This summer I’m on a mission to explore uncharted territory in my own backyard, and improve Michigan’s economy one purchase at a time.
The strategy is simple. Visit 10 places I’ve never been before…just because, I’ve never been. Next on my list: 22 Vines & Wines Cafe & Market
I arrived at 22 Vines & Wines Cafe & Market in the middle of lunch hour. All five of the booths were full and the owner, Rich Van Steenis was scurrying about filling water, taking orders and delivering hot food from the kitchen. Wouldn’t you know they were short staffed and Rich was the only waiter.
As I waited for a friend to join me I was able to scan the tables and soak up the amazing smells wafting from the little kitchen in back. A Thai chicken pizza was delivered to guests at the table across from me, carried in on a wooden plank. The smell was fantastic.
22 Vines & Wines Cafe & Market is located right on M-22 just south of Suttons Bay. In fact, it’s next door to another one of my 10 Places: Chateau de Leelanau. The Hilltop complex, which also houses Gallery 22 and the Leelanau Chamber, is owned by the Van Steenis family. They purchased the property, a former dairy farm, in 1977 and converted it to retail space for Rich’s mother. When she decided to retire in 2008 it was time for further renovations.
What once was a milking room, is now a 10-year dream come true for Rich’s wife Salve. But I’ll get to that later. First you need to see what Salve can do.
My friend arrived promptly and we examined the menu with interest. I changed my mind a dozen times because everything sounded so good. The handmade thin-crust pizzas looked fabulous, but were too big for our appetites. Besides I hoped to try more than one dish. So we decided to share an appetizer of Thai rolls and each ordered tacos for lunch.
The chef recommended a split order of spring rolls and summer rolls. The spring rolls are made from ground round, cabbage, carrot and bean sprouts, rolled im a rice wrapper and lightly sauteed (not fried). The summer rolls are fresh and cool. Steamed shrimp and crisp veggies are rolled up with rice noodles in a rice wrapper and served cold. They provided two sauces for dipping—a spicy soy and spicy peanut. Both rolls were excellent…even though we paired them with the wrong sauces!
For lunch I chose the shrimp tacos, since they were grilled. My friend opted for the fried fish tacos. And we were both happy with our decisions. They were served two to a plate, topped with lettuce, cheese, thai cream sauce and fresh salsa. I paired mine with a jasmine ice tea. Lunch was filling, but at the same time it felt light. Which, was a great way to finish a meal. Instead of feeling stuffed and regretful I was looking forward to a trip back. And I was dying to see more of Salve’s thai dishes. Lucky for me, there were a few more coming out of the kitchen.
When I mentioned on Twitter that I was headed to 22 Vines & Wines Cafe I had some suggestions from followers, which included the Tum Yum Soup. Now that I’ve seen it, I know I’ll be trying that next time. This traditional Thai dish is one Salve modeled after the Bangkok street vendors who would make the soup on a cart while you wait. At 22 Vines & Wines Cafe they offer a seafood version with shrimp, scallops and mussels, a tofu version, or chicken, shown here. You can order it mild, medium or spicy.
Here are a couple other dishes to inspire your taste buds. Bet you’re feeling hungry now.
There’s more to 22 Vines & Wines Cafe…it’s the Market. So after lunch I did a little exploring. The restaurant lies on the corner at the front end of the building. When you walk in seating stretches along each side of the room in front of you, with a bar at the back. On the other side of the wall lies the Market. The cafe opened in the fall of 2010, but the market just opened this May. It appears to be a work in progress. But the focus is clearly on locally made products, including beer, wine and spirits, as well as the unique Asian food staples that they feature in the cafe.
There’s an ice cream counter in the front of the market that sells Moomer’s ice cream, and in the back, near the kitchen you’ll find a small bakery display with truffles from Chocolate Exotica, and homemade cookies. The shelves are only partially filled but what I saw represented many of my favorite local food stuffs. Naturally Nutty nut butters and spreads, Stone House Bread, Sleeping Bear Farms honey and other Leelanau county products lined the shelves.
After my wandering I sat down with the owner to find out how they decided to open a Thai restaurant in Suttons Bay.
Rich and Salve Van Steenis met in her cafe in Manilla, Philippines while Rich was visiting the island on for a diving trip. Salve, who came from a family of rice farmers, broke away from the tradition to follow her dreams in the kitchen. She has been cooking for 25 years. It took 10 years to convince Rich to open a restaurant here. Since he retired in 2008, he decided it was time for Salve to have her wish. They’ve taken nine trips to Thailand, thus her passion for the flavors of that region.
Since I am a strong supporter of Michigan wine, I had to ask about their name, and the connection they have to the Michigan wine region. The location of the property, along M-22, combined with the fact that they are surrounded by Leelanau county wineries, lead to a restaurant name that would attract a wine-tasting crowd. And yet, I discovered an anomaly. I was surprised, and a bit disappointed to discover that 22 Vines & Wines Cafe does not pour a house Michigan wine. In fact, it’s from California.
According to Rich they opted not to pour a house wine from Michigan because they didn’t want to take away from the tasting experiences at the wineries around them. “They represent their products really well. We don’t want to compete with that,” he added. What they do offer, which may calm the Michigan wine fans out there, is a large selection of Michigan wines by the bottle at retail prices that match the wineries. You can purchase a bottle in the market next door, and for a $5 cork fee you can enjoy that wine with your dinner.
I did notice several local Michigan craft beers on tap, including Right Brain Brewery, North Peak and Bells. They have many others available in the market coolers as well as distilled spirits from Grand Traverse Distillery and Black Star Farms.
At the end of the day I was really impressed with the dishes that came from Salve’s kitchen. They’ve created a restaurant that was supposed to appeal to a wine tasting crowd of tourists and instead impressed the locals so much they have many regulars who come several times a week. I know I’ll be back again to try that Tum Yum Soup…and maybe a coconut macaroon for dessert. They looked so tempting.
On your next trip wine tasting along the Leelanau Peninsula, think about stopping by 22 Vines & Wines Cafe & Market. You can find them at 5046 SW Bay Shore Drive, Suttons Bay. They offer dine in, or carry out so give them a call at 231.271.2221. And you can even check out their website at www.22-vines.com. As with all my 10 Places locations, I’ll be adding them to the Traverse Traveler iPhone app — our free mobile guide to the Traverse Area. Download on iTunes here.
If there’s a place in northern Michigan you’ve been dying to visit, but you’ve never made the time, I’d like to hear about it. Join the conversation on the Traverse Traveler Facebook page, and let me know where you’re going.
And stay tuned, as I plan to explore the next stop on my 10 Places I’ve Never Been tour: Country Christmas.