A From-Scratch, Farm-Fresh Approach

Frankfort’s Dos Árboles restaurant mixes a creative combination of authentic Mexican flavors and American-style cuisine
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Mexican food
One of the many Mexican-themed dishes created by Executive Chef Natalie Crawford.
Photos courtesy of Nick Crawford

Across the street from Lake Michigan’s Betsie Bay, patrons entering Mexican-themed Dos Árboles, one of Frankfort’s newest dining destinations, are greeted by a cozy, festive atmosphere awash in rich colors.

Turquoise, deep rose, ebony, and a buttery yellow blend with stone and natural wood. Paintings from Mexico City adorn the walls. The 12-seat bar’s concrete countertop is comprised of stones native to Michigan, including Petoskey and Leland Blues.

A collection of more than 320 tequilas and mezcals, one of the state’s largest, rises above the bar on shelves that reach the ceiling. A rolling, library-style ladder provides access. Dining room seating consists of tables and comfortable, clamshell-style booths. On select evenings, the sound of musicians playing acoustic sets fills the room.

Owner Nick Crawford
Owner Nick Crawford

Nick Crawford and his wife/executive chef, Natalie, opened Dos Árboles (Spanish for two trees) in May of 2022. The eatery is located next door to Birch & Maple, which the couple opened in 2018 after relocating from Colorado. Birch & Maple serves farm-fresh breakfast, lunch, and dinner with twists on traditional American and some international cuisine. It also boasts an extensive craft cocktail collection.

The couple originally purchased the building, formally an antiques store, in the fall of 2019, with plans to expand Birch & Maple. Construction was set to begin in March 2020.

“We all know what happened then, and the pandemic gave Natalie and me plenty of time to reflect on what we really wanted to do with our future,” Nick says. “When traveling, we always seek out the best Mexican-style restaurants, so we switched course and went all-in on a Mexican-inspired, friendly place that would attract us if we were visiting Frankfort.”

Owner Natalie Crawford
Owner Natalie Crawford

Construction began on the Crawfords’ new vision in October of 2020. Like Birch & Maple, Dos Árboles  takes a from-scratch, farm-fresh approach to its menu. Natalie, a graduate of Traverse City’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute, has crafted selections that showcase her spin on dishes and traditional flavors from regions throughout Mexico.

“Natalie really got creative in developing authentic, very flavorful, street taco-esque items,” Nick says. “I’d describe the menu as a hybrid of authentic Mexican food and some American-style cuisine. We encourage people to try different things.”

Nick emphasizes the care and meticulous detail that goes into each menu item. Dos Árboles’ tacos, carnitas, and other dishes are made with meats such as pork and chicken that are slow-cooked through a process that takes about 12 hours and incorporates spices and a variety of peppers.

“Even our black and pinto beans take three hours to prepare and include all kinds of Mexican spices,” he says. “Rice is made with our own seasoning mix. Our tortilla chips are also made in-house.”

Among the most popular items is mole verde, a traditional Mexican sauce containing house-braised pork carnitas, poblano peppers, masa harina, and more than a dozen herbs and spices. The dish is served with flour tortillas.

Other signature offerings are the adobo grilled steak and double-fried chicken thighs. They’re brined and double-fried with a Mexican tempura batter, tossed in a house barbecue sauce, and served with rice, beans and sautéed vegetables. 

Extensive taco offerings include chorizo rojo and potato, carnitas with braised pork shoulder, Tinga with chipotle-braised chicken, and camarones (shrimp). Vegan taco options include black bean hummus or chayote squash with sweet, pickled jalapenos.

“We brine our chicken thighs for 24 hours before frying them twice in a tempura that includes Mexican beer and tequila and is tossed in our crunchy barbeque sauce,” Nick notes. “Then, we mix in beans, peppers, and pickled jalapenos. It’s a perfect meal for two.”

Mattila Farms provides beef and pork, while Cold Creek Farm in Benzonia provides sustainable produce and hot sauces made exclusively for Dos Árboles.

“Our signature drinks are all made from a variety of hand-squeezed juices, and we make our own margarita mix,” adds Nick, a mixologist and certified sommelier. “You won’t find five-gallon buckets in the back containing margarita mix that resembles anti-freeze.”

tequila
More than 320 tequilas and mezcals are featured in an inviting selection of craft cocktails.

In warmer months, Dos Árboles  has plenty of outdoor seating with Lake Betsie views, including a ground-level patio and a 20-seat rooftop deck that’s perfect for catching sunsets.

Nick (from Dayton, Ohio) and Natalie (from Rochester) met while working at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo. Nick arrived there first, at the end of 2011. He decided to move West after visiting a friend in the area, where he became enthralled by mountain town life. After earning a business degree from Eastern Michigan University, he found a job but “wound up hating it,” so he launched a new career in the restaurant industry at age 26. 

Natalie has worked in restaurants since age 15. She earned a business administration degree from Oakland University before attending GLCI. As part of her program, she needed to serve a culinary externship before graduating, and someone at the institute suggested The Stanley Hotel. 

Natalie visited the hotel with her parents before beginning the externship in early 2012. There, she ordered a margarita from the man behind the bar — Nick. “Natalie jokes she knew she was going to marry me after tasting the first margarita I made for her,” Nick laughs.

The Crawfords expanded their restaurant footprint in the area yet again before the end of 2023. The new owner of a 90-year-old building in Elberta that once housed the Mayfair Tavern, known for its legendary burgers, approached them about operating a new eatery there.

“We’re paying homage to the Mayfair’s past with a menu I describe as elevated fast food — burgers, chicken tenders, fries, milkshakes, and boozy milkshakes,” Nick says. “It’s another exciting opportunity for us to continue playing a role in elevating the dining scene in the area we love.” 

Dos Árboles
The downtown Frankfort restaurant offers customers a festive atmosphere in which to enjoy a variety of farm-fresh menu items.

Plan It!

Dos Árboles, Frankfort
dosarbolesfrankfort.com

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