Smoke & Porter Public House |  Characteristics

Smoke & Porter Public House | Characteristics

An elevated dining experience on the east side of Traverse City
By Janice Binkert | January 1, 2022

Whether you’re a camper or not, if you’re from Northern Michigan, you probably have fond memories of sitting around a campfire on a beach or in your own backyard around a cozy log fire, either roaring or glowing with dying embers, captivating your senses with their intoxicating scents of smoke and elemental beauty. Henry Bisson fell under the spell of wood + fire at a young age and now recreates that memory every day in his kitchen, much to the delight of his guests at Smoke & Porter.

When Smoke & Porter first opened in July 2015, the last thing chef-owner Henry Bisson wanted was for people to assume it was a barbecue spot. But that’s exactly what happened, because of the word “smoke” in his name. “However, it wasn’t smoke like barbecue, it was smoke like when cooking with wood,” explains Bisson. “I was actually cooking chicken thighs one night on a makeshift wood-burning grill in my backyard when the inspiration for this place occurred to me. It was the smoke that triggered the concept, and it came down to the simplicity of the thing. That simple chicken was delicious. It’s that campfire flavor. And I was thinking, ‘Well, this is it. I want to bring that flavor to a heightened dining experience. ‘ Barbecuing was not our intention. At first, we didn’t have a “From the Well” section on the menu. We didn’t make brisket or shred pork every day. But people spoke, so we had to adapt and change part of our concept. And actually, I came to appreciate it more over time. “

With the “smoke” component of the name in place, Bisson says the “gatekeeper” component was natural. “It just so happens that darker beers, like stouts and porters, pair very well with smoked meats or any smoked food. It made sense, especially since we have so many great local beers, including porters. In addition, a doorman is a person who takes things for others, so we also consider that the word doorman represents our service personnel. They are bringing you the experience of our food and drink. “

Although the menu now includes some barbecue, the wide range of food options on offer couldn’t be more diverse. Bisson says part of the reason for adding the “Public House” subtext to the Smoke & Porter name and logo early on was that they didn’t want to call themselves a restaurant. And they didn’t want to be known as a barbecue place. “We wanted to have the flexibility to explore whatever we wanted to explore, food-wise. We didn’t want to be locked into something that we felt we were not or something that would not allow us to go in different directions or expand our concept. And then of course there is the whole history of British and Irish pubs (pubs), which over the centuries have been a kind of social hub for the community, and we definitely wanted that welcoming aspect to come through. “

In addition to being used in the smoking process in the kitchen, wood also plays an important role in the dining room: the tables, floors, chairs, and trim, as well as the 20-foot-long bar, all made from local hemlock, are polished. to a warm patina, providing a rustic counterpart to the industrial feel of the space. And the finished menu items that the “porters” bring to the guests have their own yin and yang.

“My food is not fusion cuisine,” says Bisson, “but I am not ashamed to choose flavors from other types of cuisine. If they work together they fit together and can make a nice dish, of course why not American BBQ with Indian curry for example? Or Korean flavors, like our pork and lettuce wraps (shredded BBQ hoisin, gem lettuce, and apple kimchi). I mean, people are cooking with fire all over the world. So why should I limit myself? Our smoked chicken has a touch of chermoula that is common in Moroccan and Tunisian cuisine. That is not your typical barbecue touch. And our fish and chips, a nod to our ‘public house’ identity, with a twist, is beer battered white fish and Cajun seasoned (with waffle fries, malt vinegar, watercress salad and remoulade) ” More menu variety comes in the form of roasted beets (with shredded Brussels sprouts, red quinoa, dried apricots, goat cheese, Marcona almonds, and lemon-black garlic vinaigrette) or a recent special feature of Swiss raclette (served with smoked sausage. from Texas, candied fingerlings, cornichons, baguette and whole grain mustard).

Smoke & Porter’s homemade desserts are always fun and creative and, like the main menus, change regularly and seasonally. A recent list included Chocolate Cake (with Coconut Nut Frosting and Raspberry Coulis), Eggnog Cream (with Gingerbread Cookie and Molasses), and the ever-available “floating flight” for kids (Northwoods Soda Root Beer, ginger ale and orange cream soda with vanilla ice cream).

Bisson just recently reinstated lunch service, having had to quit for a while due to staffing and supply issues. “But with the help of the owner, the banking system, the government and our loyal team, we were able to get ahead and continue to operate at the same level as before,” he says. “There is a desire for lunches, even here outside of Traverse City’s main downtown business district, and right now, we have the staff to do it.”

This time, however, the menu is a bit simpler. “The one we had previously was more difficult to produce than our customers’ lunch time allowed. It was geared toward more of a dining-at-home situation, and it just didn’t work out for enough people, ”says Bisson. “We now have more take-out items like sandwiches that are an attractive alternative for people who would otherwise have to turn to fast food and get stuck in long lines. They can easily call us in advance, be here in fifteen minutes, and the food is ready. And the main thing is that they are not eating the typical fast food. They are getting great food, quickly and conveniently. “

A new section on the lunch menu is funnily labeled Grilled cheeseish. “We say ‘ish’ because of course you have all that melted gooey cheese and crusty bread,” says Bisson, but we’re adding more interest. ”Variations include the Cuban (pulled pork BBQ mojo, house smoked ham, Swiss , pickled Cuban and mustard with beer cream, on pullman bread), breast (with smoked gouda and BBQ onions, on pullman bread) and goat cheese (with olives, tapenade and tomato, on semolina and fennel seed bread) .

Sticking with the theme of hand, Smoke & Porter still has burgers on the lunch menu, including the Truffle Huffer (with mushrooms, brie, arugula, truffle vinaigrette and cream of beer mustard, over brioche) and other sandwiches like meat. smoked at home. pastrami (with Swiss cabbage salad, horseradish, apple and arugula and golden raisins, on caraway rye). Oh, and by the way, caraway rye, pullman bread, fennel seed semolina bread, and brioche are all made at home.

Bisson is originally from the upstate and worked at a local family restaurant as a teenager, where he “got a bit hooked on the [kitchen] environment. “It started as a dishwasher and quickly moved down the line.” I loved the teamwork and camaraderie that grew there, “he says. I was finally connecting. ”When it came time to think about college, he came north and enrolled in a culinary program at NMC in Traverse City (now the Great Lakes Culinary Institute).

Apprenticeships and restaurant stints followed at fine dining establishments in Oregon, Nantucket, and Traverse City. “I’ve had great mentors,” says Bisson. “His guidance and those experiences provided me with incredible learning opportunities and really shaped me. One of the most important things I learned along the way was that good food is really about mastering the proper techniques and having the best ingredients. ”And since the best ingredients are the freshest ingredients, locally sourcing is one of the Bisson’s top priorities.

Before launching Smoke & Porter, Bisson spent 12 years at Michael Peterson’s highly rated Lulu’s Bistro in Bellaire (now closed). “For the first five years, Mike was still there to guide me, and the last seven years he was kind of like my kitchen,” he says. And that was a gift. I had a chance to try new things, figure things out. “

And now that he has his own place, Bisson is paying for it: “I have people on staff who have been cooking for a while, but now I’m trying to put them in situations where they can think about their processes,” he says. give them more growth opportunities, just like I. Instead of ‘Okay, this is the recipe, and this is how I want you to do it’, it’s more ‘Okay, find out something, try this, see how you would like look and know. ‘That way, they can start to exercise their creativity more. Because that’s the kind of thing that got me going. “

Smoke & Porter is located at 1752 US 31 North in Traverse City. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. M. A 9 p. Happy hour from 3 pm to 7 pm every day (and all day on Thursdays). Closed Sundays and Mondays. For more information, including a wide range of catering and takeout services, call (231) 642–5020, visit, or visit them on Facebook and Instagram.

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