By Marla R. Miller | Photography by Corenne Kreiser
A tasting room by day, Mission Table transforms into a rustic, casual restaurant at night with a local menu, local spirits and local legend. The farm-to-table restaurant opened nearly a decade ago as a new incarnation of an old favorite, Bowers Harbor Inn, a well-known fine dining destination on Old Mission Peninsula. With picture-window views of pine trees and the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay, the scenery doesn’t get much better.
“The atmosphere and the scenery you get is pretty unparalleled,” said Adam Raupp, chef de cuisine. “I think we do a great job of offering refined food at an affordable price and a lot of different options that are just fun.”
Under the direction of executive chef and managing partner Paul Olson, Mission Table debuted in spring 2010 and continues to shed Bowers Harbor’s reputation for sport coats and white linen tablecloths. Wood-top tables with metal-back chairs and pots of fresh herbs as a centerpiece offer up a cozier, casual feel and complement the historic home’s original architecture and natural surroundings.
“We tried to make it a little less formal,” Olson said. “We’d rather have you come in once a week than once a year for your anniversary.”
Depending on the season, a meal might include dining al fresco on the deck, an autumn sunset framed by colorful trees, or a snowy landscape and a cozy fire in winter. From spring through fall, the property hosts many weddings, so diners may witness a front-lawn ceremony or brush shoulders with wedding guests at the restaurant’s bar.
On low-key evenings, the estate’s heiress and resident ghost Genevieve Stickney may test guests with one of her antics. Olson and other employees can vouch for odd and unexplained happenings and don’t deny the haunted history.
“If you’re in this place in January and you’re the only one, it is kind of creepy. We’ve seen some things we can’t explain,” Olson said. “It’s good for business, so we play it up a little bit.”
Olson, who grew up in the Detroit suburbs, graduated from both Michigan State University and the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He and wife Barbara spent 18 years on the East Coast, where Olson discovered a passion for classic bistro cuisine and helped open several restaurants.
Olson joined Bowers Harbor Inn and the Bowery in April 2008 and led the reinvention of the restaurants. He sets the course and culinary direction for Mission Table and Jolly Pumpkin, a more casual brewpub behind the mansion. Barbara organizes all private events at the estate.
A mission to support local growers and highlight the region’s fresh local fare, whether it’s wild leeks, asparagus, squash or lake trout caught from the bay, fuels Mission Table’s food philosophy, preparation and presentation. Scallops, filet mignon and pork are popular main dishes, but fresh ingredients and seasonal produce from local farms drive the menu. The chefs grow herbs and morel mushrooms on-site and create desserts from the current fruit and berry crop.
Mission Table strives for a true farm-to-table experience, and entrées and sides rotate depending on the time of year. The kitchen staff keeps it simple, enhancing the flavor with the right seasonings and a little acid component, such as pickled relish or onion.
“We’re not really fussy,” Olson said. “Up here, with all of the farmers, to cook seasonally is harder but easier at the same time.”
From November to spring, Mission Table switches to a three-course tasting menu for $35 per person. The menu rotates weekly and features an appetizer, soup or salad course and main entrée.
General manager Jim DeMarsh has worked at the property for 10 years and took over from Olson in 2016. Besides the unique food and drink offerings, guests can take their drinks around the 9-acre property and explore the vineyards, herb garden or play yard games. “One of the most unique things about the property is the setting,” DeMarsh said. “You can go anywhere on the property. We want people to feel welcome and utilize what we have to offer.” ≈
Built in the 1880s, the historic Bowers Harbor Inn was remodeled in the 1920s as a summer retreat for Chicago lumber baron J.W. Stickney and his wife Genevieve. The legend goes that Genevieve, obese and jealous, had an elevator installed to transport her between floors. Her husband hired a live-in nurse to help care for her, and the nurse became his mistress. Upon his death, he left his riches to his lover and only the inn to his wife. Genevieve reportedly fell into a depression and hung herself in the elevator.
The Mission Table property also includes:
Northern United Brewing Company, a microbrewery and distillery housed behind
the historic inn
Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant, a casual brewpub with a separate entrance, hours and menu
Peninsula Room event facility for weddings and private events
if you go…
13512 Peninsula Drive, Traverse City
Fall Hours: Dinner 5-8 p.m. daily in October and 5-8 p.m. Friday-Sunday starting in November. The tasting room is open 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekends in the fall
Marla Miller is an award-winning freelance journalist in Norton Shores – Michigan BLUE Magazine