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Delicious detours along the North Shore

Food writer Holly Ebel says from mammoth pastries to seafood delights, a trek up U.S. Highway 61 from Duluth to Grand Marais offers great dining opportunities.

Eating Your Way Up Hwy 61
Photos Contributed / Mark Claesgens
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These early autumn days are when many take time to head to the North Shore to witness the sensational fall colors from Duluth to Grand Marais.

I did just that two weeks ago and yellows, golds and reds were just beginning to show. In spite of four days of pelting rain, storms, wind and fog, it was still more beautiful than I remembered. While visiting seven state parks, seeing waterfalls and watching Lake Superior's waves pounding the shore, I also wanted to explore the food scene, experience it first-hand rather than reading and hearing about it. And I did.

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Here is a synopsis of where I went, and as you plan your own outing maybe some of these will be helpful as you find yourself hungry on a drive up Highway 61.

Tobies Restauant & Bakery in Hinckley, Minnesota, is a must stop as you make your way to the North Shore. Years ago it was just a modest bakery, now it's three times the size with a gift shop and restaurant.

Eating Your Way Up Hwy 61
The bakery case at Tobies Bakery.
Contributed / Mark Claesgens

The pastry case was loaded with baked goods, and I finally chose a caramel topped pecan roll so large it took me two days to eat it. I was struck that when you get out of the car the aroma of baking fills the air, like music playing when you stop for gas. Wonder how that works? A vent from the bakery to the parking lot? Regardless, it pulls you in.

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Once in Duluth my traveling friend and I had decisions to make. As we were staying at the Radisson, our first dinner was at the revolving restaurant on the top floor, The Apostle Supper Club . Seeing portions were oversized, we split the pickle-brined chicken, breaded and deep fried. That was a smart move. It was lovely to be able to view all parts of the city and harbor as the restaurant very slowly went around. I wondered why the name Apostle since those islands weren't even near nor visible.

One can't go to Duluth without going to Grandma's Saloon and Grill Canal Park , 522 S. Lake Ave. It has been an institution and destination for travelers for decades. The menu is large and sure to please the pickiest, even youngest, eater. A family friendly place, it was crowded but the service was good. The onion rings were as large as a baby's head and if I'm there again I'd order those. Again, oversized servings (we had the chicken pot pie, and fish and chips) and generous pours of wine. You can walk off those calories strolling on the near-by pier and also see the Aerial Lift Bridge, which is right there. A second Grandma's is located at 2202 Maple Grove. Rd.

Eating Your Way Up Hwy 61
Betty's Pies.
Contributed / Mark Claesgens

Next up the road was picturesque Two Harbors, Minnesota, and Betty's Pies . That must be one of the most popular stops on U.S. Highway 61. In business since 1958 and with a choice of 26 different pies, at least 300 of the restaurant's namesake desserts are sold daily.

Eating Your Way Up Hwy 61
Great Lakes crunch pie from Betty's Pies.
Contributed / Mark Claesgens

A pastie was on the menu, and that's what I ordered. The filling (beef) was good but the crust not so much. On the other hand, a slice of Great Lakes Crunch pie, the best-seller, was out of this world. The filling included three different berries, rhubarb and apple, and the crunch crust was perfect. Roughly 4 miles north is The Rustic Inn , also a pie place, but it was raining so hard we didn't stop.

Eating Your Way Up Hwy 61
Vanilla Bean Restaurant.
Contributed / Mark Claesgens

Do take time to stop at The Vanilla Bean , right on Highway 61 as you drive through Two Harbors. It had the most creative menu yet, which included wild rice porridge, cranberry wild rice pancakes, Swedish pancakes and Norwegian crepes. (I had tastes of both; no difference but good nonetheless.) Their specialty is an oven-baked omelet that is not to be missed. Still driving in a never-ending wind and rainstorm we stopped at the Bluefin Grill in Tofte, Minnesota, for a break. It looked like a great place to stay and dine but we ordered coffee (for him), and a Chardonnay (me), then continued to Grand Marais, Minnesota, hoping the rain would let up. It didn't.

While not a dining mecca the town certainly has a large variety of restaurants from which to choose, ranging from Sven & Ole's Pizza to The Fisherman's Daughter .

Eating Your Way Up Hwy 61
Shrimp dinner from Angry Trout Cafe.
Contributed / Mark Claesgens

I'd been told not to miss Angry Trout Cafe . I say the same to you. Absolutely go. We liked it so much we ate there twice on consecutive nights, white fish one night, glazed shrimp the next. Other spots we tried were Hungry Hippie Hostel where they put the taco fillings into their own fry bread – really good – and The World's Best Donuts . Known for their cake donuts, give those a try but don't walk away without ordering the Skizzle, sweet yeast dough stretched, deep fried and then sugared. You'll likely have to stand in line, but it's all worth it.

Eating Your Way Up Hwy 61
A skizzle from World's Best Donuts.
Contributed / Mark Claesgens

As you are exploring the town take time to stop by the Betsy Bowen Gallery and Studio (301 First Ave.), browse in Drury Lane Books (12 Wisconsin St.), and go through the myriad of souvenirs in the Lake Superior Trading Post (10 S. First Ave.).

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One last stop before heading home: lunch at New Scenic Café on the Scenic Highway north of Duluth. If I could chose just one place to eat this would be it. We ordered green curry mussels. Yes, it sounds awful but it was so delicious, and the sauce so good I took the leftover home and dipped roasted potatoes in it that night.

Now it's your turn. Leaves should be about at their peak. Safe travels and bon appétit.

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com .

Food for Thought - Holly Ebel column sig

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.
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