Like much of the North Shore, Thunder Bay was originally occupied by the Ojibwe, who have steadily populated the area for thousands of years. When Europeans first made contact in the 17th century, the Thunder Bay area was a bustling center of trade. The city is located at the mouth of the Kaministiquia River, which winds inland, giving travelers ready access to the land, resources and inhabitants that reside therein.
Thunder Bay as we know it was founded in 1970 by amalgamating the cities of Port Arthur and Fort William, along with the neighboring townships of Neebing and McIntyre, and it is still a bustling center of trade. As Europeans settled, and rail lines reached across the land, Thunder Bay became home to one of the largest Finnish populations outside of Finland. With such a longstanding population in a major trade hub on the Great Lakes, it’s no surprise that Thunder Bay has a rich history and diversity.
History and population aren’t the only interesting and diverse characteristics of Thunder Bay. The food scene is too. With no shortage of homegrown coffee shops, traditional steakhouses, brewpubs, vegan cafés, and handcrafted desserts, the uniting factor of the food community is a passion for quality, good eats and community. This is certainly the case for Prospector Steak House, Naxos Grille and Bar, and the Persian Man, each with its own rich history and unique contributions to the Thunder Bay food scene.
Prospector Steak House and Brewing
Prospector Steak House is located in the old Montreal Bank building on the corner of Cumberland Street and Park Avenue. In 1909, when the lot was originally purchased by the Molson Company, it was purchased for $35,000, equal to about $2.5 million today. At the time, this was the most expensive lot in all of Ontario.
Still boasting the stone exterior of the Bank of Montreal, Prospector Steak House and Brewing is a true steak house, and has been voted to have the best prime rib in Thunder Bay. Before your famous prime rib arrives, you can kick off your meal with an order of escargot or barbecue braised beef poutine. If prime rib isn’t your thing, the menu also includes steak, burgers, seafood, and more. Prospector also has a kids’ menu for the tiny humans in your life.
In addition to delicious food, Prospector Steak House and Brewing offers house crafted beers, live music and facility rental. Prospector’s brews their Padre Luchador, Blueberry Wheat, and Founders Amber Ales onsite, which pair nicely with their food offerings. Along with your brew or one of the many cocktails they offer, Prospector Steak House provides live music from time to time. Additionally, they offer private event space for whatever celebration or gathering you have in mind, but don’t want to clean up after.
Naxos Grille and Bar
Penny Kahramanos’ father was born on the Greek island of Naxos in the Aegean Sea. That island is the namesake for the Naxos Grille and Bar, which Kahramanos opened in 2007 and has been operating ever since. Naxos Grille is beloved for their blend of Canadian and authentic Greek cuisine. Their Greek menu includes family recipes from Greece.
Naxos offers a full menu, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast includes the classics: eggs, pancakes and omelettes. If you like dessert for breakfast, you may want to try the cinnamon French toast or a Belgian waffle piled high with strawberries, whipped cream, and an orange garnish.
The lunch menu at Naxos Grille leans more heavily into the owner’s Greek heritage with gyros, spanakopita, and pitas. For the less adventurous, they also offer melt sandwiches like a Frisco melt, Reuben, or Sicilian melt, and burgers, from a basic hamburger to a Naxos burger with tzatziki and crumbled feta.
The Naxos dinner menu is an authentic Greek dining experience. Appetizers include calamari, feta with olives and fresh bread, spanakopita, and of course, chicken fingers. There are pasta choices, seafood like salmon, walleye and shrimp, steak, liver and onions, and of course, some Greek specialties. The Naxos Grille serves lamb and gyros, and even an authentic souvlaki served over rice pilaf. The family friendly atmosphere also provides a dinner menu for the littles in your life, which includes an ice cream dessert.
The Persian Man
If we are going to talk about the beauty and history of Thunder Bay, it seems necessary to include the Persian Man. Now, I’m a Minnesotan, so please, Canadians, forgive me if I don’t relay the history and mystery of the Persian properly.
Firstly, a Persian is a pastry, and has nothing to do with the geographical area of Persia. Now that we have that clear, my understanding of the story is that the Persian was invented in the 1940s, and named for an American general who visited Art Bennett’s bakery while he was rolling out the dough. The Persian has been described to be something akin to a cinnamon roll, but a little different, and the magic comes from the pink icing.
Always a Thunder Bay treat, the Persian has become an icon, probably because it hasn’t changed. The current owner has left the recipe as it was when he inherited it in 1962, so the magic and mystery of the Persian is caught in time. No one really knows what the ingredients in the icing are that make it pink—some debate strawberry, others swear it’s raspberry. Either way, it seems the consensus is that it’s delicious. The mystery of the frosting lives on in the minds and hearts of all who visit, and that probably makes it worth it for me to make the drive.
Thunder Bay is a lovely city with incredible food, and even better people. The history is rich, complicated, diverse, and in the end has created a lakeside town that is as unique as the people who live there. The next time you need to eat your way around Thunder Bay, I hope you’ll try Prospector Steak House and Brewing, Naxos Grille and Bar, and the Persian Man. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.