One part boreal forest, one part roaring Twenties, and two parts Twin Peaks, the Naniboujou Lodge cuts a folkloric figure on the north shore of Lake Superior. The economic crash of 1929 transformed it from a private club for the likes of Babe Ruth and Ring Lardner into something that any given American with a bit of time and determination can enjoy.
That Naniboujou evolved from private club to public resort is to our collective advantage, and that the brass and glass chandeliers never arrived and exist only as functional cardboard and tissue paper mockups only adds to its charm. The place is strange and beguiling, with its massive native rock fireplace (accurately described as “a 200-ton work of art” by the lodge’s website), its starkly beautiful beach of polished lakestones and pine trees, and its Cree-inspired dining room ceiling that must surely rank among the 10 most beautiful in the nation.
It is entirely appropriate to the Lake Superior setting that the menu at Naniboujou is clean and simple, classic and straightforward. We skipped the pork tenderloin and the Amish chicken to explore the fish side of things, no doubt subliminally encouraged by the lake whispering in our ears.
The Canadian walleye in the buttery Dream Catch ciabatta sandwich ($14) might not have come from the greatest of the great lakes, but the fish was skillfully fried and possessed a delicately crunchy exterior and almost creamy interior. Elegant and soulful, and topped with bright, clean-tasting tartar sauce, this dish did the often tired concept of the walleye sandwich a good deal of credit.
Better still was the special of the evening, two Lake Superior herring tacos ($15). Proportion is everything in a taco, and the breading and tortillas were in balance with the fresh salsa and moist, flavorful fish. No one element overwhelmed the whole package, making for tacos that were balanced and beautifully savory. It’s also worth noting that the sweet corn that accompanied the dish was as good as we’ve had.
And the French onion soup ($6 a cup, $8 a bowl) was one for the textbook, with a thick cap of browned Swiss cheese and a profound caramelized-onion kick.
We had to do breakfast on the run. Despite being on the way to a doughnut shop to do a book signing, we sprung for one of the lodge’s locally legendary Nancy’s Cinnamon Rolls ($7). Elephantine in size (think of a flattened softball), blessed with a profound cinnamon kick and accompanied by only slightly sweetened cream cheese frosting, this is the cinnamon roll that a Cinnabon could become if it ever grew up and went to a good college.
There is nothing about the menu at Naniboujou that will change the way you think about food. There are no foams or gels, no exotic ingredients, and no techniques that overwhelm the taste of what sits upon the plate. And that’s probably just how it should be at a place like this, resting comfortably somewhere just outside the reach of time.
The Naniboujou Lodge Restaurant
Supper club near Grand Marais
20 Naniboujou Trail, Grand Marais, MN
HOURS (Check website to confirm):
DAILY MAY 24-OCTOBER 19
Sunday Brunch 8am-2pm
Afternoon Tea 3-5pm
WINTER SEASON — OUTSIDE GUESTS WELCOME, RESERVATIONS REQUIRED
Breakfast 8:30am on Saturday and Sunday
Lunch — by the box to go
Dinner at 6:30pm on Friday and Saturday nights
Jan. 10-11, 24-25, 31-Feb. 1
Feb. 7-8, 14-17, 21-22, 28-Mar. 1
Mar. 7-8 and 14-15
OWNERS: Tim and Nancy Ramey
ENTREE RANGE: $11-24 (dinner), $11-14 (lunch)
BAR: No alcohol
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN: Yes/Not really