Minnesota: Eats and Treats

Northern Lights Restaurant
Two Harbors

When we first checked into the Two Harbors Lighthouse B&B, Rose gave us a stack of restaurant menus to look through for the area and a few suggestions based on her knowledge of the choices. After reading through the menus we decided on a place just a ways down the road. Northern Lights. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but had a wonderful view of Lake Superior and a lovely garden out back.

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We perused the menu while Oldies (real oldies – 50’s and 60’s) played on the radio. Oldies always make me smile and sing along. I ordered the creamy wild rice soup and the Swedish meatballs. Sriram ordered the Hunter’s Pie (This delicious Northern Lights Chef’s version of English Sheppard’s Pie consists of Elk, slow cooked in a special broth featuring rich brown ale. The Elk is then incorporated into a rich gravy including Peas, Carrots, Onions, Wild Rice, and Mushrooms, then served in a bed of our Homemade Irish Baked Potatoes, covered with Shredded Monterey Jack/Cheddar Cheese and baked til bubbly golden and topped off with a sprig of Rosemary and two Garlic-Herbed Breadsticks).

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The soup was very good (they take their wild rice very seriously here in Minnesota), as was the rest of my meal. Sriram’s Hunter’s Pie was outstanding. For dessert, we had the Norwegian Fruit Soup (served with a slice of Lefse – Made from dried fruits, fresh citrus, spiced with Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Cloves and Brown Sugar). It was unexpectedly wonderful. Northern Lights is definitely worth stopping in. Good down-home type cooking in a lovely atmosphere. Definitely four thumbs up!

Voyagaire Lodge
Crane Lake

After we came back into port with our houseboat in Voyageurs National Park, we stopped in at the Voyagaire Lodge for lunch before moving on to other sight-seeing activities. We decided to give cheese curds a second try (after a disappointing first attempt back in Wisconsin), ordering the Jalapeno Cheese Curd appetizer. These definitely lived up to the reputation. They were lighter and cheesier than our last attempt, and the addition of jalapeno inside certainly didn’t hurt. They were served with a side of ranch and were quite tasty.

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For lunch, Sriram ordered the Walleye Fingers and I ordered the Pulled Pork sandwich.

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The pulled pork was as tangy and delicious as it looks, and I got it with the fruit cup instead of fries, to minimize the impact of the cheese curds. The walleye fingers (which I gave a try) weren’t half bad either. Not a bad stop for our first meal on land in a couple days.

Porter and Frye, Hotel Ivy
Minneapolis

Over our three days at Hotel Ivy, Porter and Frye became a quick favorite. We dined there on our first evening in town and then had each of our breakfasts there as that was what was included in our stay. Each meal was wonderful (and the staff were fantastic), but our first dinner was simply amazing.

For appetizers, Sriram ordered the Scorpian Shrimp (Cumcumber sour cream, hot pickles and sweet corn relish), while I ordered the Tomato Basil Soup (with mini grilled goat cheese sandwich). Sriram very much enjoyed the Scorpian Shrimp, and my tomato soup was light and frothy, and definitely hit the spot. The small grilled cheese was delicious, and the goat cheese added just the right flare (I’m a late-in-life convert to goat cheese, but now it ranks right up there with my favorites).

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Our dinners were equally lovely. Looking for something a bit on the lighter side, Sriram ordered the Hidden Streams Pork Shoulder Ramen (Yellow Miso, White Soy, Ginger, Lemongrass, Jalapeno, Cilantro, Tomato, Avocado and Rice Noodles), while I ordered the Hidden Streams Pork Chop (Chargrilled Black Peppercorn, Jalapeno Cheddar Grits, and Sweet Corn). Sriram thought his Ramen was excellent, but in need of hot sauce (which is the case 90% of the time). My pork chop was really big, but delicious. It was perfectly cooked and the grits were so creamy you could mistake them for mashed potatoes. And while it seems a funny thing to rave about, the corn was phenomenal. I don’t know what it was tossed in but it added a wonderful flavor to the entire dish. Well done, Porter and Frye.

Hell’s Kitchen
Minneapolis

We wandered over to Hell’s Kitchen the afternoon that housekeeping subtly booted us from our room at the Hotel Ivy (they were surprising us with a welcome package on our first city trip in weeks). Sriram had been to Hell’s Kitchen before and recommended it as a fun place for snacks. They have fun with the Hell jokes, in much the same way the Hoover Dam has fun with the Dam jokes (Move down the hall and get on the Dam Elevator, which will take you down into the Dam Exhibits, etc.)

I immediately liked Hell’s Kitchen. From the decor (dark, underground, lots of reds and blacks) to the unique menu descriptions, this was definitely my kind of place. A few of my menu favorites:

Hell’s take on the Juicy Lucy

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And Hell’s take on the Bloody Mary

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I was also amused by the Fromage-a-Trois (a variety of artisan cheeses with toasted baguette slices, and our [highly-addictive] Maple Bacon Chutney). In retrospect, I can’t for the life of me figure out why we didn’t order that. Oh well, perhaps next time. So what did we order? Junk! Delicious junk. Round three of cheese curds (State Fair Cheese Curds) and Buffalo Tots (tater tots tossed in buffalo sauce and served with blue cheese dressing).

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The snacks hit the spot, but I’d have to say that Voyagaire is still our favorite curd supplier. Still, Hell’s Kitchen is a fun stop.

Red Wing Brewery
Red Wing

The Red Wing Brewery was recommended to us as a really great place to get pizza so we decided to give it a shot. We had trouble finding it at first, but when we finally did, we were certainly glad we stopped in.

We ordered up breadsticks and the pizza that was on special that day, the Barbecue Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza (Pizza drizzled with Buchanan’s Sizzlin’ BBQ Sauce, cheddar cheese, crumbled beef, bacon and onions). Sriram also got a beer sampler, while I got Red Wing’s own rootbeer.

The pizza was fantastic (as were the drinks). We were actually surprised at how good the pizza was.

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But for me, it was the breadsticks that stood out. With apologies to the RWB (as some may not consider this a compliment), I’ll say they were as close as I’ve ever tasted to the original Pizza Hut bread stick. The Pizza Hut breadstick as it existed when I was in high school, which tastes nothing like the breadstick they serve today.

Everything about the breadsticks, from the flavor of the stick itself, to the dipping sauce, brought me back in time. Back to when Pizza Hut was a routine trip for me and my friends Jenn and Stacie for pepperoni pizza, salad bar, and breadsticks. Oh how I have missed those breadsticks. So thanks Red Wing! Misplaced nostalgia aside, if you ever find yourself in Red Wing, the Red Wing Brewery is a must.

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That’s it for the latest edition of “Eats and Treats” – we’re on our way to Iowa next! Ever been? Let me know if there’s someplace we should check out.

Twin One

We arrived in Minneapolis to the lovely Hotel Ivy. It marks our first view of skyscrapers since we left Niagara. The area of the city that we are in is pretty deserted upon our arrival and it’s on the late side, so we opt to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, Porter and Frye rather than going out for the evening. We’ll be here for a few days so we have plenty of time. And we plan to make the most of our time here – culture, spa visits, good food, and perhaps even a ballgame await.

In the morning we touch base with the front desk about a few items – particularly laundry (the dreaded road trip must), a running route for Sriram, and some activities in the area. We speak with Manager Tee Phan. She asks us to give her a few minutes to pull some information together with the concierge and tells us she will get back to us. In the meantime, we head up to the spa to book some appointments – a massage for Sriram and a (long-overdue) pedicure for me.

We return downstairs and meet with Joseph, concierge-extraordinaire. Truthfully, in all of my travels it is not often that I have found a concierge helpful. Most don’t (or won’t) do anything more than what you could have googled yourself. But Joseph was super helpful. At the direction of Tee, he had a lot of information already pulled together for us, including running routes for Sriram, a variety of laundry options, and lots of things to keep us busy in the city. With an outline of our plans at hand, we head out.

It’s a nice walk over to the Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center. We decide to skip the museum itself, but enjoy the grounds and the variety of different sculptures, including the famous Cherry on a Spoon (which we were very disappointed did not come in sticker form for our roof box).

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Some of the sculptures were interesting, others left us scratching our heads. But the fun really began when we happened upon the artist-designed mini-golf course at the museum. Each hole was more unique than the last, with the designs ranging from a tilting maze to garden gnome foosball to a pool table where you use the back of your club to try to pocket the ball pool style (around obstacles, of course).

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I think my favorite hole was the one that encouraged players to stand on foot pads on the course to block their opponent’s shots. We played 18 holes (two 9-hole courses), and had a lot of fun. It was actually the first time we’d ever played mini-golf together. Somehow we’d made it through 2 years of dating and 4 years of marriage without ever partaking in this quintessential date-night activity.

When we got back to our room (with the intent to nap), housekeeping had just arrived and did not seem to want to take the hint that we didn’t need them, so we left and headed for a late afternoon lunch instead. I was a little annoyed at a essentially being booted from my room, but was amused when we returned to find a note from the staff as well as a welcome package that included a flip-flop magnet, some fun Minneapolis postcards, and comfy hotel slippers.

The note read: Thank you for choosing Hotel Ivy, Minneapolis as your hotel choice as you are doing your cross country! Thought you could use these MN souvenirs. ~ Tee Phan, Joseph, and All Hotel Staff.

It was very sweet. A very nice welcome indeed.

Twins Time

Checking out the weather, we decide it was our best night during our stay for a ballgame, so we head over to Target Field and select some seats right over home plate.

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The Twins are playing the Angels, so we don’t have much riding on the game, but we’re both baseball fans, and I love checking out different parks. We spend a bit of time exploring the park. There’s not a ton of interesting stuff to see, but a few player statues and such, but it’s nice park, still pretty new and shiny. We find our seats and settle in for some baseball. It’s not looking good for the Twins pretty early on. We end up leaving in the 6th inning or so. It’s cold and since we’re not much interested in the outcome, we can’t be bothered staying. We walk back to the hotel and another day is over.

The Spa

Our second morning we head to the spa for our varying services. I’m excited about my pedicure. I’ve booked the “Peaceful Pedicure” (Lay back, relax and unwind in our zero gravity chair while you experience a luxurious pedicure in a quiet treatment room. Begin with a soothing eye pillow followed by a calming neck wrap and be transported into a state of bliss while your toes are beautified. Each pedicure begins with a foot bath containing essential oils to protect and hydrate the feet, followed by an indulgent foot mask, leg and foot massage and polish), and it truly lives up.

It is quite different than any pedicure I’ve ever had. The first noteworthy difference is that it is in a private room. No loud salon with chatting and music. I begin seated in a lounge chair that is upright. A basin of warm water is placed at my feet (no typical spa chair here) for soaking. Once the soaking is done and my color has been selected (a fun raspberry called Between the Sheets), the basin is moved away, my chair is reclined, and the relaxation begins. Soothing music plays in the background (think new-agey massage music), a warm compress is placed over my eyes. A blanket is tucked over me, and I could very easily fall asleep. The usual prep work happens (I apologize for my road-trip feet), and then lotions, and warm towel wraps before my toes get painted. It’s all heavenly.

Once completed I return to the spa lounge area and with a glass of water and a magazine, sit by the fire in my comfy robe while letting my nails dry. Sriram returns from his massage (routine by comparison to my treatment) and his trip to the sauna and after freshening up, we head out for the afternoon.

Minnesota’s biggest attraction awaits.

The Mall of America

Curiosity is the driving force here, more than any need for what the Mall offers. We arrive and enter through one wing of the mall. I look around. I’m not seeing what all the fuss is about. It looks like a mall to me, big, sure, but nothing special. I note the Verizon Store and plan to stop in to up my data limit on my gadgets (I’m using far more data on this trip than I do in “real life”). As I’m about to call the mall a wasted trip, we round a corner and I get my first glimpse of the real Mall of America – the part that makes it unique, makes it stand out, makes it a vacation spot in its own right.

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Three different roller coasters wind their way through the center of the mall in a section known as the Nickelodeon Universe. Other rides (carousel, swings, Ninja Turtles Shell Shock, among others) are spread throughout. An Aquarium and stores like Lego Land and the Barbie Dream House Experience are nearby. Restaurant choices are aplenty. It’s teaming with kids and families. I’m tempted to try out the log flume ride until I see a few of its previous riders. They’re pretty soaked and I’m not particularly thrilled with the idea of walking through the mall with wet clothes, so I pass. I feel compelled to ride something but I’m an amusement park wimp and most of the rides aren’t my style. We end up just taking it all in and enjoying the people watching. It’s definitely a unique place and well worth the visit. And I can see why families from more rural areas might consider it a one stop trip for shopping and amusements.

Mary Tyler Moore

On our final morning we are in search of some souvenirs – a Christmas Ornament, a bumper sticker and a few more postcards. In our travels we came across this fun Mary Tyler Moore statue.

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Dedicated in 2002, the statue commemorates the ground-breaking character and television series which ran from 1970 – 1977. A fun final stop before we heading back to our hotel to check out and leave town. For our final walk back we used the famous 8-mile long Minneapolis Skyway. The weather is pleasant enough to walk outdoors, but we can’t resist the opportunity to use the linking pedestrian bridges between buildings. I’m sure the system comes in real handy during those cold Minneapolis winters.

Life on the Road

Since we’re going all the way to the West Coast, not all of our days could be full of fun and adventure. Some days were mostly travel days, with a few quick pit stops sprinkled in. This was one of those days.

Our final destination for the day will be Minneapolis. We’re looking forward to some time in a city. But first…

Along the route we stopped in Bimidji to check out the iconic Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox statues. Totally goofy and touristy. The statues are really big and lots of fun, and inside the Visitors Center they have a collection of fun (and disgusting) Paul Bunyan “artifacts.” Check out those giant toenail clippings!

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When we arrived at Paul and Babe, I had noticed a sculpture a block or so down the road so I strolled down to take a closer look at it. The statue, Niiemii (meaning “He Dances”) was dedicated to all pow-wow dancers in 2000. It was a great sculpture.

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Our next stop was at the Mississippi Headwaters at Itasca State Park. It was impressive to see that the mighty river comes from such a very humble start. The sign states, “Here 1475 feet above the ocean the Mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its winding way 2552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.”

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We continued on our way. The Charles Lindbergh home was on our route, and we would have loved to stop in, but it was unfortunately closed. Perhaps on a future visit.

Off to Minneapolis.