Left at the Fork

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Category: Minnesota (page 1 of 3)

Convention Grill, Edina MN

REVIEW

The food is good at Convention Grill. Very good, in fact. But it’s not the best part of the 1930s-era art deco burger-and-malt joint. We love the old, original short-order grill up front as you enter, the mirrored main dining room with red-and-white checked plastic tablecloths and black-and-white floor tile, the uniformed waitresses who tend to customers with old-fashioned concern. We’ll go further and say that the woman who served us one Labor Day at lunchtime was simply the finest waitress we have had anywhere, at any time. Continue reading

Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul MN, August 24th through September 4th 2017

REVIEW

Let us tell you a little story: years ago, while we were waiting for a flight out of Austin, TX, we stopped into the airport Dickey’s Barbecue Pit (yes, we know, what can we say?) for something to eat. As we were waiting for our food, a businessman-looking fellow walked up:

African-American kid taking orders: Can I help you?

Businessman (with that unmistakably cheerful uffda accent, pointing at a smoked sausage):  Let me have one of those red weenies on a stick!

Kid (looking confused): Excuse me?

Businessman: Put one of those red weenies on a stick for me, willya?

Kid sheepishly looks left, right, behind him, then turns back to his customer with a helpless look on his face: I don’t understand what you’re saying. Continue reading

Target Field, Minneapolis MN

REVIEW

We sat next to a family who drove in from Kansas City, only to see their beloved Royals take a 17 – 0 drubbing from the hometown Twins. Why, at the end of the second inning it was already 10 – 0. The kids were devastated. Dad was working overtime giving them a Philosophy of Baseball lesson, there’s always tomorrow, on any given day any team… something that’s instilled in Mets fans like ourselves at birth. What do Americans do when the going gets tough? Eat! They couldn’t have been in a better place for that. Hope Mom & Dad have well-paying jobs. Continue reading

Wild Rice Days, McGregor MN, August 31st through September 4th 2017

REVIEW

It’s funny to consider the luxury foods of your childhood. Of course, that all depends on the era, and the part of the country, in which your childhood falls. For us, that would be the proverbial ’60s in the Northeast. What were the luxuries to us? Port-wine stained cheese spread in ceramic crocks, from WisPride and Kaukauna Klub; little metal-lidded glasses of refrigerated Sau-Sea baby shrimp cocktail in sauce; Rice-A-Roni wild rice pilaf. Continue reading

Bridgeman’s, Duluth MN

REVIEW

Bridgeman’s roots go back to 1883, when Henry Bridgeman sold fresh milk door-to-door in Duluth. His sons, Chester and Roy, went into the ice cream business 53 years later. Over the next 81 years, Bridgeman’s became a familiar name around Minnesota. There was a time when you could count on getting Bridgeman’s ice cream at your local drug store counter and, later in its history, stop in for malts at one of the many Bridgeman’s stand-alone ice cream shops. Continue reading

Wilbert Cafe, Cotton MN

REVIEW

Everyone in the restaurant business these days has an angle – you know, artisan pizza, or 23 ways with mac and cheese, or Korean/Spanish fusion. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se, but it ends up being all about the food or the novelty. There’s no soul, unless it’s in the food itself, which is very often quite good. We happen to be partial to restaurants with a history, cafes that grew up with the communities they serve. Enter Wilbert Cafe. Continue reading

Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen, Knife River MN

REVIEW

The North Shore may have lost a smoked fish house but they gained a candy store! Mel’s Fish, the old-time source for smoked fish in Knife River, was purchased in 2007 by sisters Pamela Matson and Patricia Canelake, who used their grandfather’s candy recipes and Mel’s old refrigerated fish case to open Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen. (Grampa Gust’s Canelake’s Candies still operates today in Virginia, MN.) Continue reading

Checking in at: Castle Danger Brewery, Two Harbors MN

There’s actually a place called Castle Danger — it’s a community about 10 miles up the shore from Two Harbors, and that’s where the brewery was founded in 2011. When they expanded, they moved to Two Harbors. Like Bent Paddle in Duluth, you see a lot of Castle Danger available in bars and restaurants around here. Continue reading

Russ Kendall’s Smokehouse, Knife River MN

REVIEW

There was once a time when Minnesota’s 160-mile North Shore of Lake Superior was dotted with fish smokehouses from Duluth to the Canadian border. Betty’s Pies actually began as a family fishhouse. Mel’s Fish of Knife River was sold in 2007 and became Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen. Lou’s, up the road in Two Harbors, closed in 2013. Continue reading

Northern Waters Restaurant, Duluth MN

REVIEW

After 15 years of earning his culinary bona fides downtown in the deli that showcases his incomparable smoked fish and meats, Eric Goerdt, with his wife Lynn, felt it was time to sit at the grownups table. The result is Northern Waters Restaurant, up in the Chester Park neighborhood close to the University of Minnesota Duluth. Continue reading

Checking in at: Hoops Brewing, Duluth MN

Hoops Brewing just opened this summer (2017). It’s on the ground floor of the Waterfront Plaza building in Canal Park, a former 19th-century warehouse that is now primarily a hotel. Hoops’ space was most recently the Timber Lodge steak house. You have to look carefully to even notice there’s a brewpub in the building, at least from South Lake Street. You enter the brewpub proper from the hallway inside the building. Continue reading

Deluxe Coney Island, Duluth MN

REVIEW

Sometimes it’s the dog, other times it’s the garnishment. Garlicky, snappy-casing New York City franks are so good they need no adornment. Midwest coneys, however, are all about the package in toto: the franks themselves are rarely anything special, nor do they need to be. Success depends on how the dog, bun, meat sauce, mustard, raw, chopped onions, and, maybe, shredded cheese work together. It’d be pointless to order a coney with, say, just mustard. Continue reading

Gordy’s Hi-Hat, Cloquet MN

REVIEW

We have a weakness for drive-in style restaurants from the ’50s and ’60s. Gotta be the real thing, though. We can totally do without modern joints that try to evoke bygone times. We’re happy to say that Gordy’s Hi-Hat is exactly what we look for in a drive-in. Gordy (who turned 90 in 2017) and Marilyn Lundquist opened the seasonal restaurant in 1960 and they can still be found here today, working alongside their son Dan, who manages the drive-in. Continue reading

Checking in at: Bent Paddle Brewing Co., Duluth MN

There are many brewpubs and breweries in and around Duluth but, if you judge based on how often you see the beers in area restaurants, Bent Paddle would have to be the most popular. It’s everywhere around here. A big part of that is because Bent Paddle is not a brewpub but an actual production brewery, which cans, ships, and markets their beers. The taproom is just that: a small room off the brewery, with a few tables and a short bar, where you can enjoy their fresh brews right at the brewery. Continue reading

Northern Waters Smokehaus, Duluth MN

REVIEW

Walk along the Lake Superior waterfront in Duluth and you’ll inevitably find yourself glancing up at the hills to the north. You can’t help but notice, at the very top of one of the hills, silhouetted against the bright sky, what looks to be some sort of stone tower. What is that? What’s the story behind it? And therein lies half the makings of a perfect Duluth afternoon. Continue reading

At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe, Duluth MN

REVIEW

Farm-to-table has been the key restaurant buzzword for the last decade or two, and it’s a development we heartily applaud. Still, we can’t help but have nagging suspicions in the backs of our minds: just how local, from what kind of farm, and how long was the interval between farm and table. We have no such concerns about At Sara’s Table…: the gorgeous, ripe tomatoes (and fresh basil) from our Caprese salad one summer evening were picked that morning by our waitress in the garden across the street. Continue reading

Checking in at: Fitger’s Brewhouse, Duluth, MN

Fitger’s is a modern microbrewery but its spiritual and physical roots go back as far as 1857. That’s when the Duluth brewery that would eventually become Fitger’s Brewing Company was opened. It moved to the current site of Fitger’s Brewhouse in 1881. Like most regional brewers of the mid-to-late 20th century, Fitger’s couldn’t compete with the brewing giants. It folded in 1972. Continue reading

Johnson’s Bakery, Duluth MN

REVIEW

Swedish limpa rye; Finnish pulla; Finnish rye; cardamom coffee cake, kringle: we don’t see Scandinavian baked goods like these back home in New Jersey. Here in Minnesota, it’s de rigueur, especially if the bakery is run by descendants of Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian immigrants, as is Johnson’s Bakery of Duluth. Continue reading

Betty’s Pies, Two Harbors MN

REVIEW

Betty Lessard was a North Shore legend. It was a legend built upon a pallet of flour and lard. Yes, her dexterity with the rolling pin knew no equal. It was in 1956 that Ms. Lessard took control of the family smoked fish shack, over time turning the small business into a cafe, and then a cafe whose raison d’être was pie. She’d bake up to a hundred pies each morning for her loyal customers. Continue reading

Grizzly’s, Duluth MN

REVIEW

Grizzly’s is a twelve-location Minnesota restaurant chain – a few of them can be found in the neighboring states of Wisconsin and North Dakota. Even with its small size, they have the soul of a national chain, which is to say no soul at all. This location in Duluth’s Canal Park would seem to be ideal for them – Canal Park is well-dotted with restaurant chains as well as hotels filled with travelers who love to eat and drink at them. The evening we were there, however, did not bode well for them. Having walked over from packed and bustling Canal Park Brewing, we found Grizzly’s to be subdued and mostly empty.  Continue reading

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