Brad, I did not unfortunately; I do love a good aquarium.
kland, I actually looked up the New Scenic Cafe website and they mention that they've been open since 1999 but no mention of any other location--which is why I wondered about the 'New' in the name. Maybe it's just 'New' in an ironic sense? I dunno.
I did forget something from Duluth but for which I have no good pictures. The pedestrian walkway follows Superior St. for a few miles but about two flights of stairs below it, above the lake level but not all the way up to the street. There are several places where you can go up to the street level along its length, and most of these are punctuated by a business. We saw a couple of ice cream stops, but there is a tiny storefront window Bridgeman's, and Julie lit up at the name. Apparently when she was younger Bridgeman's was more of a restaurant/ice cream parlor business and it was a treat for her and her sister, especially the turtle sundae. So we got one of those and a root beer float for me one evening. It was exactly as she remembered but not really remarkable except for the nostalgia.
The morning we left for the hundred-or-so-mile trip to Grand Marais was the first morning we ate at Takk for Maten, and we kept it light specifically with lunch in mind. I had not realized until the week we left that we were going to cross paths with Roadfood stalwart Davydd in Grand Marais, so I contacted him and asked if he'd like to meet for a meal or a snack, and he graciously agreed to stick around until we got up here. He suggested Chez Jude for lunch, which is right in the middle of town on Route 61:
We had a long conversation about how long it had been there; I don't remember it from the first time I visited Grand Marais, which would have been in 2002, but then my memory is not great. We actually got there a little too early, so we waited a bit while Davydd talked to the proprietor Judi about arranging a lunch for his RV club later in the year. We were seated on the porch and started to peruse the menu. I remembered Davydd having a wonderful pizza here in his North Shore trip report, so I wanted some of that:
They have a few pizzas on the menu and this one is the puttanesca. We also ordered something that I believe was called the summer salad, which was prepared tableside:
by another really marvelous waitress. It really started to feel like the waitperson fairy was following us around, or maybe we were just picking places that know the value of good service. Here's the salad plated up:
Very fresh greens and recently picked tomatoes, shaved parmesan and homemade croutons, all in a delicious dressing. Brilliant. Now here's where you know I'm a Roadfooder, because I don't have a picture of Davydd, but I have a picture of his lunch:
How is that for an insanely handsome burger? And the noises he was making eating it confirmed that it had to taste at least as good as it looks. It was a delight getting to meet and chat with Davydd. He is every bit as knowledgeable and spirited as his trip reports would suggest. At some point we were joined again by the proprietor, Chef Judi:
who came out to clarify some points about the luncheon with Davydd, and sat for a moment while we tried to explain how we knew each other and what all this food website business was about anyway. She gave me her card and when I'm done with this trip report I'll be sending her a link. (Hi Judi! Thanks for the marvelous lunch!)
Desserts here also looked scrumptious but we had no room, so we bid Davydd a fond adieu after looking around his RV (yeah *Marlene*) :) and wandered back into town for a bit. Grand Marais has what looks to be a small waterfront, but you can spend a surprising amount of time there. They have one of my favorite shops in the world, an old Ben Franklin variety store that really shows how much you can pack into a tiny retail space--almost the contents of an entire department store into a space the size of a 7-11, but well organized. We walked around until we felt like eating a World's Best Donut (of course). I was so excited I stood behind a plywood Viking:
I noticed that World's Best Donuts has increased their hours; the walk-up window opens at 4 in the morning now, I suppose for the benefit of folks getting out to fish or whatever early. Still dirt cheap and still awesome.
Eventually we got hungry again and settled on a place new to us and highly recommended by Davydd, the Dockside, situated pretty much exactly across Route 61 from Chez Jude:
These places make me wish I liked smoked fish more than I do, meaning this place and Northern Waters in Duluth. They clearly practice a very carefully honed craft, and I like the little bits I sample, but not enough to eat a whole plate of it. Maybe it'll grow on me. Lucky for us though, Dockside also has an extensive menu of fried fish and other lovely things done with fish, most of which is straight out of the lake that you can see out back. We started with a salmon chowder:
Now salmon here is not necessarily local from what I understand, and I was sadder about the quality of this picture moreso than pretty much any other, because this was freakin awesome chowder. I wanted some more of this, and I don't normally say that about anything with salmon in it. Our entrees were delivered soon, a basket of fried local herring and a basket of fried walleye, one with fries and one with slaw. The walleye's slightly larger pieces:
And the herring, here accompanied by a local Dorothy's (the Root Beer Lady) Root Beer:
Julie was still in mourning for the walleye she left behind at Hell Burger, so she pronounced this walleye inferior and went into the herring, but I didn't agree. I thought they were equally good, although they're not fundamentally similar fish. The sides were excellent, the slaw in particular was very tasty, and I enjoyed Dorothy's root beer. We sat back on the deck overlooking the good cast of fog on the lake and were very satisfied.
We found something we never found before in Grand Marais. At the end of the little peninsula is a public boat ramp and a small park, and if you venture into the park even a little you come across an area known as Artists' Point, a dramatic collection of boulders jutting into the lake. People have taken to building cairns there, and there's quite a collection now:
We wandered around there for quite a bit. It was an absolutely beautiful end to the day. Before we headed back up the road to our hotel, we did stop in at the Pie Place since it had come so highly recommended for a bit of dessert. We actually got there after they had stopped serving dinner, but they graciously accommodated our wish for dessert. Julie ordered a maple pecan:
And let me tell you, I don't typically love pecan pie (I know) but the addition of the maple flavor does something magical to it. We had, yet again, another fabulous waiter here and he told us that the maple pecan was his favorite too. If we hadn't have gotten this scene stealer, I might have otherwise been perfectly content with my slice of blackberry peach:
The crusts on these pies and the one from the New Scenic Cafe were delectable--to me I know I've had great pie when I don't wish there were less crust. I can see where the Pie Place gets its vaunted reputation.
The next morning we were up with the birds because we decided to take a suggestion from Davydd and hit one of the hiking trails along the Gunflint Trail. The Gunflint is a 50-something mile road that heads west from Grand Marais to the outskirts of the Boundary Waters and culminates in the loop of a state campground. So you can't really get anywhere else driving the Gunflint Trail--you can only go to one of the wilderness resorts or residences along the way. I'd like to put in a word for our little motel:
The Outpost isn't fancy by a long shot. It's about a dozen un-air-conditioned, wood paneled rooms around a tiny courtyard with chairs that look out upon this view; you can cross Route 61 and be at the side of the lake. I never fail to get tickled at the flyswatter hanging from a peg in each room, and the rickety old Pepsi machine in front of the office, but I love this place, and I love how beautiful it is here. We made our way into town for donuts to snarf on the drive:
I think that over the course of our two visits there I had a raspberry bismarck, a lemon mini-bismarck and some sort of maple frosted roll, and those were all delicious. But I think the star of their show is the sixty-cent granulated sugar donut, which Julie's eating here. She won't entertain any alternatives. We saw a few very pretty things on our drive:
But the big two, the bear and the moose, continue to elude us. The above picture was actually taken on a small trail not too very far into the Gunflint that's supposed to provide a great place to see moose, but it was not to be. These woods are so dense, though, that one could be smoking a cigarette right next to you and you might not know unless it sneezed. We were rewarded with the sight of a fox trotting along the highway with a hard earned squirrel in its mouth. About twenty miles later, we saw an odd looking creature slither across the road. A truck in the oncoming lane had to slow to avoid hitting it, and the young couple looked at each other and high-fived after it passed. It was small and black, about the size of a house cat, but moved in that inchwormy way that you would associate with an otter, but wasn't at all wet or leathery-looking like an otter. The closest I could figure from looking at the taxidermied critters in the Chik-Wauk museum later on, it was a fisher. I had never heard of a fisher.
Do you not believe me about the place being gorgeous yet?
We made it to the trail that Davydd had suggested, the Magnetic Rock trail, about most of the way to the terminus of the trail. We hiked for a good long while--this is the trail where a wildfire has obscured the path in a few places, but hikers have responded by building more cairns. We did find the low-lying wild blueberries Davydd spoke of:
And they were delicious. I know from his pictures that we never actually found Magnetic Rock. I had asked for advice about a trail because I've been in a foot brace since mid-July and wanted some terrain that wouldn't put me to scrambling too much. And this was just about perfect, but I tired out sooner than finding the rock. At one point with every large blocky boulder we passed (and there are a few of them) one of us would pronounce "YOU are not Magnetic Rock" to punchy giggles.
We scouted out the food possibilities on the way into the Gunflint, and after the hike we hit the Chik-Wauk museum near the trail's end:
It's a very nice, small facility that recently opened and gives the history of the settlement of the local area by non-native Americans, with a particular emphasis on the development of the local resort industry, and some history of the native Americans who lived there too. We ended up chatting with a very nice lady outside who had grown up there and lived nearby, and we asked her which of the lunch choices was best. She said that the Trail Center made pretty much the best malted milks around, and we looked at each other and nodded. That was that.
The Trail Center lies at pretty much the midpoint of the Gunflint Trail and contains both a restaurant and a store, stocked heavily with camping and outdoor equipment. The day we visited they were also selling (and providing free samples of) their homemade pickles, and a massive fawn Great Dane belonging to one of the owners was ambling through the storefront. We actually had to wait just a few minutes for a table. Once we were seated, listening to the conversations nearby, it was clear that this is often a first-meal-off-the-trail for campers and portageurs, as well as a handy lunch spot for utility folks and others working nearby. Their menu is comprehensive and features a large variety of burgers and sandwiches. It was again, tough to decide, but we had to have one of those malted milks:
And at the rate I sucked that thing down you would have thought I'd come off the trail after a year myself. I picked chocolate, although they have a large variety, and it was the best thing I've ever had in my life. For lunch we did the splittie thing again, this time starting with a cup of ham and wild rice soup:
Which was far superior, actually, to the chicken version we'd had earlier. This one was not as creamy as the Amazing Grace soup but the flavor was just perfect. We also ordered one of the burgers split, which they graciously brought us on two plates with two servings of fries:
I think this one was called the Bear Beattie, or the Bear Baiter, or something like that. It's just blue cheese crumbles on top of the burger, held down with a slice of melted swiss. Kind of simple and ingenious really. This was seriously the best burger I've had in recent memory--fresh meat, very juicy, kind of a perfect bun and wonderful toppings. I ate like the undead. The fries were very good but had no choice but to pale to the malt, soup and burger. This meal was the only counterargument to our lunch at the New Scenic Cafe being the best of the trip. We miss this lunch today.
Our incredible waitperson karma pretty much culminated here too. The sweetest girl waited on us and we enjoyed listening to her interact with her other tables too. A large family party at the end of a camping trip included a couple of kids she paid special attention to--we giggled that one of these kids ordered a bowl of mac and cheese with a side of fried cheese curds. Another table full of local volunteers for an outdoor service group, teen boys and girls, got chided and teased for ordering 'wrong' according to the waitress. We were so charmed we asked if she'd mind us taking her picture and she told me to wait a second while she pulled herself together:
I never asked her name but thanks for taking good care of us, sweetheart.
To come: the trip back to the Cities and a few outlying spots.