Minnesota North Shore, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail & Brick Ovens - A Culinary Odyssey

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2009/06/05 02:18:02 (permalink)

Minnesota North Shore, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail & Brick Ovens - A Culinary Odyssey

Thursday, May 28th, I said goodbye to my wife, Nancy, as she embarked on her flight to Cochabamba, Bolivia for a month to tend our two grandsons as our daughter-in-law led a student anthropology field study. What do I do? Alone! I'm not used to that. When Nancy's trip was firmed up in March I decided my consolation would be to head north the following day to the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN on the North Shore 40 miles from the Canadian border and take a 3 day course, Ovencrafting - Building the Wood-fired Bread Oven. The course was full and I was placed second on the waiting list at that time. In thinking positive I made reservations for a campground site adjacent to the school. I later learned I was rather lucky moving up the list and getting in (by early May) from fellow participants who had tried several times for this class. As it turned out there were 13 participants.

The course was part of the trip. Grand Marais, population 1,312, is the springboard to the Gunflint Trail up to the eastern end of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and a center for kayaking, canoeing, fishing, hiking, biking, sailing, skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and other recreational activities. In addition to physical activity, it has attractions for the citified casual set intent on the arts and quiet relaxed activity for it also has an arts center, music festival, birding activity and an astoundingly abundance of great eateries that I think before I am done in this thread are going to wow you.

I have reported on northern Minnesota and the North Shore in past reports rather thoroughly so this time I tried to round out my trip with new places along with a few re-visits but new food ventures. Those past reports can be found on Roadfood.com here...

Minnesota Northern Exposure
http://www.roadfood.com/Forums/tm.aspx?m=310137

and here...

Minnesota's Lake Superior North Shore Tour
http://www.roadfood.com/Forums/tm.aspx?m=331967

...to help round out this trip and also provide a lot of scenery flavor. Those were more on the trails Vasque hiking boot reports. This one is more of a Keen sandal on the pavement culinary tour de force. At least I hope you will agree.

So with those past reports I zoomed non-stop past Tobies in Hinckley, MN and Duluth; but I did stop again at Russ Kendall's Smokehouse on the old section of US 61 along Lake Superior south of Two Harbors that had been by-passed by a freeway like stretch parallel and adjacent. That stretch of road is what is used for Grandma's Marathon in late June, the 13th largest marathon in the USA run mostly along the shore. Since Nancy was not with me, taking the old road section, brought my Garmin Nuvi GPS, Dory alive with "Recalculating" at nearly every intersection in trying to get me back to the main highway. So after a couple of hundred miles driving I got to hear a female voice.

Russ Kendall's Smokehouse. Those are real seagull sentries on the roof.


Russ Kendall's smoked fish under the counter.


I bought about a pound of smoked Alaskan Wild King Salmon. OK, I'm sure you've seen smoked fish before. How about this good old fashion newspaper wrapping? Enjoy because it may not be long before fish markets will have to start finding new kinds of wrapping paper.


Rest easy. This salmon was not a Great Lakes fish. I only wanted it to make a salmon spread. There will be more smoked fish of a more local variety to come in this report so we will keep this one under wraps.

In those past reports I cited I included most all of the waterfalls along the North Shore. In case you don't get around to checking them out I did stop at Gooseberry Falls State Park for an easy Keen sandal walk and this quick shot as a reminder of what the North Shore is about.

Gooseberry Lower Falls


That meant I rushed past Betty's Pies and the Rustic Inn in previous reports. Up the road there were several places like Bluefin Bay I mentally thought about stopping and hated to pass them by but one has only so much time and so many meal opportunities.

This time I decided to stop for lunch at the Cascade Lodge Restaurant just a few miles south of Grand Marais. At that point it is more west but I think in terms of going north and south on US 61 anyway. I had driven by this restaurant so many times and curiosity just got to me this time.

Cascade Restaurant on US 61 surrounded by Cascade River State Park.


Cascade Dining Room with the prerequisite moose over the fireplace mantle and also wolf skins on the wall, bear skins hanging over the beams and wagon wheel chandeliers. This is a northern setting drum roll of what yet is to come.


I ordered the breaded Walleye sandwich. My intent was this one will be the only one I will have on this trip but a necessary north woods experience. To each his own. The man at the next table was excited they had catfish this far north.


I arrived at the Grand Marais Municipal Campground and asked for and got site 30W we had once before camped in within a short walk to the North House Folk School and with a spectacular view of the harbor.
post edited by Davydd - 2010/08/12 18:39:10
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    Davydd
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 02:19:13 (permalink)
    I settled into my campsite and hooked up electrical and water connections. I was then on my own the first night. For dinner I decided to walk up to the highway (US 61) and give Chez Jude a try. By the way, every place in Grand Marais was within walking distance of my campground site right on the harbor.

    http://www.chezjude.com/aboutus.html

    In the many times I had been in Grand Marais often in off-season times Chez Jude always seemed to be closed. This time I was in luck. I had read so much favorable mention about it that I had to put it number one on my list on arrival if for no other reason than to not miss out again. Chez Jude is a contemporary cuisine restaurant & wine cafe located in a once single family home. It also features culinary classes by chef Judi Barsness. They serve smoked foods and wood-fired foods including pizza. They feature luncheon (served all day), afternoon tea, dinner and weekend brunch menus.

    Chez Jude


    Chez Jude's Dining Room


    Instead of an entree dinner I chose to eat from the luncheon menu that featured three wood-fired pizzas as I will sample wood-fired wherever and whenever I can find them. I chose the puttanesca sauce, sopressetto salami, arugula, caramelized onion, asiago pizza served with a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir wine.


    It was excellent!  I especially loved the lightly charred edges that faced the burning wood embers.

    But, after I ordered out came the Bistro Burger ordered by the couple across the dining room. All I could say was, "Wow!" The gentleman said he had to order it after seeing the newly weds having one. Unfortunately, the newly weds were on to dessert by the time I arrived. You might wonder. This was a town restaurant patrons easily talk to each other. It is a combination of locals and tourists. This early in the season the locals may have been making one last stand before the summer tourists arrived en mass. I was there in the in between period I believe. Everywhere was pleasantly uncrowded.

    So let's cut to the chase and jump ahead a day. I absolutely had to try one and went back for lunch and ordered the 1/3# North Star Farms chopped bison steak, Shepherds Way big woods blue cheese with frites served on multigrain bun with organic greens, tomato, red onion, applewood bacon and onion rings.

    The Bison Bistro Burger


    It was superb! I asked for medium done and it was pink inside and dripping juices. It was not the dry, lean bison found in most burger places served as a low-fat tasteless health option to beef. This was a hand over the heart Sanford and Son, "I'm comin' Elizabeth" moment. I can only imagine the second option, the Sirloin burger, might get me closer to Heaven.
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    Davydd
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 02:20:06 (permalink)
    Settling in back at the camper van that first night I tested the TV and found two channels, CBS and PBS and then turned it off. Then I tried WiFi. I could get it and signed up for it but quickly discovered in the evening hours it bogged down from high use. I figured my communication would be mostly via the iPhone and AT&T's available Edge technology. WiFi would be available at the North House and other places around town.

    Oh, by the way, diid I say pleasantly uncrowded? There might have been a reason for that.  :) The nights were rather consistently cold going down to the lower 30s every night. I slept in my camper van in a comfortably warm sleeping bag without heat. In the morning I would fire up the heat and climb back in the bag until it warmed up.

    The first morning I made it a point to wake up early in order to try and catch the sunrise at 5:06 AM. This is my campsite at sunrise.



    Then stepping across the drive and past the picnic pavilion onto the harbor beach I captured this scene of all of downtown Grand Marais at sunrise.



    The first day ovencrafting class did not start until 9:00 AM so I walked up to a familiar restaurant on the main street known as Wisconsin Street. The destination was The Wild Onion restaurant that is part of the Harbor Inn.

    http://www.bytheharbor.com/contact.html



    In a past report I had the Venison Scramble so this time I ordered the Are You Hungry Jack consisting of ham chunks and potatoes.


    Then I walked back to the North House Folk School to begin the first day and meet my fellow participants and instructor.

    http://www.northhouse.org/

    North House Folk School


    The North House Folk School conducts a variety of classes throughout the year. In addition to the oven-crafting course I was attending they have classes, just to name a few, in log home building, timber-frame construction, boat building, jewelry, basketry, fiber arts, clothing, foods, knitting, ecology wood working, traditional crafts, sailing, painting, photography, outdoor skills and right down to Bury Yourself In Your Work - Build Your Own Casket. 

    I find the school fantastic, lyrical and enchanting - an amazing asset for the community. In their own words they have five basic tenets to underscore their programs and classes:

    Create a rich, positive environment that inspires life-long learning in a non-competitive setting

    Help students recognize and develop their creativity, talents and interests in a student-centered environment

    Promote and preserve the knowledge, skills and stories of the past and present

    Foster the concept of inter-generational learning

    Provide creative and meaningful opportunities for individuals, families and groups


    It doesn't hurt being greeted with samples of our instructor's bread


    Our instructor, Derek Lucchese, is a bread baker from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. He bakes 600 loaves per week in a wood-fired brick bread oven he built for himself (similar to the one we will make) for the Thunder Bay Country Market.

    http://www.thunderbaycountrymarket.com/index.php?pid=35

    Our goal was to build over three days an oven like to this one built by a previous class.



    Actually, we will build the base and brick shell. As with this earlier one we will build on top of a temporary timber foundation so it can be lifted and moved or shipped to the future owner. This one also has an outer enclosure and flue we will not build.

    The inspiration for the course originated with Alan Scott, now diseased, the first course instructor. Almost everything can be found in his book:

    The Bread Builders, Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott, 1999, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, VT.
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    Davydd
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 02:21:07 (permalink)
    So, let's begin. I don't intend to make this a tutorial but do hope to convey the work and principles of the construction involved.

    Starting out we had a work area set up. A timber frame foundation had been previously built before our arrival. That's Derek in the red plaid jacket standing over it.


    The first thing we did was build a form on temporary supports inside the timber frame. Imagine that if you were building this permanently at a site the timber frame would actually be your concrete block foundation.


    The slab for the oven is a floating slab consisting of a bottom insulating layer of vermiculite and cement mix topped by a concrete slab and then a  firebrick hearth. The photo shows the insulation layer and the steel reinforcing bars supported by the foundation.


    Next temporary wood side forms are built and the concrete slab is poured. The principle is the slab will be supported by the reinforcing bars and separated from the foundation to reduce heat transfer to the foundation.


    This is when we took a long lunch break to give time for the slab to cure and set up to support the next step, the firebrick hearth. I'd like to take you to lunch now but we will just have to tough it out and work straight through. I already showed you that Chez Jude Bistro Bison Burger.

    So maybe reading this without a break will make you feel like I felt by the end of the day - tired.

    After we returned from lunch we mixed ground fire clay with sand and water to make a loose setting bed for the firebrick hearth floor. The setting of the first bricks sets the tone and success for the floor.


    On top of the firebrick hearth the first masonry work began. We started the shell. Everyone took turns at it. Those three brick under the hammer are mine. I learned very quickly that my injured left shoulder hurt like hell whenever I lifted my arm parallel. I knew right then from these few bricks I was going to have a problem.  With my arms down, lifting, carrying brick and mixing concrete and mortar was no problem. I felt reduced to being a hod carrier.


    Our first day accomplishment.


    North House Folk School had fired up the brick oven I showed you earlier for a pizza open house. Members of the school, students, friends, family and community showed up. We made our own pizzas starting with already made up dough balls and baked them in the oven. They had a sausage making class that day and I was able to top my pizza with some of those unknown class results. Kudos to the sausage makers. They were good and spicy and I had no way to know what it was.

    My pizza
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    Davydd
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 02:22:32 (permalink)
    Sunday morning I walked down to the end of Wisconsin Street to the World's Best Donuts.

    World's Best Donuts


    The donut counter


    One would think it might be a stretch to self-claim "world's best donuts" and I used to think it might be a bit presumptuous. But in previous years I had alway had one of their donuts in the afternoon. I modestly bought a simple glazed cake donut and a cup of coffee. I ate the donut before I realized I forgot to take a picture for you folks. It was that good and I can say it was probably the best cake donut I ever had so they can keep their claim as far as I am concerned. I went back to the counter and bought this bismarck for you.



    They have a small coffee shop dining area. All they serve is coffee and donuts. While I was there two gentlemen and a lady, very clearly retired locals and obviously frequent visitors to the shop. The conversation was enjoyable and it appeared to be a support group as the lady admonished one of the gentlemen to be sure to show up the next day. The other gentleman was complaining about his knee replacement. He stood up, lifted his pant leg and showed his scar. They asked if he was happy to have the replacement and he said something like, "No, it still hurts like Hell."

    If you join the Mug Club you supply the mug of your choice. When you come in they fill it at a considerable discount for you. When you are finished you rinse your own cup out in the restroom and they have a paper towel roll in the dining are for drying it out. You simply place it back on your spot. People keep track of each other through the mug club said the proprietor. Not only locals use it, but summer seasonals and frequent tourists do to. I may have to consider it in the future.

    The Mug Club


    Walking back I took some pictures of some places I knew or had no plans to try this trip. Sven & Ole's Pizza is one. I'm going to have to miss out on their wild rice pizza as I am already pizza'd out on this trip. Ya yew betcha I will go back der da next time.



    Also, I had no plans to stop at the Blue Water Cafe. I have many a time in the past and invite you to dig into those earlier trip reports to see the Angler's breakfast I had with a Walleye fillet instead of bacon or sausage.



    The second day of class started out on a miserable note. Not only was it cold but it was starting to rain and sleet. There were even reports of SNOW about 5 miles inland at the higher elevations!

    Up went the covering tarp by first stringing ropes across to support it.


    We could proceed again under cover and out of the rain. Earlier we had built the spring support bricks for the three brick arches enclosing the chamber. Then we built the wood forms that will encase the concrete that will eventually surround the brick firebrick chamber. Concrete was placed outside the chamber up halfway to the spring bricks.



    To let that concrete set up a bit we took our lunch break. Since it was raining we didn't go far. Adjacent to the school was the Dockside Fish & Seafood Market.



    Yeah, I used a photographer's trick. I went back the next day to get this clear day shot. The Dockside opened in 1998 as a fish processing smokehouse and eventually grew into a small deli cafe serving sandwiches and soups. Here is a picture of the menu board and ordering counter.



    I ordered the Whitefish fish & chips. Herring, Walleye and Cod were also available that day.


    One of my dining companion ordered this fish chowder.


    I said I would get back to that smoked fish. The Dockside is a major supplier to all the restaurants in the area as they bring in fresh fish from Lake Superior daily. Here is their retail counter.


    The proprietor was gracious enough to pull out this Herring so I could photograph it for you.


    Back to work. To build a brick arch you must first lay it out on a plywood board and make a template. Then cut out the template with a sabre saw and make a building form.


    With the form in place you simply start building an arch. After about 20 minutes with the mortar pretty much set up you can remove the form, move it over and start the second arch. Three arches were built this way at the same time others worked on the face brick oven opening.


    This is our progress end of the second day.
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    Davydd
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 02:23:32 (permalink)
    The second day was an exhausting day mainly because of the rain and cold for me. I think my companions felt much the same way. It was late to keep on schedule so four of us, Derek, Dan, Milan and I decided to walk up to the Angry Trout Cafe, another adjacent restaurant to the school.

    http://www.angrytroutcafe.com/

    The Angry Trout Cafe on Grand Marais Bay


    The Angry Trout Cafe has always been a favorite of mine. We stop there just about every time we are in the area. They like many restaurants as you are starting to gather are committed to economic, social and environmental sustainability and organic and local products. And, I might add, a regional and creative menu.

    I was surprised to find they had a Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich! This was not on the menu two years ago. I had no choice. I had to order it even though I felt it time to continue with the Lake Superior fish theme.  What the heck, I knew one of my dining partners would order fish. As a substitute for my intentions I did order this bowl of Whitefish Chowder instead of a salad.

    Whitefish Chowder


    along with my Angry Trout Cafe Breaded Pork Tenderloin sandwich


    Dan, Second Trombone in the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra on his annual five week off season, ordered this Grilled Menominee Fish Dinner.


    An interesting coincidence came about in our dinner conversation. It didn't take long for me to mention my wife, Nancy, was in Cochabamba, Bolivia this month. As it turned out, Derek, our instructor, spent considerable time touring Bolivia during his university years. Milan piped in that he spent a high school school year as an exchange student in Bolivia back in 1971. I was there four years ago. Bolivia is not exactly a tourist destination but who could think three previous strangers would get together at random for dinner and have that shared experience? Oh, Dan just tours less exotic places with his music like Russia.

    How exhausting a day was it? Dan and Derek went in together on a Maple Pecan Pie and I was asleep at the switch and forgot to photograph it. Forgive me dear readers. I know you need to see pie. I'll try to make it up to you.
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    Davydd
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 02:24:45 (permalink)
    The third day started out at the Java Moose Espresso Cafe, one of the coffee shops in town. I had no intention having breakfast that morning since Dan pre-announced he was going to the World's Best Donuts and buy some for the class. I had been waking up early ever since that first sunrise day so what better way to wile away the time than with a good cup of coffee and free WiFi.



    It's a coffee shop. From appearance it seems to attract the tourists more than the locals maybe because of its front and center first stop location where Wisconsin Street veers off US 61 and free WiFi. The view as in many restaurants looks right out on the harbor. Everything was so pleasant. Still a tad chilly, not many were making use of the outdoor deck.



    The third and last day begins. This will be the day when it all comes together. So let's get on with it.

    The first task is to complete the Firebrick firebox at the front. A steel lintel angle is placed across the opening and a temporary form is placed next to the front firebox arch. Then it is a matter of filling it in as best you can.

    Steel iintel placement


    Filling in with firebrick


    After enclosing the firebox it was time for lunch and give the brick and mortar a little time to set up. This one will be quick so Dan and I headed over to the Gunflint Tavern. I found Dan to be a dedicated foodie as myself so he became my main partner in crime in exploring the restaurants.

    http://www.gunflinttavern.com/

    The Gunflint Tavern. They have a roof deck for warmer times.


    The interesting Gunflint Tavern signs


    Why this bar shot? Because they serve Surly Bender, Furious and Cynic from a Minneapolis microbrewer way up here. If you have not tried them you are missing the best there is. I had the Cynic.


    The menu was the closest to bar food we had experienced yet, but it was good bar food with a kind of universal selection.

    Dan had the Cuban Sandwich.


    I selected the most regional to the area on the menu and settled for a wrap, a Smoked Trout and Wild Rice Wrap. I'm not a wrap kind of guy but it was good.


    Back to work. After the firebox is complete the front opening brick arch and flue is constructed using similar techniques described earlier. You can use decorative face brick of your choosing for this part. The keystone at the top of the arch is not only decorative but also helps to lock in the arch from falling in. The keystone was selected from Lake Superior stones off the shore.


    The last step was to encase the firebox in concrete. I think we mixed 7 wheel barrels of concrete for this. I was starting to get pretty good at it.

    First the fire box is separated with aluminum foil so the concrete will not stick to the brick because they expand at different rates under heat. Wire mesh is used for reinforcing.


    Then the concrete is poured in with shovels and shaped. Even though it will eventually get encased with more vermiculate and a finish covering we smoothed it out to make it presentable because people will look at it in this state for a while yet.


    Ta Da! The finished brick bread oven. It still needs some cleaning up and final work but this is where we stop.


    Finally the whole crew including Derek our instructor in the lower right and Clint, Derek's North House helper in the lower left.


    I enjoyed this crew. Everyone had an interesting angle for taking this course. Some very serious. One, Yanni, hopes to open a restaurant in Sheboygan, WI and incorporate a wood-fired oven - and I will be there when he does. Others were just as serious. Some of us just for the enjoyment. All were seeking better ways to make bread. What we built probably was more suitable for a commercial venture rather than a backyard baking hobby. Regardless, invaluable experience was gained. Milan had to. His wife took an 8 week course at the Culinary Institute on bread baking. His responsibility now is to answer that by building her a serious bread oven in the tiny town of Jefferson in west central Iowa. Stefan, an Austrian immigrant wants bread like he grew up with. I believe most expressed simple and shear enjoyment of just having the experience. There was definitely a common bond.

    I can't say enough about the North House Folk School. I think the place is fabulous and the people running it very gracious, accommodating and friendly. I hope to find reasons to return. Derek was one super instructor - a man who not only can build bread ovens but also bake bread with the best.

    By the way, I am not done with this trip.
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    Davydd
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 02:25:57 (permalink)
    Time to relax. Dan, Milan and I agreed to meet for one final dinner before we went our separate ways. The choice was The Crooked Spoon Cafe and yes, you guessed it, on Wisconsin Street. Does it never end in this small town? Guess not. Maybe a week long course would allow time to cover all the places.

    http://www.crookedspooncafe.com/

    The Crooked Spoon Cafe


    Here is a Crab Cake Appetizer


    Another Whitefish Chowder


    The Catch of the Day Dinner Entree - I believe Whitefish


    I went for the Elk Tenderloin with a Wild Rice Polenta Stack and Rhubarb Swirl Flourish. This was the board special.


    Elk is very common now in Minnesota. I suspect most all of it is farm raised. There is a large herd just north of Rochester in southern Minnesota I see often going to and from La Crosse, WI. This dinner was a worthwhile delight.

    The waitress suggested a Maple Cream Cheese Cake dessert. None of us had any appetite left but she volunteered to bring the whole cake out for my photograph and your benefit.


    The next morning I prepared to leave Grand Marais but not before one more stop at The Pie Place, another restaurant about a mile west of downtown on US 61. I reported on this place in one of my earlier trip reports. It was worth a return visit but I wished I had taken in lunch or dinner this time instead of another breakfast. Oh well...still...

    http://www.northshorepieplace.com/

    The Pie Place Sign and the Road South


    The Pie Place


    The Pie Place Dining Room Porch


    and my choice that morning, the Belgian Waffle with Maple Sausage served with real Maple Syrup.


    OK, now I am going to head up the Gunflint Trail. Uh, not yet. I wanted to hit the trail halfway up about noon so still had time to kill. So I drove 15 miles north to Naniboujou Lodge.

    http://www.naniboujou.com/

    We have stayed there several times in all seasons. I totally recommend this place. I just wanted to get my own photographs of their dining room that was built in 1929 and decorated with primary Cree Indian colors. This is the original finish believe it or not. So enjoy.

    The Naniboujou Lodge Sign on US 61 about 25 miles from the Canadian border.


    The Naniboujou Lodge on the shores of Lake Superior


    The Naniboujou Lodge Dining Room


    The Naniboujou Lodge Stone Fireplace


    The couple you see in the dining room was interested in what I was doing so I engaged them in a conversation. She was interested because she wanted to get a digital single lens reflex camera. So we talked about that. They were from Duluth and enjoyed living in proximity of the North Shore with access to the Twin Cities. Their son was an architectural student at the University of Minnesota. What can I say? The North Shore brings out the friendliness in everyone.
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    Davydd
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 02:27:04 (permalink)
    I'm kind of like the guy who doesn't want to leave the party. It was hard to leave Grand Marais. As I mentioned I passed on Blue Waters, Sven & Ole's Pizza and My Sister's Place. I also passed on Sydney's Frozen Custard, Hughie's Tacos, The Howlin' Wolf and Harbor Lights, and maybe a few more. You will be delighted to know there is no McDonalds or Starbucks in Grand Marais. But no town can escape fast food entirely and they do have a minor store front Subway and a Dairy Queen. The Dairy Queen redeems itself a tad in selling cheese curds.

    Alright I'll go already. I drove up the Gunflint Trail. The Gunflint Trail is a dead end road 57 miles long that ends at the Trail's End National Forest Campground on Gull Lake. That was my eventual destination. Grand Marais is the springboard to this trail. It leads you into the upper reaches of wilderness nestled and hemmed in on both sides half-way up by the totally primitive Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The Gunflint Trail was the romance of Minnesota that caused this native Hoosier to acquiesce to moving to Minnesota on mustering out of the US Navy in 1970. Of all places, the Newport Naval Base Library, I found a book titled The Gift of the Deer by Helen Hoover, a Chicago native living through the winter on Gunflint Lake. She went on to write four books in all. I was hooked. The Gunflint Lodge and Justine Kerfoot played a major role in those books as neighbors.

    Even so, I am a vicarious guy. I haven't spent a lot of time on the Gunflint. I haven't even canoed in the BWCA. Nancy, my wife has. She was not with me this trip. Will she be envious? She is experiencing a trip in Bolivia that I probably cannot equal. If she were with me I know by now she would be punching me on the shoulder and saying I have to get in and see a cardiologist. :D True, I've been pushing the limits gastronomically but I am not finished. So let's go...

    The Trail is marked by this sign on a water tower in Grand Marais.


    As previously mentioned I wanted to hit half-way up at the Trail Center Lodge around lunch time.


    Interesting place. This is the bar.


    Did you guess my reason why? I wanted to try the northern most breaded pork tenderloin sandwich in America. This is the "Smitty's" Tenderloin.


    I couldn't resist selecting the Tater Tot option over fries, chips or cole slaw. Why Smitty's? The owners are from Iowa and they named the sandwich after Smitty's Restaurant in West Des Moines. They believe their sandwich is better. Not having tried the Iowa sandwich I will have to take their word on it. They hand pound each pork loin, dip it in an egg wash, lightly coat it with flour and Cajun seasoning and fry it. They don't use crackers or corn meal.

    It just happened that the waitress once lived in Indiana and goes to the Indianapolis 500 Race every year. She had been to more than I at 40 races. She knew her tenderloins. We couldn't figure out why we hadn't run into each other. After all there are only about 300,000 attendees.

    She sweet talked me into a pie. I felt I had to make amends to the readers for missing an opportunity, so here is the Fruits of the Forest pie. It is a combination of cherry and rhubarb and it was very good.


    Satiated, I head directly to the campground. I virtually had my pick of the over 38 sites as there were only about three other campers. I was delighted to select Site #8 devoid of any close neighbors.


    A view from the campsite of Gull Lake.


    Then I crashed! A whole two hour nap. It had been quite a week. I had bought some hot dogs and buns with the honest intent of cooking them over a fire I made later that night but decide just one more exploration had to be made.

    I drove back down the trail to the famed Gunflint Lodge. They have a dining room and a bistro. I opted for the bistro as I did not have an appetite for a full meal.

    The Red Paddle Bistro had the perfect northwoods motif.


    I ordered their Gunflint Ale made by Leinenkugel's.


    My final meal of this trip was this Walleye and Wild Rice Quesadilla. How fitting. It was very good but I could only manage half of it and doggy bagged the remainder.


    I met Bruce Kerfoot, the current owner of the family lodge dating back to 1927. I believe he is about my age. I mentioned to him how the Helen Hoover books influenced me and he related how he knew them from back in the 50s and they lived another mile and a half down the road. I also mentioned I read Snowshoe Country by the Jacques, a short illustrated book taking place over the winter in 1943. Kerfoot said when they stayed that winter they did not tell his parents they were writing a book. They did not want to influence the Kerfoots to behave differently on account of it. A little touch of history made my trip complete - a culmination after nearly 40 years. I was awed.

    Back at the campsite devoid of TV, radio, computers, cell phones and electricity, and completely off the grid, I made myself a campfire and reflected about the trip and what I would say to you.

     This is life

    but I miss my wife




    And I now bid you adieu for the evening.


                                                        .   .   .
    post edited by Davydd - 2009/06/05 11:23:07
    #9
    billyboy
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 05:13:18 (permalink)
    Davy, 

    Wow!  I think this is quite possibly the greatest trip report I haver ever read/seen/lived vicariously through.  I almost cried.  Everything is so full of life, vibrant and beautiful.  You really have made the most of your time up there.  Selecting great regional food (in a mind boggling amount of presentations: wraps, quesadillas, chowders, stacked polenta, etc...  The amount of interesting places to eat in Grand Marais is amazing.  The people you spent time with were so interesting too.  And you have quite the knack for engaging the locals in conversation about the foods and history of the area as well as a keen eye for photography.  Your scenery and food shots are some of the best I have ever seen!  And going there for the purpose of not just learning how to bake in a wood fired oven, but to actually BUILD one!  You've really brought that area of Minnesota to life for me.  Plus you included camping, doughnuts and PIE!  Three things I utterly love!  There is so much going on in this report that I'm sure I forgot to mention something.  One day I hope to be able to travel and report as you have.  This report has utterly moved me.  I am humbled in your presence.  Thank you so much.  


    -billyboy

    Eating is an adventure and you certainly have enjoyed the ride!
    post edited by billyboy - 2009/06/05 05:16:36
    #10
    kland01s
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 07:23:56 (permalink)
    Davydd, as I said on TOS, I am speechless. I have traveled to Grand Marais at least 30 times and every sight you have shown brings back a flood of memories. Including Naniboujou takes the cake! I am Cree and have always loved this beautiful place.
    #11
    MiamiDon
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 07:54:23 (permalink)
    Great travelogue, Davydd!  Excellent photography with your DSLR, too.  Foodwise, I expecially liked the looks and descriptions of the Chez Jude pizza and bison burger.
    #12
    Nancypalooza
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 11:00:12 (permalink)
    Davydd my man, I only wish I had six stars to give to this most excellent report.  billy and everybody else, Grand Marais and the whole North Shore area is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to; it was my introduction to the state of Minnesota and a place I really love, and Davydd's done a magnificent job of capturing why.  And very nice Vasque/Keen metaphor there.  :)
    #13
    ann peeples
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 11:08:47 (permalink)
    I enjoyed this report...and your ending brought tears to my eyes.
    #14
    divefl
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 11:17:40 (permalink)
    Best report ever.
    #15
    Ivyhouse
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 12:20:21 (permalink)
    What a very interesting and wonderfully-photographed report.  I think it was made more interesting for me because of the oven-building project intertwined with the narrative and photos about the trip and food.  Just great, thanks so much.
     
    And, it did bring back some memories.  Not about building an oven (!), but about 20 years ago I spent several days at the Gunflint Lodge with coworkers on a work-related sabbatical of sorts.  Thanks for helping me relive those days.
    #16
    Michael Hoffman
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 12:29:16 (permalink)
    Great report, but I was wondering whether you could tell me what those chinook and cohos I've been catching for years in Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are if they're not salmon.
    #17
    ayersian
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 12:32:30 (permalink)
    Davydd, boy I sure am glad you're not vying for my job here on the site...because I might be out of work!  This is, without a doubt, one of the best trip reports I've ever read.  Amy & I will be passing through northern MN in early August and will check out these places -- thanks for the tips!    Chris
    #18
    sammur
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 12:34:26 (permalink)
    No kidding. This was a thing of beauty in all sense of the word.
    Please do more in the future.
    #19
    Davydd
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 12:41:39 (permalink)
    Michael Hoffman

    Great report, but I was wondering whether you could tell me what those chinook and cohos I've been catching for years in Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are if they're not salmon.


    Michael,

    Every bit of the salmon Russ Kendall Smokehouse had come from Alaskan waters. I bought this Alaskan King Salmon. I guess it is time to unwrap it.


    post edited by Davydd - 2009/06/05 12:43:32
    #20
    Michael Hoffman
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 12:48:13 (permalink)
    Oh, I don't doubt that the salmon they were selling was from Alaska. But you did post the following: "Rest easy. Salmon is not a Great Lakes fish."  The fact is, salmon have been Great Lakes' fish for many years.
    #21
    rumaki
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 12:53:14 (permalink)
    What a marvelous report!  I am salivating over the fried Lake Superior whitefish, which I've adored ever since I first had it, when I was in college, at The Berghoff in Chicago. 
     
    I have never been farther north in Minnesota than the Split Rock Lighthouse.  I'll have to make the trek to Grand Marais.
     
    Thank you for this great report.
    #22
    Davydd
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 13:11:34 (permalink)
    Michael Hoffman

    Oh, I don't doubt that the salmon they were selling was from Alaska. But you did post the following: "Rest easy. Salmon is not a Great Lakes fish."  The fact is, salmon have been Great Lakes' fish for many years.


    Quibble, quibble. I can mangle the English language with the best of them in the haste to produce a trip report the first day back home. How about, "Rest easy. This salmon was not a Great Lakes Fish." Corrected.
    #23
    Michael Hoffman
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 13:18:37 (permalink)

    #24
    Nancypalooza
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 13:28:51 (permalink)
    Michael it's too bad you're not a newspaper editor; I imagine you could do quite a bit of good in the world.
    #25
    Sneetch
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 13:57:46 (permalink)
    bravo davvydd! standing ovation!
    #26
    Michael Hoffman
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 14:56:34 (permalink)
    Nancypalooza

    Michael it's too bad you're not a newspaper editor; I imagine you could do quite a bit of good in the world.


    I was, and I did.
    #27
    John A
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 17:08:06 (permalink)
    Outstanding report once again Davydd. That Cuban sandwich at the Gunflint tavern is certainly different than those served in Florida.
    #28
    carolina bob
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/05 21:36:02 (permalink)
    A great report, Davydd, and terrific photos. I really enjoyed it.
    #29
    Davydd
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    Re:Building the Brick Bread Oven in Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail - A Culinary Odyss 2009/06/06 13:03:30 (permalink)
    ayersian

    Davydd, boy I sure am glad you're not vying for my job here on the site...because I might be out of work!  This is, without a doubt, one of the best trip reports I've ever read.  Amy & I will be passing through northern MN in early August and will check out these places -- thanks for the tips!    Chris


    Chris,

    No sooner than I got home I got a private message from wanderingjew. He managed to sniff out a Scandinavian centric restaurant on the North Shore that I had driven by numerous times but had never stopped. It is Northern Lights in Beaver Bay.  My first ever stay on the North Shore was in Beaver Bay way back in 1968 the week before I reported for active duty in the Navy in Newport, RI. It was entirely different then and the restaurant I first ate whitefish there is long gone. The North Shore was more primitive and isolated culturally back then. That was an era that would vindicate everything wj believes about Minnesota.
    #30
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