, and offers take-out, as well as free delivery within a three-mile radius.

The Cottage

472 Munson Ave.

Traverse City, MI 49686


The Cottage (formerly the Cottage Café), a favorite TC haunt for nearly 20 years, is moving up the road and into the space previously occupied by Mabel's Restaurant. According to Eric Drossart, Cottage co-owner with brother Scott Drossart, ownership of the new location provides an opportunity to bring their classic cafe into the modern era. They bring with them a fresh face, new chef Mike Henriet, whose mission is to put a contemporary twist on the menu favorites that have earned the Cottage Café its following.

"Traverse City has complicated tastes and a sophisticated palette," Drossart explains. "We're meshing both in a way that will intrigue and inspire people of all ages."

The updates will extend beyond the menu: also in the works are a new logo, fresh, modern décor and iPad-toting servers. The pair plan to pursue a liquor license for the new location, as well.

Opening date: Early April. Until The Cottage open, the Cottage Café at the Days Inn location will remain open.

The Stone Oven

6551 First St.

Lake Ann, MI 49650

Lake Ann native Samantha Wintcentsen and commercial pilot-turned-trained chef Brian Adams plan to blend his love of cooking and her local knowledge to create a cozy gathering place for Lake Ann residents and visitors.

The restaurant will utilize the two-bay pizza oven from the space's previous occupant, Countryside Pizza, but will expand its offerings to include non-traditional versions of classic comfort food and weekend breakfasts built around stuffed omelets and time-honored favorites like biscuits and gravy. The small space – less than 700 square feet – will seat up to 22 patrons. A mid-May opening is expected.

On the Radar:

Loco Burrito-Authentic Mexican Grill & Bar

Garfield Township might soon be adding a new restaurant to the busy commercial area near Grand Traverse Mall. Loco Burrito Authentic Mexican Grill & Bar – a restaurant chain with 32 locations in five states – is eying a space adjacent to Buffalo Wild Wings. Key to the restaurant's prospects will be whether it is able to secure one of two highly contested liquor licenses available in the township. The license application identifies the hopeful owner as Marco Cuellar, a restaurateur from the Grand Rapids area whose family has a long, successful track record in the industry. At press time, Loco Burrito Authentic Mexican Grill & Bar had not been awarded a liquor license. Calls to Cuellar and franchise representatives were not returned. BN