Whether it be for the canoeing, hiking, fishing, or to simply curl up at some cabin getaway to lay about and skip stones, Northern Minnesota offers endless opportunities for every stripe including the culinary wine lover. Self-catering kitchens inspire epic shopping trips to load up on cases of wine and spirits, but with so many terrific options to drink and dine out, it is easy to eat local as every traveler is wont to do.
In terms of reliable standards that raised the bar and deliver every time, everybody makes a point to visit the incomparable Gunflint Tavern who even use J. Carver Vodka on the rail; Lake Avenue whose craft cocktails are legion and who were the first in Northern Minnesota to wave the flag for the local grain-to-glass spirits of J. Carver Distillery; and all know to go to The Angry Trout as the restaurant in Grand Marais for incredible scratch food with great beer and wine options. The Trout even offers Miner Sauvignon Blanc and Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Gris by-the-glass! For roads less traveled however, here are some highlights of lesser known restaurants that embrace wine as food and will prove worth your while next time you venture North.
Celebrating their 90th anniversary in July of this year, this historic, architectural gem might ring a bell to many of you but what’s new was that starting last Summer, Naniboujou incorporated a wine list for the first time since Prohibition. Now you can match a glass to any offering on their award winning menu or should you be spending the night, savor some special bottle beside Minnesota’s largest stone fireplace in their renowned dining room whose motley painted walls make a person feel as though one walked into the world of Wes Anderson.
A lacustrine paradise, this is the oldest remaining guest lodge in the Ely area. Nestled among the pines on the southern shore of Burntside Lake, Burntside is a summer resort which has welcomed guests since 1913. Listed among the National Register of Historic Places, Burntside has early records of guests enjoying hospitable lodging in accommodations at what would become Burntside Lodge as early as 1911…over 100 years ago! What is new and all the more extraordinary is the amazing food and a wine list with its breathtaking breadth of regions and styles. Should you head up this way you will want to devote at least one evening to their astonishingly well curated list -truly remarkable anywhere and once a rara avis outside of the Twin Cities’ finest establishments.
NEW SCENIC CAFÉ
An open secret but a beloved spot well worth reminding all to visit especially now with its amazing, capacious new timber framed lobby which can now comfortably fit thirty guests where once only four people could wait. For those who have yet to experience this pleasure, it rests along the North Shore on the drive up toward Two Harbors. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the New Scenic remains the cozy café for which it first became famous. It is a touched place where Scott Graden’s culinary talent still shines through the highly acclaimed menu and its inspired wine list offers an intentional spectrum of delights to lure every sort back for more. Its enticing assortment of spirits was a new marvel altogether. Who wouldn’t fall for a place where fine dining takes off its tie to revel in creature comforts and prepare the northbound for a quieter time along Lake Superior?
This marvel ticks just about every need off the list and though new to the wine scene has a lot to offer. Once an Embers run by a family that would not be tamed into the humdrum limits of such a franchise, this from-scratch-kitchen has earned quite a reputation for epic breakfasts and a full menu all day. Whether it be the need to modify a meal to be gluten free or flexitarian, a yearning for homemade comfort food, desserts and espresso for every sweet tooth and pick-me-up, Duluth Grill is open 7 days a week from morning till night serving local, organic & fresh ingredients and now that it has a wine and beer license, this local highlight is all the more inviting at all hours of the day.
MOOSE BEAR WOLF
The much anticipated addition to the Ely food scene has sparked a whole new thrill thanks to the genius of Chef Bryan Morcom, who many of us first met while an integral part at Alma. Influenced by his years as Chef de Cuisine at that James Beard Award winning Restaurant Alma, his personal history as a 5th generation Iron Ranger, and his encounters with food as he biked south along the Mississippi River, Bryan is delighted to introduce and celebrate Northern flavors of the Iron Range, weaving a story that connects flavors throughout the world. Transforming the old Chocolate Moose space into Moose Bear Wolf, this New American Cuisine pop up restaurant is focused on the sustainable tenants we celebrate in our wine portfolio, and the local sustainable practices using fresh ingredients whenever possible. Picture a seasonally changing menu that is well matched to a nice list of local, organic, wine and beer. Everything we love about this world and a rare treat going in or out of the Boundary Waters.
LOON LAKE LODGE
Almost to the end of the Gunflint Trail, one walks into a picture postcard where the scenery is only matched by the charm of Loon Lake Lodge. One of the few remaining log resorts in the area, Loon Lake Lodge is a gem by every measure that offers a chance to wake up to the calls of loons while the sun rises out your bedroom window. For the active, one could spend all day hiking, canoeing, or fishing from this base camp -or simply rock your back into the place and relax over board games or a good book with some snacks and a cold beer or nice glass of wine. If their delightful restaurant is called for, one literally has to call in their reservations along with their orders from the menu by noon of each day but it is fun and worth your while as this is the only place up there to find a bottle of Ottella Lugana to go with your perfectly prepared walleye.
Halfway up the Gunflint Trail, 32 miles out of Grand Marais, one can discover a special getaway, little known beyond regulars and those in the know. At the edge of Poplar Lake stands a lodge of lodges surrounded by camper cabins open year round and ready to host most every adventure and creature comfort. The Poplar Haus is stands out for many reasons but among our favorite is their amazing cocktail bar and that the Poplar Haus has the only liquor store on the entire Gunflint Trail. Here they keep stock of fine craft brews, domestic beers, wine and spirits so no one goes thirsty and the options are delicious.
Two doors down from Sven and Ole’s in Grand Marais, this little husband and wife operation offers a seasonal lunch and dinner menu somewhere between mid to fine dining without a lick of pretension. Made with the care one might expect from such an intimate place, the sourcing emphasizes local and regional ingredients which are worth any wait. If the wait is longer than you might otherwise bear, note that there’s a charming little bar up and behind the restaurant that they run called “The Crooked Lookout” that might fit 15-20 people and can curb your hunger with appetizers, craft beer and wine while you wait for your table -all while taking in a panoramic view of Grand Marais and the harbor.
In the end, no matter you find yourself, you are UP NORTH! and sure to have a high time but sometimes simply knowing a few way points makes for a better stay -certainly a nicer meal with a good cocktail and a nice wine list. Have a great trip!