Category Archives: minnesota

Here’s my story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about smoked fish on Minnesota’s North Shore!

If you’re looking for smoked whitefish in Northern Minnesota, here’s a travel story I wrote….

An Iowan takes in the region’s tourist basics, but it’s the taste of the fish that stands out.
STARTRIBUNE.COM
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Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton, Mn.//Quang Vietnamese Restaurant in Minneapolis 

Has it really been a week since we were hiking in Jay Cooke State Park, on the St. Louis River, in Carlton, MN? Not for nothing is this park reportedly one of the Top 10 most visited in Minnesota. It was a logical spot to stop on our return from the North Shore to Minneapolis because it’s about 10 miles southwest of Duluth. I  was reminded of my beloved Ithaca when we crossed a suspension bridge over raging falls (although the water was an odd yellow-brown, reminiscent of root beer, which I later learned is caused by tannic acid, a natural plant compound used to tan hides – and make wine). We hiked on a muddy but scenic trail along the falls and into the birch and pine forest on a drier trail until a rainstorm suddenly blew in. Fortunately we didn’t get totally soaked. We found a shelter on the trail and the rain soon stopped but we ended up eating our picnic of smoked fish and cheese inside a rustic park lodge, completely with roaring fire! Nice touch!

Back in Minneapolis, we took “the kids” out for a quick Vietnamese meal at Quang, on “Eat Street,” aka Nicollet Avenue, which was packed with customers but the servers did their best to get the food to us quickly.

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Naniboujou Lodge, Cascade River and Temperance River State Parks, North House Folk School, Dockside Fish Market, Casade River State Park – Grand Marais

So glad my friend Denise highly recommended we drop by Naniboujou Lodge, just north of downtown Grand Marais. We didn’t eat brunch there but what a remarkable place! The massive dining room has a high ceiling boldly decorated in zigzaggy stripes of red, yellow, orange, green and blue – and other Cree Indian-influenced designs, plus an enormous fireplace made of cobblestones. As resorts go, it’s not big or fancy. The rooms are reasonably priced, maybe because there aren’t a lot of amenities that I could tell other. The Lake Superior beach front is the main draw.

Grand Marais reminded me of summer resort towns in northern Michigan, with tourist shops and a wickedly good donut shop (World’s Best Donuts). These towns never quite feel like real places to me, although I’m sure they are to the townies. We wandered through the Sivertson  Gallery, full of North Woods crafts and artwork. At the North House Folk School (which offers classes in folk art and traditional northern crafts), I talked with a woman who was boiling wool to use to make hats, shoes and puppets. We also dropped in at smoked fish shop #3 of the trip – -the Dockside Fish Market, which felt very much like a summer resort hot spot with tables in the back overlooking boats docked in the harbor.

On the drive back, we stopped several times to take short hikes along waterfalls and gorges at Cascade River State Park and Temperance River State Park  with strange yellow-brown water, the color of root beer, that I learned later was caused by tannic acid – a natural plant compound used to tan hides and make dry wine. We watched daredevil kids jump off high rocky perches in the woods, way down into a pool of water at the end of one series of waterfalls, near the beach. This reminded me of Ithaca, although the birch and pine forests reminded me of northern Michigan. We also stopped briefly at Betty’s Pies, which was doing a land office business at 5 p.m. Pie before dinner? Why not — we’re on vacation.

Cascade River State Park, Minnesota North Shore

Back in Duluth, we wandered around the imposing Fitger’s Building, a former brewery turned into a hotel and shopping complex.  Behind the building, we sat on a walkway overlooking the water and watched the sun set, then went back into the building for a burger and beer at the pub.  People were lined up outside the Portland Malt Shoppe, in an old lakeside building,  when we left the pub, which was a perfect thing to do on a late summer evening with slightly cool temps and a light breeze. But we were too full for ice cream. Next time.

 

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New Scenic Cafe, Positively 3rd Street Bakery, Leif Erikson Park, Russ Kendall’s Smoke House – Duluth, Knife River

 New Scenic Cafe did not disappoint. Lovely location on a lakeside country road about 12 miles north of Duluth, pretty backwoods decor with lots of wood, local artwork, even stacked tree branches here and there. The food was great — a light interesting cold corn soup, tuna sashimi  tacos with avocado and interesting slaw, frites, a pulled pork sandwich with avocado and queso, a killer sundae with caramel corn, peanuts, hot fudge and locally-made ice cream. When we left at 10:20 p.m. two people were relaxing in low wooden chairs around a fire pit on the front lawn, watching the almost-full moon drop a puddle of light onto the lake.

Before dinner, we ended up by the lighthouse in Two Harbors, which turned out to be a lovely place to watch the sunset over the water as we stood on a long breakwater.

Since  I am

writing a story about smoked fish shops here, we stopped at Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse in Knife River, a famous old roadside joint with a totally different vibe than Northern Waters. Knotty  wood walls,  an old neon sign outside advertising Royal Bohemian Beer and the Smokehouse, smoked fish and that’s about it, although there is a dining area in an adjacent room with tables, an old pinball machine, pool table and bar. (When I asked the woman behind the fish counter if the bar was operational she said no. “My grandfather was killed in a knife fight at the bar so we only sell beer to go,” she explained.

This morning we walked down the hill to Positively 3rd Street Bakery, (named after a song by Bob Dylan, who was born here). A sweet guy with a ponytail sold us a gooey roll and wheat bran muffin, then gave us free coffee that we took down the hill to a lovely rose garden at Leif Erikson Park. We found a bench overlooking the water. The public spaces here are really nice. Lots of lakeside paths and gardens and parks. We got more coffee at Duluth Coffee, a hipster place downtown and set off for Grand Marais on a pretty morning.

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Airbnb room with a view (Lake Superior) and Northern Waters Smokehaus – Duluth

Another great Airbnb (unlike the one I booked in Minneapolis where the weird host cancelled at the last minute). We are in a airy blue-walled room on the second floor of an old wooden house in a neighborhood high on a hill above downtown and the blue waters of Lake Superior. Some nice touches including a Polaroid camera to snap a few shots (haven’t used one in years), a white noise machine, pretty botanical prints on the walls, a map with pins to stick in to show where visitors are from. (Other Des Moines residents had been here, as had visitors from Tehran and Hamburg.) We shared a bathroom with the one other room, which wasn’t an issue.

After a brief stop at The Minneapolis Farmers Market downtown on Lyndale near Twins stadium to pick up huge red dahlias, raspberries, strawberries, scones and banana bread to take to Noah and Rachel’s new apartment on Emerson Street, we drove two hours or so to Duluth (not too much traffic) and tried our first batch of smoked whitefish at Northern Waters Smokehaus, a hip, foodie sandwich shop inside an old brick warehouse renovated into a marketplace with nice shops. I ate the fish on saltines with a smear of cream cheese, as directed.

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Peninsula Malaysian Food on “Eat Street”, MilkJam Creamery – Minneapolis

When we were riding our bikes along Nicollet Avenue near our airbnb in the Whittier Neighborhood (26th and Pillsbury Ave. S.), I noticed that there were a lot of restaurants but we needed an insider (albeit a fairly recent 20-something arrival, our pal Conor) to tell us the area was called “Eat Street.” (I had noticed earlier an office that read “Eat Street Dental” which I found curious.)
We had lots of options – especially ethnic, including one Vietnamese restaurant (Quang?) that I think we went to over a decade ago) but we settled on Malaysian food at Peninsula  since I so rarely see or get that food. We counted on the server and a nearby table of what may have been Malaysian diners to figure out what to eat and it was good, especially appetizers (Malaysian pancake and sauce; spicy spareribs.)
Our local-in-the-know also took us to an artisan ice cream shop, MilkJam Creamery , nearby on Lyndale where we seemed to pick the few concoctions that didn’t feature coriander. (Cashew Ousside – malted sweet cream with caramel cashew bar and chocolate chips;  Hard Knock Life – dark chocolate w/ salted pretzels, brownies, and chocolate fudge.) Also very good. We skipped the Doo Wop (avocado lychee.)

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The Grand Rounds Byway, Minehaha Avenue, Midtown Global Market, Spoonriver, Westin, Guthrie – Minneapolis

Guthrie gift shop finds

Another surprisingly gorgeous day and we used it well, spending most of it on our bikes pedaling Grand Rounds Scenic Byway from one lake to another, (Lake of the Isles, Calhoun, Harriet, all the way to Minehaha Falls.) Much of the city seemed to be on the trail, as they should be and we again appreciated the orderly layout of  the trail, with separate trails for bikers and walkers and the cycling trail divided by direction. We also found a perfect diagonal Street with a clear bike lande (Minehaha Avenue) to get back to the Midtown Greenway and our Airbnb, doing a great loop.

Guthrie cantilever

At the Midtown Global Market, we all tried various ethnic foods (excellent baba ganous which I don’t always like at the Holy Land;  brioche for breakfast from Salty Tart Bakery; Indian tacos from a stand in the southeast corner etc). dinner was at Spoonriver, next to The Guthrie. Very good salads, burgers, desserts. (The Vietnamese Salad with grilled shrimp and lemongrass was a standout).

Global Market

The play we went to see was odd (Refugia) but it was a treat to be in that building again. High drama decor with a blood red theater inside a dark deep blue glass building. Next time, I hope we can go up to the ninth floor observation area. (It was closed for a private event.)

At intermission, nature produced even better drama as we watched a storm move in over the city from the deck out side the cantilevered portion of the building. We capped things off with a drink at a Westin Hotel that was once a bank, with Art Deco reliefs, fixtures and carvings beautifully restored. So happy Noah gets to live here!

Westin hotel lobby for drinks

Biking to Minehaha falls

 

 

 

 

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