When Doug Kosch hired Eric Nittolo to be his executive chef at The Boathouse on Traverse City’s Old Mission Peninsula, he gave him a blank canvas. “I wanted to recreate the Hamptons style of dining,” Nittolo says, “a true East Coast feel.”
And so the blues of Bowers Harbor and views of Power Island framed by the venue’s wall of windows are offset by airy light Cape Cod hues, white beamed ceilings and rustic wooden chairs.
Outdoors, a 35-seat deck is in demand all summer long, and unless weather’s not in sync, dinner comes with a sunset. In fact, people book their reservations by it.
“So many people call and say, ‘We want to be there when the sun goes down’ that we have to keep a printout by the phone of the exact time sunset occurs each evening,” Kosch says.
For a menu on par with the finest East Coast cuisine, Nittolo has chosen the best — and most sustainable — ingredients he can find. That means Kobe Beef, Dover Sole, Marine Stewardship Council-certified Sea Bass and Great Lakes Walleye.
“Our fish comes to us directly from the point of capture,” Nittolo notes. “We tag the boat, the driver, when the fish was caught.”
Then he presents it in inventive ways.
The Dover Sole is served over a bed of fregola sarda (tiny pearls of Italian pasta) with strawberries, morels, Marcona almonds and peach champagne buerre blanc. Panko-crusted walleye is served with shrimp, fregola sarda and roasted tomato cream. Of creative starters including New Zealand Green Mussels and Russian Siberian Caviar, the stand-out favorite is Tempura Asparagus & Morels with a fried flower wonton cup.
And house-made desserts — save room for crème brûlée with POP ROCKS® — aren’t soon forgotten. “Our chef is kind of a big kid,” Kosch says.
Knot Just a Bar
With a first location at Bay Harbor Marina near Petoskey and a newer one on the Leelanau Peninsula’s Omena Bay, Knot Just a Bar serves up double the surprises.
First, there’s the view. Sitting at the outdoor patio in Bay Harbor watching boats bob in the water and shoreline activities is a treat.
Second is destination of origin: The bike trail between Petoskey and Charlevoix brings a steady stream of visitors. Other patrons arrive off their boats or take a day’s drive just for dinner.
The menu is another surprise, says Dave Waskiewicz, general manager for the owners, The Epoch Group. “Burgers and fries, some drinks and an appetizer and will just be about $40 for two people.”
Appetizers might include crab-stuffed mushroom caps, medallions of steak with grilled pita, nachos with house-made tortilla chips (“Knotchos”) or the venue’s tasty new gluten-free crab cake.
On the menu is an array of entrée salads — Cherry Chicken, Greek and Blackened Salmon among the favorites — while fish and chips are top sellers at both locations.
“We use perch or cod and serve it in a paper cone,” Waskiewicz says. “People love it.”
Stuffed rainbow trout, whitefish and steak are also big.
Both locations also serve about 70 varied beers, including Michigan microbrews and imported offerings. The Bloody Mary comes with a side of beer.
The main difference between the two sites might be after dark: While Omena sees more of a dinner group, “There’s probably a wedding every weekend of the summer if not three or four” at Bay Harbor, Waskiewicz notes, “and every one generally ends at 11. Where do they go then?”
“To Knot Just a Bar. They’re just getting started.”
Visit these venues online at boathouseonwestbay.com and knotjustabar.com.
Tempura Asparagus & Morels with Smoky Tomato Coulis (Yields: 6 servings)
Courtesy of Chef Eric Nittolo, The Boathouse Restaurant
Fresh asparagus spears (Nittolo uses Norconk Asparagus from Empire)
Store-bought Tempura batter mix
5 pounds Roma tomatoes, halved and seeded
1 pound Spanish red onions
¼ pound fresh basil leaves
¼ cup honey
3 whole eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Coulis: In a homemade or commercial-style smoker, place the tomatoes cut side down along with the onions and smoke low for 60 to 90 minutes until tender. (Nittolo uses cherry or apple wood chips for smoking; do not wet chips.) Remove tomatoes from the smoker and lay flat on a sheet pan to cool. In a large blender, combine smoked tomatoes, onions, basil, honey, eggs, oil and cider vinegar. Puree in blender until smooth, then season with salt and pepper and set the coulis aside.
Asparagus: In a large mixing bowl, prepare Tempura batter as indicated on the package. Meanwhile, fill a heavy-bottomed skillet halfway with vegetable oil (or the frying oil of your choice), leaving 2-3 inches of headroom for bubbles to rise in the pan. Use a thermometer to maintain a temperature of 325-350 degrees. Dip the asparagus in the batter, remove and shake off excess, dip again and then slide carefully into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Serve with coulis.
Gluten-Free Crab Cakes (Yields: 24 crab cakes)
Courtesy of Knot Just a Bar Kitchen Manager Jeremiah Moore
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 8.8-ounce package gluten-free bread crumbs (Moore uses Schar brand)
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
Dash of black pepper
½ tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon fresh cilantro, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 ⅔ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons yellow onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 pound lump crab meat
In one bowl, blend parsley, bread crumbs, cinnamon, ginger, salt, pepper, dry mustard and cilantro. In another bowl, mix beaten eggs, mayonnaise, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, onion and garlic. Combine the contents of both bowls, stirring thoroughly. Fold in crab meat. Form into 2-inch balls. Place on non-stick baking pan, flatten slightly and bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Serve with tartar sauce and lemon. Optional: Place finished crab cakes on a bed of mixed greens and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
Freelance writer Kathy Buzzelli lives in Traverse City