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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 tapdining@aol.com

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

1976
Pete takes a weeklong cooking class at LaVarenne in Paris, decides to quit job as designer for Ford Motor Co.

1977
After working at the Rowe Inn for free, Peterson leaves Ford for job at Rowe, making 1/3 the pay he made in Dearborn.

1983
Bought summer cottage on 7 acres known as Tapawingo, up the road from The Rowe.

1984
Tapawingo the restaurant opens May 10 with tight, $80k investment. Al Nick is partner. Entrees cost $16–$21.

1990
Rich Travis joins Tapawingo as sous chef. Pete leads first foodie tour group to Europe.

1991
Assembled Michigan Chefs dinner; first time top chefs cooked together in same room.

1992
First American Chefs dinner with Charlie Trotter, Emeril Lagasse, Bradley Ogden, Rick Bayless, et al.

1992
Bon Appetit magazine calls Tapawingo “Michigan’s Northern Star.”

1995
Gourmet magazine raves about Tapawingo in its American Dreams issue.

1996
Zagat Survey readers say Tapawingo serves best food in Michigan.

1997
Named best Michigan restaurant in a Gourmet readers poll. Makes Norwegian lefse for Julia Child at James Beard Awards reception.

1998
Tap doubles its space, adds chef’s table and patio. James Beard Foundation nominates Pete as best chef in Midwest.

1999
Peterson gets Beard nomination again.

2000
Stuart Brioza joins Tap as executive chef. Peterson nominated by Beard again. First strolling dinner with jazzman Bob James

2001
Earns prestigious four-star rating from Mobil Travel Guide and every year since.

2003
Tap is featured in New York Times article. Food & Wine names Brioza one of top 10 new chefs in U.S.

2004
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.

2008
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 …

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Tags: Ellsworth, Harlan Pete Peterson, Tapawingo, Tapawingo closes

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Comment by Lois Barliant on June 10, 2010 at 7:11pm
Thanks for the pictures. My husband have only had a few opportunities to enjoy Tapawingo and always wondered as we drove north if it was worth it. On the drive back to Traverse City, we're discussing the dishes, the wine, the delighful service, and the beautiful setting. Can you imagine how disappointed we were this year when we learned that it won't be open for us to celebrate our anniversary in that beautiful light with those beautiful flowers and the marvelous smells and tastes. How wonderful to have memories. How much better it would be to have Tapawingo open!
Comment by B. Lawson on April 17, 2009 at 9:27am
We have dined at Tapawingo numerous times each year for the past five years and never regretted receiving the bill. It was always excellent! Our last time was in January of this year and at the end of our meal Randy, our favorite waiter, informed us we would be the last to dine in Tapawingo. 'Pete' Harlan had informed the staff the restaurant was closing that night for good. We watched for a formal announcement and were heartened that nothing appeared for several months thinking maybe 'Pete' had changed his mind. Unfortunately that was not the case. We like the Rowe Inn but it is not the 'Tap.' Northern Michigan will not be the same without it. We can't help but wonder if the expansion of the restaurant was the beginning of its demise? Especially in such an out of the way place is bigger always better? 'Pete' please let us know if you plan to be back in the food business in some way and we will be there.
Comment by Craig M Parks on April 11, 2009 at 6:30pm
Too say Tapawingo will be missed by me and my family, cannot begin to put into words the vacancy in our lives it's closing creates. Starting with our annual August visits in 1984-1989, too many more than annual visits. Rich at cooking classes, Special Chef and Wine dinners and a couple Foodie trips to France and the people, Patsy, Madame Pat, Beth, Dr. Rose . The staff at Tap all special people.
Most of all Pete a truly " Gentle Man"
Comment by Elaine Spears on April 10, 2009 at 5:01pm
My husband, Bob, and I have dined at some of the finest restaurants in the U.S. and several foreign countries and Tapawingo was definitely one of the most memorable. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to have experienced it. I do hope Pete will publish his recipes/memories/photos. May you enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Comment by Randy on March 28, 2009 at 1:23am
Pete Peterson and Tapawingo set the dining standard of excellence for the midwest.
Comment by JTHoagland on March 25, 2009 at 3:05pm
Several years ago, I arranged dinner at Tapawingo for my wife's birthday (early May), we live an hour and a half or so away.
Some background, I have an interest in Earthy Delights, which sells lots of morels, in addition, my full name is John Hoagland. It appears that there is another John Hoagland, top morel forager over by Boyne, and that he had dropped off morels just a little while before I called.
This caused some initial confusion at the desk.
Well, we made our reservations, made it to dinner, I dropped a business card and the chef comped us the most beautiful LARGE white morel, stuffed with small morels drenched in a morel sauce.
I can't even recall the rest of the dinner - we were just blown away.
Having spent my summers nearby, this visit was like coming home.
Comment by Epicure Catering, LLC on March 23, 2009 at 11:41am
Sad to see you go, you are greatly respected and will be missed.
Comment by Rachel North on March 23, 2009 at 11:03am
while I respect Peterson's devotion to his craft, The Tap will be greatly missed. We enjoyed a lovely evening there this last fall. We really enjoyed ourselves. My 5-year-old declared, "These are the best green beans in the world." And she's a connoisseur of green beans. We also enjoyed a rather unusual wine, a 1998 Grange from Australia (my husband is a sommelier and this was a special treat for him).

And being the mother of a petite sophisticate, I was especially impressed at the attention my daughter received. She is and was very well behaved at restaurants. And she was not treated as a second-class diner.

We're delighted to have gone when we did, given today's news. It is certainly something our friends will lament for years to come.

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