Coming in from the outdoors after you have been tramping around in the snowy cold is a great feeling. Invigorated from feeling brave and hardy; a warm fire and something bracing to eat or drink add up to good cheer during short days and long nights. That’s a recipe these North Shore establishments are ready and willing to dish out.
Ursa Minor, Duluth
Committed to year-round outdoor eating, drinking and socializing, Ursa Minor went next level and gave up their parking lot to increase outdoor seating during the pandemic. It was a move that Ben Hugus, co-founder and head brewer, says “our winter customers loved; last winter on a 5 degree below Saturday we had a full patio.”
Hugus says people who live-in and visit the northland “live and play outside all year long, and they know how to dress.” Showing up in bib overalls from Spirit Mountain ski hill, and the fat bike and snowmobile trails, his customers are happy to have their beer and pizza on the patio with custom fire pits made by a local metal worker and a new pergola topped with clear panels.
Woodfired pizza is the feature on Ursa Minor’s menu, and according to Hugus, “Pizza is like beer, everybody loves it.”
The signature taste of their pizza comes from a crust baked in a “100 percent wood-fired oven. It’s a very involved way of cooking pizza—there are definitely easier ways—but we all agree here that it’s worth it,” said Hugus.
Ask Hugus what his favorite pizza is and he might respond with a primal-toned; “Nooo, nooooo!” That’s because, he says, “pizza is about what you are feeling.”
Nonetheless, a top pick is the Voyageur, a red sauce with kale, ricotta, wild rice sausage, a balsamic glaze, and parmesan. Hugus’ feelings about the Voyageur have to do with the kale and being proud of himself for making a healthy choice.
Trestle Inn Restaurant & Saloon, Finland
December and the opening of the snowmobile trails kicks off the busiest season of the year for owner Sue Rian. Located on the Tomahawk Trail, the Trestle is “by snowmobilers, and for snowmobilers,” says Rian.
Built out of an old railroad bridge found on a snowmobile run in the woods by Lee Schumacher, the Schumachers were avid snowmobilers and often fed winter wanderers at their home at neighboring Crooked Lake Resort before building the Trestle.
Rian says most of her winter clientele are return visitors, and by the time they’ve stashed their helmets in the custom-made rack, and peeled off their first layer of snow gear, they are ready to order.
There is no debate about the Trestle’s menu favorite, it’s the Train Wreck burger, and the brave order it “with casualties.” A brat burger and a hamburger, topped with Swiss and American cheese, and bacon makes a standard Wreck. “With casualties” is the cook’s choice.
“It’s a ‘dare to dine’ thing and I’ve seen about 50 things go out on top of a Wreck, I’ve even seen a corn dog sticking out of it, and I’ve never had one returned,” said Rian. Just about anything is possible from sauerkraut, to a potato, or peanut butter.
The Trestle is the end of the mid-distance John Beargrease sled dog race in February, with many mushers eating outside with their dogs. “There’s a lot of winter here, and winter is crazy busy, but good crazy,” says Rian. Cross-country skiers, and ice fisherfolk round out the visitor list.
Moguls Grille & Taproom at Caribou Highlands Lodge, Lutsen
The ski hill outside the door delivers a steady stream of hungry customers as they ski in and out from ski racks set up right outside of the bar area. Special snowmobile helmet racks at the entrance signal a big welcome for snowmobilers, and Dakota Marshall, front of the house manager, says they will have a bowl of their popular Moguls’ steak chili hot and ready.
“We are bombarded by big groups of snowmobilers and skiers during lunch.It is a very bustling place in the winter,” Marshall said, adding with a laugh, “They totally take over!”
Using adjectives like “rambunctious” and “loud,” Marshall describes their winter sporters as highly social with good conversation and fun, amongst scatterings of helmets, warm layers and mittens overflowing onto tables and chairs as a cheerful crowd refuels.
Raven Rock Grill at Skyport Lodge, Grand Marais
Located in the midst of a network of snowmobile trails, Raven Rock Grill is located on Devil Track Lake. It is also home to Rachelle and Cory Christianson and their two children, and family is at the center of everything they do.
“We truly want this to be a family-friendly place, and realize that visitors want to be part of our family’s journey,” says Rachelle.
Snowshoers from Pincushion Overlook, hikers from the trail at Eagle Mountain and cross-country skiers find their way to the cozy fireplace at Raven Rock, where many, Rachelle says, hang their balaclavas and mittens on railroad tie hooks over the fireplace to dry. Raven Rock also hosts snowmobile drag races in January, and is an official check point for the Beargrease sled dog race.
Cory’s experience as a fishing guide in the Boundary Waters and Key West has informed his ideas about what needs to be on a menu, and his shore lunch recipe graces the all-you-can-eat Lake Superior herring on Sunday nights.
Priding themselves on home-cooked meals, Rachelle says their American-fare menu has its surprises, too. A Friday night prime rib special has become a standard favorite, but a fanbase is building for their pork green chili topped with cilantro and lime crema.
Consider the chocolate toffee mousse pie for dessert, or if, as Rachelle puts it, “you want to drink your dessert,” try their salted caramel dessert martini. Served in a fluted lowball glass drizzled with caramel, the rim is coated in coarse salt and a blend of rumchata and caramel vodka is served neat.