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21 great restaurants for a fall-colors road trip, from Grand Marais to Red Wing

October 10, 2018

Along the North Shore

What is arguably the state’s most stunning dining environment doesn’t really have views of Lake Superior, and it doesn’t matter, because the fall colors are just as spectacular inside Naniboujou Lodge (20 Naniboujou Trail, Grand Marais, Minn., 1-218-387-2688, naniboujou.com). Painter Antoine Goufee covered the dining room’s 20-foot-tall domed ceiling (shaped to suggest an upside-down canoe) in a vivid, color-saturated Cree Indian pattern, one that echoes the art deco sensibilities of the building’s 1929 roots. Another draw is the mammoth rock fireplace, which tips the scales at 200 tons. The kitchen is at its best at breakfast and Sunday brunch, although afternoon tea ($15) is also a treat. Plan accordingly: the 2018 season’s last day is Oct. 21.

It’s impossible to imagine visiting Grand Marais and not dropping into the Angry Trout Cafe (408 W. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 1-218-387-1265, angrytroutcafe.com) for lunch or dinner. The enchanting lakeside landmark celebrates the locally caught bounty of Lake Superior, at family-friendly prices. Along with cisco, trout and whitefish, expect to encounter Wisconsin-raised bison and pork from a Wrenshall, Minn., farm. And yes, that’s a maple syrup sundae on the dessert menu. Last day of the 2018 season is Oct. 27.

For the past 12 years, Nathan and Sara Hingos, the husband-wife duo behind the Crooked Spoon Cafe (17 W. Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 1-218-387-2779, crookedspooncafe.com), have been impressing locals and visitors with Nathan’s reliably spirited cooking — locally raised pork with black-eyed peas and smoked ham hock, a doozy of a crabcake with a red chile rémoulade, buttermilk biscuits smothered in red-eye gravy — and Sara’s hospitality. The charming storefront setting (complete with an enclosed, harbor-view rooftop bar) is serving lunch and dinner through Oct. 20.

Drop in on Voyageur Brewing (233 W. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 1-218-387-3163, voyageurbrewing.com) for affordably priced sliders, flatbreads, tacos, chicken wings and other beer-friendly snacks — and brewer Stuart Long’s handiwork.

Other good news: It’s not too late to partake in the deep-fried delicacies at World’s Best Donuts (10 E. Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 1-218-387-1345, worldsbestdonutsmn.com). The 2018 season’s last day for Skizzies, Chocolate Knots, Maple Swirls, Cinnamon Roundups, Bavarian cream-filled Long Johns and other specialties is also Oct. 20.

Hwy. 61, the ultra-scenic route connecting Duluth and Grand Marais, really should be christened the Great Minnesota Pie Trail. Two standouts include the Rustic Inn Cafe (2773 Hwy. 61, Two Harbors, 1-218-834-2488, rusticinn.cafe) and Lemon Wolf Cafe (Hwy. 61, Beaver Bay, 1-218-226-7225, lemonwolfcafe.com). The former isn’t hard to spot, given the appetite-inducing “Fresh Pies” sign on the roof. Inside, the blackboard menu lists more than two dozen artfully made options, all served in a homey, cabinlike setting. The latter? It’s home to a towering coconut cream pie that has to be tasted to be believed.

There’s a new chef at the Ledge Rock Grille at the Larsmont Cottages (596 Larsmont Way, Two Harbors, 1-218-595-7510, larsmontcottages.com). He’s Simon Gilna, a veteran of Chicago’s top-rated Next.

Along with updating the restaurant’s breakfast, lunch and dinner options, Gilna is serving a six-course ($85) tasting menu at a front-row kitchen counter.

In Duluth

The Zenith City’s dining scene has never been more promising. Make a plan for weekend dinner at newcomer Martha’s Daughter (107 E. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-481-7887, marthasdaughterrestaurant.net), where chef/owner Nyanyika Banda is preparing a globally eclectic array of dishes, including many that she found herself craving from her New York City restaurant kitchen days, from well-detailed tacos to meticulously rendered ramen. In her stylish downtown digs — looks-wise, it would fit right into Lowertown or the North Loop — Banda also maintains late-night hours, hurrah.

It’s time to add another stop on any Duluth taproom itinerary. Yes, Bent Paddle Brewing Co. (1832 W. Michigan St., Duluth, 1-218-279-2722, bentpaddlebrewing.com) and brewer Dave Hoops’ Hoops Brewing (325 S. Lake Av., Duluth, 1-218-606-1666, hoopsbrewing.com) have quickly earned must-visit status. They’ve been recently joined by Ursa Minor Brewing (2415 W. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-481-7886, ursaminorbrewing.com), where siblings Mark and Ben Hughes are pouring their oatmeal stout, blonde ale, sour Berliner Weisse and other brews. A wood-burning oven supplies Neapolitan-style pizzas, and chewy, salt-crusted pretzels are delivered from nearby Duluth’s Best Bread (2632 W. 3rd St., Duluth, 1-218-590-5966, duluthsbestbread.com).

Ursa Minor is one of several reasons to get out of Canal Park and explore the city’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Witness OMC Smokehouse (1909 W. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-606-1611, omcsmokehouse.com), a well-run house of barbecue, and Corktown Deli Brews (1906 W. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-606-1607, corktowndeli.com), a jovial pastrami-and-beer joint that takes a serious approach to both its sandwiches and its local craft beer tap list. Both are the work of the innovative Hanson family, operators of the popular Duluth Grill (118 S. 27th Av. W., Duluth, 1-218-726-1150, duluthgrill.com).

Two perennials: At lunch and dinner, Scott Graden continually proves his Duluth’s-best-chef status at his New Scenic Cafe (5461 North Shore Dr., Duluth, 1-218-525-6274, newsceniccafe.com).

Meanwhile, back in Canal Park, it’s worth the wait — there’s almost always a line — and the competition for (very) limited seating at tiny Northern Waters Smokehaus (394 S. Lake Av., Duluth, 1-218-724-7307, northernwaterssmokehaus.com), where owner Eric Goerdt and his crew channel local meats and fish into superb sandwiches, and stock a deli counter with some of the state’s most memorable edible souvenirs.

Closer to home

In Stillwater, check out Feller in the great-looking new Lora Hotel (402 S. Main St., 651-571-3500, lorahotel.com), where chef Sam Collins is taking a locavore’s approach at breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the other side of downtown, Pearl and the Thief (112 N. Main St., Stillwater, 651-342-0972, pearlandthief.com) chef Justin Sutherland’s menus speak with a Southern drawl, including Sunday brunch.

In Marine on St. Croix, cap off your Friday or Saturday leaf-gazing excursion with pizza night (5 to 8:30 p.m.) at the St. Croix Chocolate Co. (11 Judd St., Marine on St. Croix, 651-433-1400, stcroixchocolateco.com). Yes, there’s wine, and yes, hand-painted maple caramels from the candy case would make a fine dessert.

Here’s a reason to make Red Wing a daytime dining destination: the Pie Plate Cafe (2000 Old W. Main St., Red Wing, 651-376-8993, stockholmpieandgeneralstore.com) is now open, serving sandwiches, salads and yes, an impressive array of pies.

Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib

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