Angry Trout Cafe (Grand Marais, MN)

After leaving Minnesota, we headed up to Duluth to meet up with fellow hikers from Fitpacking, the guides for our trip to Isle Royale. After meeting our fellow hikers and doing a gear shakedown, we packed up and drove up to Grand Marais, MN to spend a night at the Outpost Motel before heading out early in the morning to catch the boat to Isle Royale. It was a nice drive; it’s been 20 years since I’ve been further up Minnesota’s North Shore than Duluth, so it was nice to see a lot of the parks I used to explore when hiking and scuba diving. To get to know everyone in our hiking group, we headed into nearby downtown Grand Marais for dinner. Summertime Grand Marais is quire the tourist town, and actually has a pretty good selection of restaurants, but several of us all had one place in mind, the Angry Trout Cafe.

Angry Trout had the three things I’m really looking for in an outing like this: location, beer, and a good local menu. Let’s start with location: you can’t really do much better than Angry Trout: it’s located right on the water right by the inner harbor area of Grand Marais, with a nice deck, and a nice beach area outside with some benches for waiting. Which turns out to be handy: even on a Tuesday night, in mid-June the Angry Trout was packed. But the staff was pleasant and efficient, and will happily pour you one of several area beers that you can enjoy on one of the Adirondack chairs looking over the harbor as you wait for your table.

For the beer, most of their tap list was indeed local breweries: on our visit, a selection of beers from Castle Danger (Two Harbors, MN) and Voyageur Brewing (just down the street in Grand Marais). Kicking back on my Adirondack chair with an Ode IPA by Castle Danger, 30 minutes later they called us over for a nice outdoor table for our group.

Most of the appetizers are fish: you’ve got your choice of fritters, fried fish, or smoked fish appetizer. On our visit, the smoked fish was Superior lake whitefish. A member of the extended salmon family, smoked whitefish is a common North Shore treat: we saw a good dozen places selling smoked whitefish on the way up to Grand Marais, and decided we had to order some. I’m not usually a smoked fish fan, but the product here was really good: a moderate amount of smoke, a nice fleshy body, and nice and tender without being too chewy. Add in a rather generous plate of crackers, some cheese (both straight up and smoked), and a surprisingly good raspberry-horseradish sauce, and this was an enjoyable and satisfying appetizer.

While Angry Trout has several entrees including shrimp, chicken, and vegetable skewers, most of the people dining here came for one entree: the catch of the day. Most days, Angry Trout has at least two different options for the catch of the day, available either grilled or breaded and fried, and a choice of side: wild rice, pasta, or waffle fries. On our visit, the fish choices were whitefish or Lake Superior herring (cisco). I opted for the fried whitefish with wild rice, and that’s got to be about as “North Shore” as an order comes. The fish? Nice and tender and flaky, definitely not overcooked, and a nice crispy but not overwhelming cornmeal breading, this was one of the best filets I’ve had in a while. The wild rice? Before I ever lived in Minnesota, wild rice was a solid “meh”, but a good wild rice, hand harvested, and properly cooked? Divine, with an aroma bordering on “tea”. The version here, with mushrooms, hazelnuts, peas, and dried cranberries? The perfect accompaniment to the fish.

If there’s another hallmark dish from the North Shore, it’s “pie”. On the way to Grand Marais you drive by a good half dozen pie places, including the famous Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors. The North Shore knows its pies, and in the summer, has no end of good wild berries to choose from (blueberries, blackberries, thimbleberries, and gooseberries). When the dessert options included blueberry pie, I was unable to resist. And this was a seriously good pie: a nice rich, berry-ish but not overly sweet filling, and a flakey but firm crust… yep. This is what I want in a good fruit pie.

Overall, a splendid dinner. We got to know our somewhat quirky colleagues that we’d be hiking with for the next week, had a thoroughly enjoyable, local meal, and got to enjoy it with a splendid outdoor view of the bay at Grand Marais. I’d love to come back.

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