While out on the town in Traverse City on Friday, I kept bumping into people lamenting the loss of the legendary Tapawingo restaurant. Chef/owner Harlan “Pete” Peterson announced its closing earlier that day. These were friends who both had and hadn’t made the pilgrimage to Ellsworth’s epicurean oasis.
The news came almost a year to the date to our amazing late-March dinner with Peterson at his house. This dinner was the final interview for Chef Raymond Kusmack, whom Peterson was hiring to begin Tap’s 25th summer.
A Kusmack creation, the ultimate spring-in-Michigan dish: maple syrup-cured smoked trout with asparagus, frisée, fresh herbs, preserved lemon and lemon-pepper dressing.
What Peterson and his longtime staff brought to the heart of Northern Michigan over the last 25 years was peerless.
The restaurant’s dreamy setting, impeccable style, and above all the creative and delicious dishes simply whisked you away. In 2003, the late R.W. Apple Jr. of the New York Times said Tapawingo “may be the best restaurant anywhere in the country that’s a four-hour drive from the closest major city” and no doubt about it, Tapawingo was the ultimate in destination dining. It gave people a reason to come up here from any other part of the state—or country. Just to eat.
And, as a extra layer of Northern Michigan pride, Tap’s elegantly crafted cuisine always began with the sourcing of local ingredients, from farms in Buckley to Boyne City.
Peterson tells about deliveries of rabbit from the farmer down on Anderson Road in Boyne City.
He also tells about the night he came out of the kitchen as the last guests are leaving and realizing one of them was Neil Armstrong. I bet the first man on the moon would be on a lot of people’s “if you could invite 3 people to dinner…” list.
Peterson says the downward trend in our economy over the past few years “has made it increasingly difficult to maintain the style and standards for which I have wanted Tapawingo to be known and remembered.”
He didn’t want to over-streamline or create a more common menu.
But though he’s hanging up the toque after 25 years, Peterson says he would love to see the restaurant continue and thrive. “I would be happy to help transition some tenacious and creative person into a renewed Tapawingo with, perhaps, a more casual menu and limited season.”
I personally hope he strongly considers a cookbook, which I could not wait to crack open in my own kitchen.
Whatever’s next for this warm, spirited and intensely talented chef and entrepreneur will be compelling and well-crafted.
Peterson says anyone interested in acquiring the restaurant at 9502 Lake Street, Ellsworth, as a business or for a private cottage should send him a message at [email protected]
What memorable or remarkable dining experiences did you have at Tapawingo? What do you think about Peterson’s decision to close? Please comment below…!
Tapawingo’s Great Run
from “Tap Turns 20,” May 2004, Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine, by Patty LaNoue Stearns
Pete takes a weeklong cooking class at LaVarenne in Paris, decides to quit job as designer for Ford Motor Co.
After working at the Rowe Inn for free, Peterson leaves Ford for job at Rowe, making 1/3 the pay he made in Dearborn.
Bought summer cottage on 7 acres known as Tapawingo, up the road from The Rowe.
Tapawingo the restaurant opens May 10 with tight, $80k investment. Al Nick is partner. Entrees cost $16–$21.
Rich Travis joins Tapawingo as sous chef. Pete leads first foodie tour group to Europe.
Assembled Michigan Chefs dinner; first time top chefs cooked together in same room.
First American Chefs dinner with Charlie Trotter, Emeril Lagasse, Bradley Ogden, Rick Bayless, et al.
Bon Appetit magazine calls Tapawingo “Michigan’s Northern Star.”
Gourmet magazine raves about Tapawingo in its American Dreams issue.
Zagat Survey readers say Tapawingo serves best food in Michigan.
Named best Michigan restaurant in a Gourmet readers poll. Makes Norwegian lefse for Julia Child at James Beard Awards reception.
Tap doubles its space, adds chef’s table and patio. James Beard Foundation nominates Pete as best chef in Midwest.
Peterson gets Beard nomination again.
Stuart Brioza joins Tap as executive chef. Peterson nominated by Beard again. First strolling dinner with jazzman Bob James
Earns prestigious four-star rating from Mobil Travel Guide and every year since.
Tap is featured in New York Times article. Food & Wine names Brioza one of top 10 new chefs in U.S.
Tap turns 20. Pete is the subject of HGTV’s The Good Life in April. A feature on Tap is due in June’s Saveur.
The new menu for Tap’s 25th season is a nod to its earlier years, with versions of Chef Pete Peterson’s favorite, crème de la crème dishes reappearing alongside the creations of Tap’s Michigan-born and ’94 Culinary Institute of American grad chef Ray Kusmack.
2009 Peterson closes Tapawingo. The end of one fabulous culinary era …