If you’re a Northern Michigan foodie and you don’t know Martha Ryan, owner and chef at Martha’s Leelanau table in Suttons Bay, it’s time to meet her. I had my opportunity earlier this week when my husband and I gathered with seven of our closest friends at one of Martha’s cooking classes. It was on a weeknight and I have to say: What a way to close a workday!
The drive from my office in Traverse City to Suttons Bay was that glorious strip of M-22 that parallels Lake Michigan’s West Grand Traverse Bay. As I cruised by, the water reflected translucent shades of aqua and azure under the late afternoon sun. Martha’s Leelanau Table is at the north end of Suttons Bay, which meant driving through the bustling little village where shopkeepers are readying their charming businesses for the season’s launch on Memorial Day weekend. It wasn’t hard to imagine I was pulling into a small town somewhere on the Mediterranean coast.
Before I’d made it up the walkway of the petite red clapboard restaurant, Martha poked her head out the door to greet me. After handing me a white apron to tie on, she introduced me to her son and co-chef, Matt.
Then toured me around the 107-year-old house she renovated into the restaurant last year. Martha travels to Europe often—the reason, no doubt, she nailed the casually elegant bistro feel so completely, from the mustard-colored plaster walls to the original maple floor, gleaming espresso bar, white linen tablecloths and the most wonderful shade of eggplant on the bathroom walls I’ve ever seen.
The kitchen is an efficient, gleaming workhouse and Martha had it all set up for us to help cook the evening’s menu. By 6:15 everyone had arrived, aproned-up and Martha set us to work.
Amy, Carol and Jon headed for the flourless chocolate cake-making station. Hey, gross you guys!
Peter breaded the big stuffed green olives that Martha went on to deep fry for an appetizer (yes, they were heaven …).
Beryl, Pam and Lissa made the goat cheese soufflés (Beryl, didya’ finally get the egg off your hands after sneaking those extra eggs you cracked over to the trash before Martha caught you?) We were amazed and delighted when Martha served the savory little clouds on a bed of mixed greens.
Frank tossed the pizza dough then we all personalized our crusts with fresh mozzarella, an Italian ham called speck, asparagus, fresh mushrooms and blue cheese.
John browned the sausage that would go into rib-sticking, peasant-style risotto.
And we all cut loose like schoolkids out at recess.
When dinner was ready, Martha seated at us at an exquisitely set table in an intimate corner of the empty dining room and we spent the next several hours eating, drinking, talking and laughing. We would have congratulated ourselves for being such fine chefs, but it was Martha who made us look so good.
You’ll also want to make room in your summer schedule to eat at Martha’s Leelanau Table, too, (I know I will—fyi, Mario Batali and his family did last summer). Martha serves breakfast and lunch all week, dinner on Friday and Saturday and Sunday night supper. Check her web site for details: marthasleelanautable.com