With only a couple of hours to shop, I had to choose where to browse among the dozens of establishments that make up Downtown Traverse City. Merchants sell everything from inexpensive refrigerator magnets to high-end designer clothing in the shops that stretch for several blocks along the southern end of Grand Traverse Bay. Aside from one apparel shop where I couldn’t pass up a $48 pale orange quilted jacket marked down to $10 on a sidewalk sale, the shops that drew me in were all food specialty shops. Enticing aromas and tasty samples lured me into the shops, and once I sampled the goods, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take home some culinary treasures.
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My first stop was the Spice Merchants, where I tasted several dips made with mixes they sell. I almost always walk out of a spice shop with a new herb or spice, but what caught my attention here were the numerous tea varieties. I love herbal iced tea, and Spice Merchants had canister after canister of tea that they encouraged me to open and smell. I purchased small amounts of two herbal teas: Sharman’s Secret, made of thirteen flowers, fruits, herbs and spices, and because Traverse City is famous for cherries, I chose Dewy Cherry, a blend of sour cherries, apples, orange peel, rosehips and hibiscus.
Next door to the Spice Merchants, a Pop-Kie’s staff member was standing outside with a bucket of caramel corn and cheddar corn, handing out samples. Inside I tasted a couple of the candied popcorn flavors, but cheese corn is my popcorn of choice. I tasted the Hot Jalapeno (yes, it’s hot), almost purchased Bacon Cheddar but in the end went for a bag of the straight Cheddar.
Walking past the Grand Traverse Pie Company without stopping is nearly impossible while pies are in the oven. It reminded me of the old cartoons where the character sniffs his way along the wavy lines of freshly baked pie aroma to its source. In this case the source is the vent strategically placed in front of the building. You can purchase whole pies to carry out or you can eat a slice there. I chose a slice of the best seller, Cherry Crumb, also a favorite of Super Chef Mario Batali, who occasionally stops in to buy one. A local raved about the savory beef and chicken pot pies, and had I been ready for lunch, I would have tried one.
Fustini’s sells gourmet flavored oils and balsamic vinegars. My visit just happened to coincide with their sixth anniversary, and they were celebrating with samples of appetizers and desserts made by Chef Andy Stewart. Sample any of the oils or vinegars, or mix an oil with a suggested paired vinegar to sample what they will taste like together. I purchased coconut balsamic vinegar and lime olive oil that I plan to try as a shrimp marinade.
Every item sold in the Cherry Republic must include cherry, and almost everything is available for you to taste, from wine and soda pop to salsa and barbecue sauce. Choose plain dried cherries, cherries turned into condiments, even cherry sausage. I purchase dark chocolate covered cherries and a six-pack of cherry-flavored sodas, including cherry root beer and black cherry cream soda.
I could have gone on to the chocolate shops, coffee shops and more, but my time was up. However, I did make one more stop when I discovered the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market that runs every Wednesday and Saturday from May through October. My purchase there was a half dozen fresh herb plants that are now growing in pots on my deck, so I’ll have a taste of Grand Traverse all summer long.
Visit the Downtown Traverse City web site for information on merchants, and the Traverse City Tourism site for additional area information.
Disclosure: My visit to Traverse City was hosted by Traverse City Tourism, but the shop visits were on my own. Any opinions expressed in this post are strictly mine.
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