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1633 W. Hwy. 61, Two Harbors, 218-834-3367
When you see the sign for Betty’s Pies on Highway 61, hit the brakes and turn. Betty left the business more than two decades ago, but she still comes in for breakfast every Saturday morning and the café still uses her recipes. In peak season, Betty’s turns out about 300 pies a day, which T-shirts describe as “just like Mom used to make—before she took up bingo, cigarettes, and beer.” Favorite signature flavors include the multi-berry Great Lakes Crunch and the creamy Five Layer Chocolate. There are also “pie shakes” for those who like their pie and ice cream mixed.
New Scenic Café
5461 North Shore Dr., Duluth, 218-525-6274
The digs may be cabin casual—knotty pine and maple covers nearly every surface—but the menu is big-city chic: braised lamb shank, seared halibut with cognac cream and black trumpet mushrooms. Even a simple fried egg on toasted ciabatta is paired with a wedge of Brie, a slice of baked serrano ham, and a clutch of Japanese greens and celery tops. If they’re serving the pistachio-crusted walleye, get it. Then record your review in one of the restaurant’s leather journals.
World’s Best Donuts
10 E. Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 218-387-1345
The Grand Marais Donut Shop changed its name after customers kept telling them they had the “best doughnuts in the world.” They’re probably right.
Gun Flint Tavern
111 Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 218-387-1563
The Gun Flint is a local bar with a global attitude, serving 40 different microbrews from as nearby as Ashland, Wisconsin, and as far away as the Czech Republic. It claims to be the only North Shore pub serving Guinness on tap, but regulars know to ask for a selection from the Lake Superior Brewing Company, such as the Kayak Kölsch. (The company brews its beer down the road in Duluth, where visitors can get a microtour of the microbrewery.) Pair your brew with one of the tavern’s sandwiches and take in the live music or head to the roof, which offers a view of the Grand Marais harbor.
Dockside Fish Market
418 W. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 218-387-2906
One of the few remaining North Shore commercial fisheries, the Dockside takes its catch—bluefin herring, lake trout, whitefish, and Canadian walleye—soaks it in a brown-sugar brine, and smokes it till you can hardly resist flaking it onto a cracker. It also sells Minnesota’s only indigenous caviar, harvested each fall from Lake Superior herring.
Angry Trout Cafe
416 W. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 218-387-1265
Despite its name, there’s nothing to get upset about here, what with the calming waterfront view, the fresh food, and the restaurant’s emphasis on environmental idealism. The ingredients are local (Lake Superior fish, hand-harvested wild rice), the sodas are homemade, and the takeout containers reusable. You’ll be happy. So will the planet.
Sven & Ole’s
9 W. Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 218-387-1713
Sven and Ole are actually two brothers, Sid and Terry Backlund, who started this now-famous Grand Marais pizza place back when they were in college. Their Uffda Zah—Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives, green peppers, and onions—is good enough to get even Scandinavians raving.
411 W. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 218-387-9113
There are just a handful of tables inside this quaint yellow house with the wide front porch, which makes Chez Jude feel cozy—as if chef Judi Barsness had invited a few friends over for dinner. Except her menu is far beyond the reach of amateurs; in fact, it’s the finest place to dine this far north. Barsness brings global influence to local foods, serving everything from Thai-style coconut shrimp to wood-roasted duck breast with cherry-port sauce, wild rice, mushrooms, and edamame orzotto. Stop in for a late-night wood-oven pizza or a chopped-sirloin burger and a glass of wine. You’ll wish you could stay over.
The Crooked Spoon Café
17 W. Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 218-387-2779
From the outside, the Spoon’s brick storefront looks unremarkable. The inside is nothing special, either, perhaps so as not to distract from the flavors packed into the café’s simple, delicious comfort foods and swankier fare. Try the creamy garlic, bacon, and bleu-cheese soup, or the crab cakes with chili oil and jicama coleslaw.
Best Fish Fry
428 Stratford St., Avon, 320-356-7372
With lake breezes blowing in through the screens and “Stand by Me” on the jukebox, the Fisher’s Club is like the summer-camp mess hall all over again—if the counselors had let you drink cans of Hamm’s and stock your hard stuff in a bottle service locker. Among such supper-club standards—steak, ribs, broasted chicken, coleslaw, potato salad—the walleye fillet stands out for its firm-but-tender texture and crunchy breading. Choose the half order if you want to save room for dessert. After Garrison Keillor became part-owner of Fisher’s in 2005, the restaurant added strawberry shortcake (on Powdermilk Biscuits) and a perfect sweet-tart Beebopareebop rhubarb pie to the menu.
The Pie Place
2017 W. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 218-387-1513
There are more crumble-topped, fruit-stuffed, cream-swollen slices of pie in this state than ways to make it, and we tried nearly all of them. With honorable mentions to the Barn and Betty’s, the “Best Pie” award goes to the Pie Place in Grand Marais. The name pretty much says it all: There are about 20 choices—so many that the waitress probably wants to throw a pie in your face because it takes so long to decide; unique flavors, including blackberry peach, blueberry sour cherry, and banana split; and consistently good crusts, be they graham cracker or trickier flaky pastry ones. We tried to take a slice of the raspberry-rhubarb streusel home, but instead ate every last crumb before we were 10 miles out of town.
Photo by David J. Turner
Photo by David J. Turner
Iven’s on the Bay
19090 Hwy. 371 N., Brainerd, 218-824-1407
Vacation-home owners may have Viking ranges and Sub-Zero fridges, but that doesn’t mean they actually want to cook. Dominated by chain restaurants and old-school supper clubs, the Lake Country culinary scene hasn’t quite caught up with the tastes of its summer residents, so when vacationers want to eat like they do in the Twin Cities, they go to Iven’s on the Bay, where executive chef Tim Anderson cooks the same seasonal, local, creative gourmet fare he did when he worked at Goodfellow’s and Napa Valley Grille.
Not long after Anderson arrived, Iven’s on the Bay was the hottest place on North Long Lake. Last February, the landmark restaurant was literally engulfed in flames. The owners, Ray and Jean McCabe (who bought the restaurant from the eponymous Iven Hudalla in 2004), decided to rebuild, and the restaurant re-opened at the end of last year’s tourist season. The dining room now feels even more regal, with its formal, dark leather chairs and ceiling painted the pastel hues of a Tuscan villa. The sweeping view of the lake, framed with twinkling white lights, mesmerizes.
Rare among restaurants in the area, the setting doesn’t overshadow the food. Anderson’s menu is as extensive as it is varied, offering such dishes as duck breast with citrus demi-glace, sesame-seared tuna steak with wild-rice stir-fry, and dry-aged porterhouse for two with bacon-braised Yukon gold potatoes. Anderson also likes to churn things up—he recently started making ice cream—and throw themed dinners, like Cuban-style pig roasts.
2001 Frontage Rd. N., Waite Park, 320-253-3611
The question you’re greeted with at Anton’s is an easy one: “Would you like a table or a covered wagon booth?” But after you settle into your mini-Conestoga, parked amid iron skillets and wagon wheels in this faux log cabin roadhouse, the questions become much more difficult. Hot popover with honey butter? Canadian walleye? Fourteen-ounce ribeye? But there’s no debate among Anton’s regulars about what to drink: a single-malt scotch. Built in the 1920s, Anton’s became a speakeasy during prohibition, and today at the “Fish and Whiskey,” as it’s locally known, the liquor flows as fast as the Sauk River out back.