Dining on the North Shore
Finally, the cuisine matches the scenery.
© Beth Gauper
The Portland Malt Shoppe, in a former gas station near Fitger's in Duluth, is a favorite stop.
Twenty years ago, dining on the North Shore was pleasant, if a little utilitarian. A meal often came with a view, but most of the menus had the same fish, steak, chops and burgers you could get anywhere.
Things have changed. One Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I ate at three of my favorite places and two newer ones, one of
which definitely was worth a detour. A three-star culinary weekend on the North Shore — who knew?
On old Highway 61 between Duluth and Two Harbors, the cheery New Scenic Cafe is a
fixture of fine dining. I had my usual, the pistachio-crusted goat-cheese salad, with a starter of sashimi tuna tacos.
But I was a little envious of my husband's salmon, which came with wild rice so savory I made the server ask the chef how he prepared it — and I don't really like wild rice.
We finished with a slice of one of the restaurant's renowned pies, raspberry-rhubarb, warm and topped with vanilla ice cream.
At the Coho Cafe, part of the Bluefin Bay resort in Tofte, we picked up chicken-salad croissant sandwiches and took them up the road to eat on a quiet cobblestone beach on Lake Superior. Dining in is very pleasant, too; it's hard to go wrong with the cafe's breads, pizzas, sandwiches and desserts.
In Grand Marais, we had squash ravioli and walleye tacos at the Gunflint Tavern, an
old favorite for its wide selection of microbrews, windows overlooking the harbor, convivial atmosphere and acoustic music on
The next week in Duluth, we stumbled upon Va Bene, on Superior Street a few doors from the Portland Malt Shoppe.
The sunny, brightly painted cafe overlooking the lake offers build-your-own pasta as well as salads and panini; better yet, it serves homemade gelati.
We've since eaten there many times; the glassed-in deck is as close as you can get to the lake and still be indoors.
On another trip, we found the Crooked Spoon Cafe in downtown Grand Marais,
which offers comfort food made with fresh, regional ingredients and an original twist, such as free-range chicken with a
dried-cherry and brandy demiglace and pork tenderloin with a green-apple butter and smashed bourbon sweet potatoes.
It has a nice children's menu, too, featuring sandwiches on multigrain bread and homemade mac 'n' cheese.
Twenty miles farther east, in Hovland, Chicago Bay Marketplace serves homemade pizza, pies and sweet rolls, 218-475-2253.
And there's always the old favorites: in Duluth, the Lake Avenue Cafe, Bellisio's, Grandma's and Amazing Grace on Canal Park, Fitger's Brewhouse and Pickwick in the Fitger's complex and At Sara's Table/Chester Creek Cafe near Chester Park.
On a pleasant day, the patio of Sir Benedict's Tavern across from Fitger's is a good place for a sandwich. And in Grand
Marais, there's the Angry Trout Cafe, open May through October.
On weekends and other busy times, it's a good idea to reserve at the New Scenic Cafe, 218-525-6274; the Crooked Spoon, 218-387-2779; the Lake Avenue Cafe, 218-722-2355; Bellisio's, 218-727-4921; and the Angry Trout, 218-387-1265.
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