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

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

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.


The Voyage Continues

Waking up on the water is magical. Our view is spectacular, as is the peace and quiet. We wake to the sound of two loon calls, which turn out to be the Voyagaire morning radio show. It’s 8am and we listen in for the weather and some park history. Today’s topic is the Kettle Falls Hotel – timely as that will be our destination today. The broadcast ends with a “thought for the day” – today’s thought, the word politics – poli meaning many, tics meaning blood suckers. I chuckle and then start up the boat for charging.

We call into base to let them know we’ve figured things out (it’s not so much just pressing the button, it’s finding the small button under the large button that really puts it in idle), and to ask the hospitality service, “Simon Says,” to bring us some hot chocolate and potato chips on their delivery run. I’ve woken up cold, and have a sore throat. I’m feeling run down and figure warm beverages are a good thing. The chips are just cause we’re out. We won’t see Simon til much later in the day, and he’ll find us wherever we go, so we decided to head up to the Falls for the day.

Getting out of our spot turns out to be trickier than getting in. It’s difficult to keep the boat in place so that Sriram can get on after untying us. The wind is working against us, but he gets aboard and we go on our way. We “drive” for hours – following our navigational markers along the way. Many of them are hard to spot (the greens in particular), and we long for a pair of binoculars. We came straight from the lighthouse so didn’t have much prep time. Binoculars were on the suggested items to pack list, but as it’s not noted that it’s suggested for navigational reasons, I wouldn’t have thought of it as such. Still, my 200 mm lens on my camera turns out to be a decent backup, and I often take long range photos of the markers and then zoom in close in the view screen to verify numbers and locations. It works out ok.

I’m also improving my eagle scouting and photography.

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Radio calls throughout the day make it clear that we will NOT find houseboat parking up near Kettle Falls so we’ll have to find parking elsewhere and then make our way up to the Falls in our small motor boat. The fun begins again as we attempt to find a place to land. We call in our location for some advice. Jim, from base mentions looking for spots where they have marked the black dots on the map. I again find myself wishing that the islands had corresponding black dots on them. Jim mentions several beautiful beaches in the area we are boating – we have seen none. We eventually ask him to clarify what he means by beaches, as perhaps he has a different definition than we do. Nope – he means a nice sandy beach. We eventually see one or two, but other houseboats are already parked in the spots, and it’s one houseboat per spot. But in the end we never really did see anything we considered a “beautiful beach.”

We eventually end up simply “inventing” a spot, as we have no clue what to do otherwise. It was frustrating. We’re on rocks again, and without benefit of a sign we don’t know if we’re ok where we are. But we tie up best we can, get in the small boat and head up to the Falls and the old Hotel.

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The hotel is not what I expected. We were told it would be “like stepping back into time.” It was, but in an outdated way. A few cool period pieces were sprinkled throughout (old cash register, fire pit, sewing machine), but none of it presented in a way that made it seem like it belonged there. We stayed long enough to have lunch (and read the National Park trivia cards at our table) and take a stroll before the journey back to our boat (which I wasn’t 100% convinced we’d find).

Simon Says dropped by after our return and verified that our spot is ay-ok – that some of the best spots are “made-up” spots. We’re grateful for the confirmation, particularly when heavy rain and thunderstorms roll in over night tossing our boat repeatedly against the rocky shoreline.

We wake up to a beautiful fog the next day.

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S’mores greet us for breakfast (and by “greet us” I mean, that’s what I made for breakfast). A basket of supplies had been left on the boat as a welcome – and heck, we’re on vacation – there are no rules on vacation. They were a tasty start to our day. The weather report on the morning show mentioned that the evening and following morning would once again have thunderstorms. Opting to not have to search for parking and then deal with the rain in the morning we decided to spend our final night on the boat docked back at home base. But, first we need to make the few hour journey back, which gives us plenty of time to enjoy the view.

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When we got close enough, we radioed in for a pilot and came in to explore a bit of the park on land. We took a drive out to one of the visitor’s centers, walked a few trails, and saw some of the beautiful land-based sights in the park. In the evening we retired to the top deck of our houseboat (which also has a water slide – air and water temps were not suitable for use) and just enjoyed the peaceful night in the harbor.

Our final morning, we woke to this. A beautiful conclusion to the visit.

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Overall, I think I’d only recommend the park to boaters and fishermen. We saw so many fishing boats out, and there seemed to be plenty of great spots for all. House boating turned out to be more work than we felt it was worth. Perhaps with a larger group, so we wouldn’t always have to be driving and/or navigating, it would have been easier, but the lack of easily recognizable parking made the outings more stressful than they should have been. But it was an interesting experience, and I’m glad we did it.