Northern Wilds Magazine
Pickwick in Duluth has a variety of appetizers, including stuffed mushrooms. Served bubbling hot, mushroom caps are stuffed with a blend of vegetables, wild rice, and cheeses, creating a rich and creamy sauce and crispy cheese cap. | SUBMITTED
North Shore Dish

A Fung-Guide to Mushrooms

A few years ago, I took a mycology class through Two Harbors Community Education. The instructor brought jars and jars of dried, locally foraged mushrooms for us to see. As this knowledgeable forager gave us detailed advice on how to identify edible mushrooms in the Northland, as well as some stories of people who incorrectly identified some mushrooms (there was a story about a guy in a van… who woke up three days later…), my attitude toward mushrooms started to shift. I have never been a fan of mushrooms. I mean, they’re alright fried in a (un)healthy amount of butter, but fresh? Dirty Styrofoam. Canned? Slimy rubber. Now, you mushroom aficionados will surely admonish me for my child-like examples of mushroom cuisine, but if I’m honest (sorry, Mom), I mostly grew up on a diet of grilled venison, Knorr sides, and my grandma’s chocolate chip cookies.

But as this instructor spoke about the texture and flavor of different kinds of mushrooms, and I held onto my (un)healthy amount of skepticism, someone asked if a particular mushroom on his PowerPoint presentation was edible. Without missing a beat, he said, “Well, I suppose, but I don’t know why you would.” And it dawned on me that maybe I just had experience with poor examples of mushrooms. It turns out there are more mushroom options out there than button and canned.

Since then, I’ve opened myself to the possibility that maybe mushrooms aren’t all bad. This month we’re exploring a few different kinds of mushrooms that are featured in restaurants around the Northland: oyster mushrooms at the Tomlin Restaurant in Thunder Bay, shiitake mushrooms at the Angry Trout Café in Grand Marais, and stuffed mushrooms at the Pickwick Restaurant and Pub in Duluth.

Tomlin Restaurant, Thunder Bay

Situated unassumingly between a lawyer’s office and a tattoo shop, the Tomlin Restaurant boasts a collaborative kitchen menu that changes often. The Tomlin works alongside local producers to develop a unique and flavorful menu with seasonal influence and locally produced ingredients. Food brings communities together, and the Tomlin kitchen team understands that with their family size tasting menu option.

Their current menu features lamb sausage spaghetti, a tomato salad, eggplant schnitzel, and a half chicken with shakshouka. “Fresh, eclectic plates” are always on the menu, and this is a great restaurant for the culinary adventurists who are willing to trust Tomlin’s kitchen team to make sometimes unexpected pairings that almost always please the critics.

Because of their frequently shifting menu, there is no telling what might be on it when you have a chance to stop in to Tomlin Restaurant, but the internet doesn’t forget, and the Tomlin’s mushroom toast lives on in more than one review. Currently, the Tomlin features oyster mushrooms with their pork belly. Oyster mushrooms can be foraged or cultivated, and are delicate and mild little mushrooms with a subtle, savory flavor and velvety texture. Besides the pork belly, they make a great addition to stir fry, pasta, and pizza.

Angry Trout Café, Grand Marais

The Angry Trout Café is nestled between Highway 61 and the Grand Marais Harbor in a converted fishing shanty just feet from the water’s edge. True to its namesake (not the Angry part), the Angry Trout Café offers its menu “based on the bounty of Lake Superior and the surrounding region,” serving a variety of Lake Superior fish, including whitefish, herring, and… trout. Sustainability and socially responsible business practices continue to be important to new owners Elliot Doherty Noyce and Jessy Goble, and they work hard to make sure their restaurant has a positive influence on the community by purchasing as much as they can from local providers, and investing in sustainably raised foods served on hand thrown and locally made pottery.

Because the Angry Trout sources fish locally, their menu is subject to some variation based on the catch of the day. Their fish chowder is a chunky, New England style chowder, and earns the praise of real-life New Englanders. Main dishes include a traditional fish and chips basket and fish tacos, as well as grilled fish of the day, wild rice and salad, or a shrimp sammie. In addition to traditional fries or smoked fish, Angry Trout appetizers include fried oysters and Scandinavian style crayfish.

When it comes to mushrooms, the Angry Trout heavily features the shiitake mushroom. Shiitake mushrooms have an earthy or smoky flavor, and when they are cooked, they take on a sort of meaty, buttery texture. They are a versatile mushroom, and can be found in many of the Angry Trout’s dishes. You can try them in the fried shiitake mushrooms appetizer, the wild rice and salad, or even as the “meat” choice in tacos. Angry Trout also offers grilled shiitake mushroom and seasonal vegetable skewers, served with balsamic and tamari sauce. If you’ve never explored the shiitake, the Angry Trout is the place to start.

Pickwick Restaurant and Pub, Duluth

The Pickwick Restaurant and Pub is an architectural treasure. Its unassuming exterior paints the picture of your grandma’s favorite diner, but once you step through the doors you are quickly transported to an Old-World atmosphere with coffered ceilings, detailed wood paneling, and painted canvas murals. The Pickwick has been in operation since 1888, and in its current location overlooking Lake Superior since 1914.

The Pickwick is known for its homemade soups and signature chargrilled steaks. In fact, the Pickwick touts the only indoor charcoal grill in the area. The menu is varied, and full of delightful choices. From the grill, you can order a 14-ounce ribeye steak, tenderloin tidbits served with mushrooms and béarnaise sauce, Jack Daniels glazed pork chops, or vegetable kabobs served with Florentine penne and house marinara sauce. The Pickwick also offers a variety of salads from light to hearty. The fresh garden salad has blackberries, strawberries, red onion, gorgonzola cheese, and raspberry vinaigrette, and the roasted beet salad features roasted beets, gorgonzola, candied almonds, red onion, cucumber, and grape tomatoes with a honey balsamic vinaigrette and sliced tenderloin. In addition, there are pasta choices, sandwiches, and on Saturday and Sunday, the Pickwick offers charcoal grilled prime rib, which is slow roasted on the banked coals of their charcoal grill.

The Pickwick has a selection of appetizers, like Lake Superior smoked whitefish and onion rings, but we are here to talk about mushrooms, and the Pickwick’s stuffed ‘shrooms are worth talking about. Served bubbling hot, mushroom caps are stuffed with a blend of vegetables, wild rice, and cheeses, creating a rich and creamy sauce and crispy cheese cap.

It turns out there are many different kinds of mushrooms and each serve their purpose, so you shouldn’t judge a mushroom by its cap. Well, probably by its cap, but not by its classification as a mushroom. For the first time this summer, I got to experience locally foraged chicken-of-the-woods, and let me tell you, the texture is just like chicken. The world is full of marvels, so if you’ve been like me and been mushroom-avoidant, take a chance on mushrooms prepared correctly, or at least properly paired with your meal. Who knows, maybe you’ll come around.

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