Does the cold have you thinking of a winter trip? It's the season when a Minnesotan's thoughts turn to weekends away — but MPR's food and dining critic, Minnesota Monthly's Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, is here to say that you don't have to leave the state to have a weekend vacation that includes a great meal.
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl: There are some really wonderful destination restaurants open all winter long in Minnesota, from north to south. Let's start up north, with Chez Jude, in Grand Marais. That's an adorable restaurant right across the highway from Lake Superior, and they're open on Fridays and Saturdays all through the winter.
Chef and owner Judy Barsness is known for her European-influenced comfort foods, with dishes such as zinfandel braised lamb shanks with sage fontina polenta. She also has a very close relationship with the folks who run the Dockside fish market across the street, it's sort of wonderful to have some smoked lake trout from Lake Superior and also see it in its most frozen, majestic, terrifying state. Have some chilled Champagne and consider the true essence of coldness.
Tom Crann: Moving south to mid-state, Cru is your pick in Nisswa?
DMG: Yes, Cru is the new restaurant at Grand View Lodge, and it's pretty fantastic. Not much of a view, because it's in the basement wine cellar.
Crann: And hence the name Cru?
DMG: Yes, it's a French wine term, meaning 'growth', it refers to how vineyards are classified. Grand Cru, Cru Classe, that sort of thing. Grand View put in a big wine cellar, and now they host wine tastings, wine dinners, and have some pretty fantastic food, like a Wild Acres duck breast with a wild mushroom risotto and a black cherry demi-glace.
Crann: Sounds like a meal to go well with wine?
DMG: Yes, Cru has an excellent wine list, as you'd hope for with a name like that. A bottle of wine, a cozy fireplace, it's very romantic.
Crann: But not much for a view.
DMG: No view. But if you stay at Grand View you can take a peek at frozen Gull Lake while you scurry back to your room. Grand View has a whole spa on the property now, it's the leading in-state romantic food and wine getaway.
Crann: But you do have a tip for those seeking a good winter view?
DMG: A place called Nosh, in Lake City, Minn.
Crann: Lake City, that's on the Minnesota side of Lake Pepin?
DMG: Yes, and it's high enough over the water that you get a gorgeous vista — the frozen Mississippi, and the frozen, snow-dusted hills beyond. The restaurant is a little gem that has a wonderful beer program, and chef Greg Jaworski does some great comfort foods sourced from the farms near Lake City: dishes such as a braised pork shoulder with roasted polenta and cabbage slaw.
If the frozen Mississippi River doesn't seem like your cup of tea, keep Nosh in mind for the March thaw, it's a great place to watch the eagle migration when the ice starts to break up.
Crann: For more, take a look at Minnesota Monthly's February issue, with its cover story on "30 Weekend Escapes."
Chez Jude, Grand Marais
(winter hours; open Fridays and Saturdays)
411 West Highway 61 Grand Marais, (218) 387-9113
Cru (at Grandview Lodge)
(winter hours; Thursday - Saturday)
23521 Nokomis Avenue, Nisswa, (218) 963-2234
(winter hours; open Wednesday through Sundays)
310 ½ S. Washington St., Lake City, (651) 345-2425
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