Slice: Roadtrip Favorites

Going to see where Dorothy was born? Stop in at the Sawmill Inn in Grand Rapids.  Photo by Andy Lien
Going to see where Dorothy was born? Stop in at the Sawmill Inn in Grand Rapids. Photo by Andy Lien

Going to see where Dorothy was born? Stop in at the Sawmill Inn in Grand Rapids. Photo by Andy Lien

I’m a top down kind of girl. When the weather heats up, I get kind of itchy to hit that open road, preferably in a convertible. We’re blessed with gorgeous roadside scenery in this state. The problem is rolling into an unknown town and trying to find a bite to eat.  Here are a few of my favorite places to step off the road and savor the flavors of our favorite, most fleeting season.

Grand Rapids was born a small logging town, but it may be better known to our community as the place where little Frances Gumm was born. Baby girl would grow up to be better known as Judy Garland.  At the edge of town sits the Judy Garland museum, where guests can wander through the house where she lived (for her first four years.)  The house had once been in the middle of town, but has since been moved to the outskirts and right next to the Sawmill Inn.  One of the few family owned hotels that still exists.  The chainsaw carved Viking greets you in the lobby when checking in.  The best place in town for dinner is just off that lobby in the Cedars Dining Room.

The room that time forgot is wood flanked with a small fireplace in the center.  Abandon all diets here.  The dish to order is the exquisite prime rib. Crusty, beautifully seasoned on the outside and blushing, juicy tender in the center. The meal is served with a light-as-air popover, full of chewy, egg custard flavor. There is an abundant choice of sides – the au gratin potatoes, cheese laden hash browns under a satisfying crust – but the wild rice is like none other.

The twisting, hilly roads leading from the cities down to Red Wing are stunning, lush and full of a hundred different shades of vibrant green. Do a little shopping for their world famous pottery or boots. Red Wing wares are made to last for generations, and a lot already have.

A hairy-chested, brutish Viking greets visitors in the lobby of the Sawmill Inn. Photo by Andy Lien

When it’s time to grab a bite to eat, duck over the river and settle into the patio at the Harbor Bar Restaurant and Marina. If you’re lucky, there might even be a hammock with space to settle back into. They key to coming here is to take a deep breath and let go of illusions of anything happening quickly.  The best dishes here come directly from the giant, black grill, manned by a gentleman that looks like he might have been working this pit for years.  The food is authentic Caribbean, with a killer Jamaican Jerk sauce. The Jerk chicken is a perfect dish for backyard eating, with your toes dug into the grass.  Sip a Red Stripe, or channel a little Jimmy Buffet with a margarita. Watch the river boats dock and depart, there’s no reason to rush this sort of summer moment.

A straight shot up Interstate 35 will bring you to the shores of Lake Superior quickly, but it’s much more fun to meander up on the Wisconsin 35 side. Roll in through the blue collar West Side, drive the twisty Skyline Parkway and carefully eye the breathtaking vistas (don’t take those eyes off that road for too long.) Any summer weekend with a little sunshine is a great time to visit Duluth, with their vibrant local arts and music scene. Fitger’s Brewhouse, Cahoots and Sir Benedict’s are great spots for easy music most nights.

The Duluth Grill's homey exterior (above, opposite) and gooey Wild Rice Melt with fries (above). Photos by Joy Summers

For meals avoid the tourist traps in Canal Park or the forever-line wait at the New Scenic Café and try the Duluth Grill in West Duluth. On the surface it might appear like your average family run diner, but upon closer inspection, you’ll find a menu full of locally sourced ingredients. Some so local that they’ve come from the garden outside. The corned beef hash is a massive take on the classic, all homemade and topped with eggs that come from happy chickens. For vegetarians, the wild rice melt is gooey, hearty and all that there is to love about a sandwich. The extensive menu also has plenty of other veggie and gluten –free options. And if you’re feeling fancy – why not try the duck confit? What other diner offers that?  Your coffee cup will never reach empty, as the staff is full of people who have worked here since the beginning. There’s no question that each of them honestly cares that you enjoy your dining experience.

Newsy  Bits:

Mona is now open! Owner Lisa Carlson who has worked in such storied kitchens as Aquavit,  L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in New York and Corner Table, locally, now owns her own place. Located on  the first floor of the Accenture building, the space has been transformed into a sleek supper club sort of feeling. The food is locally focused, but not exclusively so. The kitchen is open and there will be plenty of patio seating soon. Open for lunch and dinner.

New food trucks are on the way. There is plenty of room on the streets for more tasty eats and my favorite summer trend continues to grow. The VW mini bus that Ngon Bistro is pulling together is almost ready to make a debut. Bloomy’s Roast Beef just hit the streets last weekend and will start out in St. Paul.  Check back next issue for more information!

Blue Door Pub continues their expansion plans. Construction has already begun on their new Longfellow neighborhood spot. Last week they found out that they have been approved for a wine and beer liquor license. In addition to getting a little Minneapolis blucy fix, fans can still sip the fantastic beer selection like the one they boast at the teensy original location in St. Paul. I can’t wait to see this great neighborhood get another dining destination.

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