Normally when I think of “trail food,” I think of a menu of foodstuff that is non-perishable, that packs easily, and often can be eaten while on the move, hiking. During these winter months where the hiking trails are accessible with snowshoes only, other trails pop up around the area, where users travel at much higher speeds—snowmobile trails.
To be candid, I have little experience snowmobiling, even though I own a sled. I’ve cruised across my parents’ lake, used it to gather sap during maple syrup season, and my husband used it to pack some cross-country ski trails on our property this winter. My brother and his wife, on the other hand, are avid snowmobilers. In fact, that’s how he proposed—on a beautiful vista in the middle of the woods, with some of their best friends looking on. Therein lies the beauty of the sport for many.
Snowmobiling gives you the unique opportunity to get out in the woods to places you’d never make it to on foot, putting work and life stresses behind as you don your helmet and let the adrenaline of flying through the trees with a 500-pound machine underneath you take over. Friends are made on the trail. Some friends are for a few hours, while others become lifelong friends. Much of this relationship building happens over trail food.
Days on the trail can be long and physically exhausting, and both your sled and your body need fuel. If you need a place to fill your belly, warm up, and maybe make a few new friends, check out McQuade’s Pub & Grill, Sunset Steakhouse, and the Blue Water Café.
McQuade’s Pub & Grill, Two Harbors
In November 2020, McQuade’s Pub & Grill moved from Downtown Two Harbors to a larger location on Highway 61. From a snowmobile, the Two Harbors Corridor Trail will get you there. McQuade’s newly remodeled space has a cozy and relaxed atmosphere, and maybe the friendliest bartender around.
The menu at McQuade’s changes with the seasons, but you can expect juicy burgers, handcrafted cocktails, and locally brewed beer any time. In addition to staples like a California burger and creamy chicken wild rice soup, McQuade’s offers menu items like the roasted beet sandwich and fried clams. Salmon is roasted on site, and they get fresh seafood as well. Never one to get too comfortable, owner and head chef Frank McQuade is always creating interesting and delicious food to serve to his guests and entice them back for more.
Sunset Steakhouse, Tower
Located about 30 miles outside of Ely off the Taconite Trail, Sunset Steakhouse is a part of the Fortune Bay Resort and Casino. While Tower is a little outside of the general area we cover here at Northern Wilds, the Fortune Bay Resort and Casino hosts a lunch stop on the Black Woods Blizzard Tour taking place in early February, which raises money for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The Sunset Steakhouse is well known for excellent service, and, well, steak. They serve a wide selection of American food, with an emphasis on steak and seafood. The Sunset Steakhouse has nightly specials, like their Tuesday night Surf and Turf, which includes a 12-ounce New York strip steak, three fried shrimp, your choice of potato and seasonal vegetables. In addition, the Sunset Steakhouse serves sandwiches, salads, appetizers, pasta and seafood, so everyone in your party is sure to find something they love. The Sunset Steakhouse is open nightly and serves lunch a few days a week. Additionally, if you like to hit the trails at a slower speed, Fortune Bay has groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails.
Blue Water Café, Grand Marais
The Blue Water Café has a long history in Grand Marais. Currently, the Café is a sponsor of the Ridge Riders, Cook County’s snowmobile club, and is located at the end of the North Shore State Trail in downtown Grand Marais. Over the years, their location has housed many iterations of a restaurant, dating as early as 1946, taking on the name of Blue Water Café in 1973. Since then, the restaurant has continued to have a presence in downtown Grand Marais, and their business continues to shift and grow even today.
The Blue Water Café has a robust breakfast menu that is served all day, with all of the comfort breakfast foods. Hearty omelets, eggs, pancakes, hashbrowns, and even deep-fried walleye. The lunch menu is also available all day long and consists of classic options like a burger and fries, club sandwich, and walleye shore lunches. One wonderful thing about the Blue Water Café is their attention to small appetites. All of their menus include smaller and less expensive options for the little bellies.
In addition to their regular food, in 2018, with the closing of the Pie Place, Blue Water Pies was born. Blue Water Pies bought the Pie Place’s equipment and recipes and began offering more than 16 different homemade pies. Pies can be purchased in the store, based on availability, or ordered ahead of time by calling the store.
Whether you’re the adventurous snowmobiler who likes to jump snowbanks and do wheelies (how do you do wheelies if there are no wheels?), or a cautious and careful driver like me, who could never consider flying through the trees faster than 40 mph, there is a lot of beauty to be found out on the trail. The beauty of the wilderness—of vistas, of snow-covered trees, of wildlife found deep in the woods. The solace of allowing your thoughts to run freely, drowned out by the sound of your machine. The beauty of human connection, both on the trail and off. These are the things that draw snowmobilers back year after year, along with the great trail food.