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