The Angry Trout in Grand Marais

Elizabeth Millard / Heavy Table

Any restaurant can add local flair to a menu or decor with a few touches — maybe some grass-fed beef from a farm just outside the suburbs, or paintings by an artist who’s finishing up that MCAD degree. But for a glimpse of what “local” can really look like, head up to Grand Marais, because the Angry Trout Cafe has created a community-loving, food-focused North Shore hotspot unlike any other.

Situated on the small harbor on the edge of the downtown Grand Marais strip, the cafe’s exterior is fairly non-descript, yet charming. The humble clapboard siding, chalkboard menu of specials and wraparound outdoor deck are similar to vacation area fish restaurants throughout the Midwest, if not the nation.

Elizabeth Millard / Heavy Table

Inside, though, the difference becomes apparent immediately: the whole interior is timber framed — an old-school way of building that uses pegs instead of nails, and requires a high degree of carpentry skill — and the stained glass is exquisite. The chairs are hand-carved with darting fish, the salt shakers are fashioned from wood and beach rocks, and the menu covers are sewn together from weathered cardboard boxes.

The effect is a blend of artistry and community, since everything from the furniture to the plates to the napkins are made locally. The menu lists individual artisans, giving a nod toward the blacksmith who used old tractor seats for the outdoor chairs, and the artists who came together to create a space that’s bright, cheery, and more than welcoming. The cafe is more than a place, it’s practically a local foods movement unto itself — it even has its own manifesto, the quirky Angry Trout Cafe Notebook.

It’s no wonder, then, that the food harmonizes so well, too. Although getting fresh local vegetables in the early spring and late fall might be challenging in a chilly place like Grand Marais, Angry Trout works its hardest to get as much as they can from the area, and to obtain organic when they can. The artisan atmosphere extends into the menu through locally-smoked trout and herring, hand-harvested mushrooms, locally-raised beef and chicken, and maple syrup from just down the road.

All form and no function? Not a chance. The dishes may be rich in northwoods heritage, but it’s still pure comfort food, cooked expertly and served happily (on a second visit a week after the first, the waitress remembered what we’d ordered and suggested a special that was similar). Not surprisingly, the fish and chips ($11.50) are a standout, with the fish choice dependent on what’s fresh. The trout is particularly stellar if it’s available, but just about any fish would be delicious with the cafe’s crunchy, perfectly cooked batter.

Elizabeth Millard / Heavy Table

Another lunch special, the grilled trout sandwich ($9.50), is served with a zesty aioli that balances the fish’s taste and gives it a kick. Anyone still in the mood for trout — and hey, why not, given the place’s name — can opt for the smoked trout salad ($11), a gigantic creation with sliced beets, strawberries (sadly, not local, unless someone runs a killer greenhouse operation), mixed greens, shredded carrots, and warm, delicious homemade bread. Try the from-scratch salad dressings, especially the maple mustard.

For the non-fish-enthusiasts, the cafe’s burgers are juicy and nicely prepared, especially if crispy bacon is part of the dish. The coleslaw is traditional picnic- style, and the beer comes in three choices: light, medium, and dark, depending on what keg they’ve hooked up that day.

Elizabeth Millard / Heavy Table

Overall, the effect is cozy, even with the sweeping views of Lake Superior from the dining room. And with food and atmosphere this delicious, it’s easy to contemplate becoming a real local someday.

Angry Trout Cafe
Highway 61
Grand Marais, MN 55419
218.387.1265
Open May – October
HOURS: Sun – Thurs: 11am to 8:30pm; Friday and Saturday: 11am – 9pm
OWNER: Barb LaVigne and George Wilkes
BAR: Beer
ENTREE RANGE: $9-25
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN: Yes / No

Elizabeth Millard / Heavy Table

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10 Comments

  1. Thanks for reviewing our favorite spot in Grand Marais (and one of our faves in the whole state!). These good folk have been quietly serving local-and-sustainable way before it became a fad, and they do it very well. They have a keen eye for environmental issues also; for example, they serve only regional beers, and only on tap; less distance means less pollution from truck transport, and tap beers don’t require glass bottles. Also, last time we ate there, I asked our server about those awesome strawberries, and unless I am mis-remembering, they are relatively local also… I seem to recall that they were grown in a greenhouse in Thunder Bay (which is much closer than it might sound). Anyway, the Trout is always worth a visit, and if you can snag an outdoor table on the concrete deck that has Lake Superior’s waves lapping against it, it will be a meal you will remember for a long time.

  2. Craig M 06/10/2011 Reply

    Even if the drive up the North Shore wasn’t worth trip on its own, the Angry Trout would be a destination on its own. We enjoy the food and atmosphere whenever we’re in Grand Marais… even celebrated our 35th anniversary there a few years ago. They were into sustainability and local foods long before it even started to catch on in the state. Be sure to pick up a copy of the Angry Trout Cafe Notebook while you’re there, or order it on line. A positive philosophy and a fun read. Can’t say enough good things!

  3. Love love love the Angry Trout. I grew up in Grand Portage and worked for several years in Lutsen, about 20 miles from Grand Marais. I’ve had so many wonderful meals at the Angry Trout, this review really spotlighted what they’re all about – excellent food, remarkable people and doing good things for the community. As a side note, my grandfather was a commercial fisherman on Lake Superior and often sold his fish to the cafe. Thanks for this great write up.

  4. Christian 06/11/2011 Reply

    We head for Grand Marais for our annual camping visit soon, and the Trout is always a must-visit place. I would take the editors to task for failing to include a photo of one of their fantastic dinners. A grand salad, the Trout’s deservedly famous wild rice pilaf, and a filling portion of fish completely smother a platter. It would have made a much more compelling portrait than either of the two sandwiches you folks chose to include! Having said that, I still feel Heavy Table is a terrific food blog, and provides a great service to foodies in the Twin Cities.

  5. Is there anyone who knows and does not love the Angry Trout? You’ve captured one of my favorite things about the Trout: the values of sustainability and local food are not trends they’re trying to capture; they truly live those values, in every facet of their operation. It’s an inspirational place; and the food is good too!

  6. One thing I respect about the Angry Trout is that they will not over-seat the dining room at the expense of the kitchen. They have a small kitchen, and they seat the dining room at the ability of the kitchen to keep up. It might be hard to fathom when you are waiting for a table, starving, and there are a bunch of empty ones, but that’s the deal.

  7. Wayport 06/14/2011 Reply

    I absolutely love the Angry Trout, it is the last word in artisan dining even the chairs, dishes and napkins are handcrafts.
    The dishes are spectacular, my only wish that the drive to Grand Marais were shorter.

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