Back in early October I accompanied my son on a field trip to the North American Bear Center in Ely. We fed the chickadees from our hands as they flitted back and forth, stashing sunflower seeds under the bark of the surrounding pines for a winter dinner scavenger hunt. After this, we got to meet the bears. Ted was the first bear we met, and when he came into the center in the spring of 2007, was one of the largest black bears ever recorded. Lately, Ted and his friends have been fattening up for winter. Did you know that black bears shed about 20 percent of their bodyweight over the winter while they hibernate?
Well, with the weather cooling off, many of us humans are feeling ready for the comfort food and hunkering down that our long northern winters afford us. The bears fancy their produce and hazelnuts, but us humans, what better meal to do that with than pasta? Unless, of course, you’re gluten sensitive, but we’ve got some options for you as well.
Sir G’s, Ely
Sir G’s is a homey Italian restaurant, located right in the heart of Ely. They are an “authentic Italian restaurant” offering mainly pizza and pasta. Their signature recipes include spaghetti with extra-long fresh noodles, ravioli filled with seasoned meat, and cannelloni filled with pork, spinach, ricotta, ham and mozzarella cheese. There is also the option to build your own pasta dish, where you can choose from four different house made pasta sauces. For the gluten sensitive, there are gluten free pizza and pasta options as well. Sir G’s offers catering and delivery, so if you have a party or an event and like Italian food, Sir G’s might just be the place for you.
Va Bene Caffe, Duluth
Lakeside and on the Lakewalk, Va Bene Caffe might have one of the best locations in Duluth. It’s a charming little shoppe with views of the lake, tucked between the trees and sidewalk that doubles as outdoor seating in the warmer months. Va Bene has several seating locations, both indoor and out, that take advantage of the picturesque lakeshore. You will need to make a reservation online to ensure you get the seating option of your choice.
The menu at Va Bene includes pasta and paninis, an extensive wine list, espresso and gelato. Va Bene sources fresh and local ingredients whenever possible, and makes their pasta sauces and desserts in house, from scratch. All pastas can be substituted with gluten free noodles upon request. Va Bene has a kids’ menu for children 10 and under, and flavored Italian sodas for little and big kids alike. The gelato selection at Va Bene changes daily, but at any time you can expect to find as many as 12 flavor choices.
Va Bene Caffe also has a private dining space for groups up to 30. These meals are catered onsite and served family style. As a host, you can choose several dishes from the menu which are then passed and shared between tables. The Soffitta (or attic, in Italian) room is lakeside and has beautiful views of Lake Superior.
Nook, Thunder Bay
Nook is a locally-oriented Italian eatery located just a few blocks off Lake Superior in the Bay Algoma neighborhood. Nook places a focus on sourcing their ingredients from growers and producers in Northwestern Ontario, and creating simple dishes that are packed full of flavor. They do this in a casual, friendly atmosphere, which provides both indoor and outdoor seating spaces in the warmer months.
Nook has a lunch and a dinner menu, so if you want to get in on their delicious, house made pasta, make sure to book your reservation for dinner. Lunch includes sandwiches like their house porchetta or caprese, and pizza, like a traditional margherita or prosciutto with arugula, garlic and parmesan. The Nook dinner menu is where the house made pasta is at; rigatoni, spaghetti, mafalde—your meal will be plated beautifully and taste delicious, to boot. Desserts and specials change, but if you like house made Italian, you’re sure to find something delicious at Nook.
When I was a kid, my grandma would make homemade chicken noodle soup and I loved helping her make the egg noodles. They were simple: eggs, flour and salt. She would roll the dough out on the counter into an oblong shape, dust it with flour, then roll the dough lengthwise into a giant egg noodle spiral. Grandma would then cut thin strips of noodle and it was my job to unwind the spiral and drop the noodles, one by one, into the hot chicken soup to cook. Grandma served her soup on a plate. I never asked why, but it’s one of those things that as an adult I look back and realize it’s a little unconventional. Convention or not, I loved those noodles, and whenever I get a bit of thick, chunky pasta, I think of my grandma and her warm house with the boiling pot on the stove, windows fogged from the humidity, and a table full of plates and spoons.
Pasta is like that. It takes care to prepare. The right ingredients, mixed carefully as to not become too tough, and cooked to perfection. That’s what you’ll find at Sir G’s, Va Bene Caffe, and Nook. Food prepared with care and delicious homemade noodles and sauces.
We humans don’t hibernate, and most of us don’t need any help fattening up for winter, but there’s something cozy about a warm plate of pasta. As the weather turns and we warm our dens in preparation for the upcoming season, think of Ted and his friends, warm and snug, dreaming of warmer days ahead…and maybe they’ll dream of pasta.