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Go For the Food: Fancy, sustainable fast food at Harvest restaurant in Traverse City, Michigan

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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Let's face it: In today's hurry-up culture, there always will be a need for fast food. Even when you're enjoying a leisurely vacation in a place like Traverse City, a Lake Michigan resort community with a nationwide reputation for restaurants serving high-quality, farm-to-table fare.

You could head for the outskirts and one of the chain eateries your kids so cherish. But if you're sunbathing on the Grand Traverse Bay waterfront, shopping in downtown's many boutiques or taking in a film at the glamorous State Theatre, chances are you'll have no appetite to navigate the traffic for another assembly-line lunch.

Mom-and-pop diners and brew pubs within walking distance can satisfy cravings for burgers and fries. But how about a quick, inexpensive meal consisting of Korean beef tacos with sambal slaw and Sriracha mayo? Or udon noodles with carrot, onion, green beans, bok choy, crushed peanuts and fresh herbs? Could fresh hummus with pickled carrot and feta tempt your palate?

You'll find such treats at Harvest, a recently opened restaurant tucked into an alley off Front Street, the main drag a block from the bayshore. It's the brainchild of Simon Joseph, an entrepreneurial chef who cruised into town three years ago aboard Roaming Harvest, the city's first food truck.

"Traverse City was becoming known as a food-centric place," says Joseph, "but we were missing a vibrant street food scene."

No longer. His truck is among up to eight at a time crammed onto the parking lot of a popular Front Street bar called The Little Fleet. Wanting to expand, Joseph decided to open a brick-and-mortar version of Roaming Harvest with more items on the menu. He renovated the building in the alley, giving it what Joseph describes as an "open industrial" look with high ceilings, exposed joists, birch table tops, and stools with galvanized steel legs and teak seats.

It has just a few tables and normally seats 19. If it's crowded, order takeout and stroll to the Open Space, a sprawling, grassy park beside the bay.

The menu is in constant flux, dictated largely by what sustainable, organic produce is available at local farms and markets. So check out the website or Facebook page ahead of time, or arrive with an adventurous spirit.

Soft-shell tacos are a fixture. For a couple of days per week you can get them packed with delectable whitefish, fresh from the lake — but they sell out fast. A recent dinner offering consisted of Jamaican jerk "drummies" (drumsticks), fennel celery salad, Amish blue cheese and coconut cream.

There's also a menu category labeled "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow," emphasizing its seasonal nature. Among recent selections was a risotto dish with short rib, snap peas, spinach and goat cheese.

If a snack is enough, choose from among fresh chicharrones (pork rinds) with chili lime sauce; chicken confit salad with arugula, blueberries, apple chips, goat cheese and rhubarb vinaigrette; or deliciously tangy flash fried street beets with wasabi mayo. For dessert, try one of the restaurant's chocolate chip cookies made with burned butter and sea salt.

Sounds pricey, but everything on the menu goes for $9 or less. And Joseph says the typical order is filled in five to six minutes. Fast enough for you?

___

If You Go ...

HARVEST: 131 E. State St., Traverse City, Michigan, 231-486-6037. http://www.roamingharvest.com/harvest

THE LITTLE FLEET: 448 E. Front St., Traverse City, Michigan, 231-943-1116. http://www.thelittlefleet.com

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