One thing I’ve noticed about those of us who live or vacation in the Northland is that we take our summers seriously. In comparison with Minneapolis, the growing season is a full six weeks shorter, which means six weeks less time between frosts. Call it an accelerated summer. For this reason, we take advantage of the beautiful landscape in every way we can. One of the greatest ways to appreciate the outdoors and food is outdoor dining. Restaurants and brewpubs alike have worked to create beautiful outdoor eating spaces, and some of them also work to usher in our rich artistic community.
I don’t know whether the North Shore draws in creative people, or if creativity is a byproduct of our long, cold winters, but I’m here for it either way. The North Shore has a wonderful “home grown” atmosphere that is rich in personal influence, from arts and crafts to food and music. One beautiful blending of these influences and small, craft experiences, is local restaurants who also feature local bands. Sir Ben’s in Duluth, Birch Terrace in Grand Marais, and the Bluefin Grille in Tofte all provide outdoor dining experiences and live music opportunities so you can experience more of what the area has to offer, and the Cascade Restaurant and Pub in Lutsen is a picturesque location for local music and good eats.
Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake, Duluth
Sir Ben’s is a quaint little building located right on London Road in the heart of Duluth. The building itself has unique features, with exposed brick and a bright blue roof. The inside of Sir Ben’s is a little disjointed, with a gentle nod to the building’s previous life as a service station. The bar is at one end and piano at the other, and a giant chalkboard kept up to date with current beer, cider and kombucha offerings.
Sir Ben’s is an English-style pub, with a menu that favors unique sandwiches, along with house-made pizzas. There are a few vegan and gluten free options as well, and when it comes to beer, Sir Ben’s has an exhaustive tap list that changes almost daily. They keep it well updated on their website, but at any time you can expect to find more than 20 craft beers on tap (there are 27 as I write this).
When it comes to outdoor seating, Sir Ben’s has a variety of tables that wrap around three sides of the building. Two of those sides have at least a peek at Lake Superior. When it comes to local music, Sir Ben’s offers nightly music year-round, including some open mic nights, if you’re a budding entertainer and want to get some experience in front of a crowd. It’s a popular place to cycle or walk to, and with great food and music, and is a wonderful choice when you want to catch some vitamin D or some tunes.
Birch Terrace Supper Club, Grand Marais
Birch Terrace is seated in Grand Marais and it offers a great view of Lake Superior and some great history. Originally a trading post, the Birch Terrace dining room is rustic, with wood coffered ceilings and a brick fireplace. They also have a window enclosed porch for dining, a favorite space to feel outside, while remaining inside. Birch Terrace also has a large patio seating area, with views of Lake Superior and the Grand Marais Harbor. The menu is a mixture of sandwiches and baskets, steak, salads and pastas.
Birch Terrace has a large open deck and patio space with music in the summer months. They feature music from various local bands, playing both original music and cover songs, and covering the scope of musical genres under the stars.
Bluefin Grille, Tofte
If you want a more formal and exclusive atmosphere, Bluefin Grille in Tofte is a great choice, offering a variety of food, dining and musical experiences. Bluefin Grille has a “sophisticated yet casual” atmosphere, perhaps displayed most significantly by the many large windows around the perimeter of the dining room, giving patrons a clear and unobstructed view of beautiful Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior. In 2021, Bluefin Grille expanded their outdoor seating to include several tables for lakeside dining.
The menu at Bluefin Grille is also both casual and sophisticated in their menu options. From a casual burger or salad to a sophisticated salmon or filet mignon, there are options for just about anyone. Diners can look forward to the return of the much-loved (and missed) Breaker Burger!
For the summertime, Bluefin Grille added an additional evening of music, so you can expect to hear live local tunes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, and on Saturdays you can find Lake Superior bonfire music out on the beach for some post-dinner tunes.
Cascade Restaurant and Pub, Lutsen
Cascade Restaurant is an unassuming building located right on the scenic drive of Highway 61, with a rustic interior and welcoming atmosphere. There is a large fireplace and windows that face Lake Superior, inviting the sunshine and majesty of the lake inside.
Cascade Lodge’s menu is intentional, serving local ingredients in ways that are complimentary, unique, and delicious. They have gone to great lengths to provide a rounded menu that includes gluten free and vegan options, local Fika coffee, and a full breakfast menu which includes their famous bloody mary.
Cascade Restaurant features local musicians year-round, and in the summer months one can expect to find live music at least twice weekly. Cascade Restaurant and Pub is an inviting setting to relax and refuel after a day of exploration and relaxation along the North Shore.
One thing that a lot of us have missed over the past couple years is live music. The North Shore is full of creative and talented artists, who showcase their passion and skill, often in dining establishments across the Northland. If you’re looking for that blending of nature, creativity and darn good food, I hope you will check out one of these restaurants.