Some of Minnesota’s best restaurants are hidden in plain sight, out past the suburbs and miles off the interstate. We asked readers for their favorite eateries in communities with 10,000 people or fewer — sometimes far fewer.
The Where We Eat team will visit some of the top choices and feature them here. Today, we’re talking about The Crooked Spoon Cafe in Grand Marais. If you have any suggestions for the best rural dining in Minnesota, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to find it
It's a bit of a trek from the cities, a four-hour (or longer) journey, and it's around two hours from Duluth along the scenic Highway 61 that hugs the Lake Superior coast.
But Grand Marais, population 1,340, is buzzing with people in the warmer months, and many will pay a visit as part of a longer trip to the North Shore and Superior National Forest.
The Crooked Spoon Cafe can be found on Wisconsin St., a few doors down from Sven and Ole's Pizza.
What to eat
This Where We Eat selection is a little different as it didn't come from a reader's suggestion, but from a barman who works at the Lutsen Resort, where my wife and I spent a recent weekend.
We had several suggestions for eating in Grand Marais from you all, including Sven and Ole's, the Harbor House Grille and Hughie's Taco House, but on this occasion the decision wasn't solely up to me and the barman was very convincing.
Nonetheless it turned out for the best, because I very possibly had my favorite dish since moving to Minnesota (topping the miso sea bass at Cafe Lurcat).
The entree on a four-course Valentine's Day menu – which at $85 for two wasn't cheap, but I've seen pricier – was a hanger steak with foie gras whipped potatoes, melted leaks, and baby carrots finished with bordelaise sauce (the picture is at the top of the page).
It's not often I have a meal that I wish didn't end but that was one of them. Though admittedly my third Castle Danger cream ale may have exaggerated my enthusiasm.
Looking over the New American restaurant's a la carte selection, there are plenty of mouthwatering options on offer including pork shank, Arctic char, braised rabbit and bouillabaisse with octopus.
The restaurant is owned by the husband and wife team of Nathan and Sarah Hingos, who opened the place in 2006. Nathan is the head chef and Sara serves as the front of house.
With wine racks adorning the rear wall, the French bistro-style decor is probably as romantic as you're going to find on the North Shore for Valentine's Day, and its proximity to the shores of Lake Superior gives it an envious setting in downtown Grand Marais.
The candlelit tables provided an intimate setting for a winter's evening. But you can tell that in the summer sunshine the cafe would be just as welcoming, particularly when its enclosed rooftop "lookout" bar opens in the spring and offers views over Grand Marais bay.
Thanks to Grand Marais' popularity as a tourist destination, there's plenty of competition among restaurants considering its size. But judging by reviews on TripAdvisor, The Crooked Spoon stands apart, currently ranked No. 1 out of 21 eateries in the city.
Several reviewers refer to it as one of the North Shore's "gems" and there's plenty of praise for the restaurant's steak dishes (it's has a "steak of the day" open on its evening menu).
Regionally-sourced ingredients play a big role in the menu, the restaurant says, and the quiche on the lunchtime menu was made using pasture-raised eggs from Locally Laid, based in Wrenshall.
Prices and hours
If you're looking to keep it cheap then head there for lunch, where sandwiches and pasta meals range from $10-$13.
You'll be paying more for dinner, though reviewers don't seem to take issue with this, with entrees setting you back $20-$25.
Small plates (apps in other words) range from $6 to $13.
The Crooked Spoon Cafe's winter hours are 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch Thursday to Monday, 4:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Thursday to Sunday for dinner.