Trattoria Stella has earned an unwavering Four Night rating. No, that’s not a typo. The nights rating system is a little self-test I devised to measure my devotion to a newly discovered restaurant. A simple description of a Four Night rating is this; I would have to spend four nights in the restaurant’s respective town to consider dining one night elsewhere.
In practice I can say that I recently spent two evenings in Traverse City, Michigan and both nights where blissfully spent at Trattoria Stella. Had I been staying a third night I would like to think that I my curious side of my brain would have pulled me toward seeking a new experience. However, I know that as dinnertime drew near my palate would dominate the internal discussion as it so often does.
Trattoria Stella excels in the careful art of sophisticated simplicity. The menu, that changes daily, reflects the bounty from the local farms and markets that are featured in this Italian inspired restaurant. Michigan is the nation’s second most diverse state in agricultural terms growing a tremendous variety of fruits and vegetables while leading the US in the production of tart cherries, and blueberries. Their bountiful garden is a great source of state pride and something most any Michigander will tell you about if you can get past the hand puppet state map. (If you have a friend from Michigan simply ask them to show you where they hail from and you will see what I mean.)
Each day’s menu is headed by an extensive list of local farms that have supplied fresh food stuffs for the menu. It’s enough to cause a foodie to reflexively salivate.
The restaurant is the creation of Paul & Amanda Danielson. It is located in one of the town’s most interesting developments known as the Grand Traverse Commons. The Commons is a beautiful wooded grounds that just happened to be the Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane built in the late 1800s. The great old buildings, part castle like and part institutional are now being rehabbed making a home for shops, restaurants, and residents. Trattoria Stella is in the ground floor of the Mercato building. The space is partially subterranean with brick lined walls and arched through ways that give the place a catacomb like appearance and feel.
The menu, as previously mentioned, changes daily. It offers a selection of both cold and hot antipasto dishes, fresh soups and salads, fresh pizza, pasta, and entrees. There are about four to choose from in each category and if you are like me, you’ll want to sample something from each section of the menu.
We dined on fresh zucchini blossoms stuffed with local ricotta cheese, an heirloom tomato salad served with house made mozzarella and a honey/balsamic reduction, a seriously good spaghetti with fresh made sausage and wonderfully dense and hedonistic meatballs, sautéed veal, and rhubarb gelato. Needless to say, not a morsel made its way back to the kitchen.
The drinks menu is equally impressive. The wine list has a definite Italian slant but you will also find favorites from France, California and others with a nice selection of Northern Michigan wines as well. The wines are ideally chosen to match the cuisine and the prices are very fair (especially the bottle prices). Stella takes pride in their beer and spirits offerings as well. While they never intend to overwhelm you with a tremendous number of labels, they do impress with the balance of what is offered. I had no problems finding a suitable dram sipped for digestive purposes of course…
Trattoria Stella is positively a star on the Northern Michigan scene and it is truly one of my favorite restaurants in all of America – period.