Best Location for a Food Vacation? Grand Marais, Home of The Angry Trout Cafe

Chances are, if you’re a visitor to the Simple, Good and Tasty web site, you have more than a passing interest in food. Chances are, you may even qualify as a “foodie,” which Nicole Weston, of Slashfood, defines this way:

“To be a foodie is not only to like food, but to be interested in it… Generally, you have to know what you like, why you like it, recognize why some foods are better than others and want to have good tasting food all or certainly most of the time.”

I admit it, I’m a foodie, and so is my husband. Nine times out of ten, when we are lucky enough to snag a babysitter for an evening, we plan our date around food. We rarely go to movies because the early features, which usually start around 7:30 p.m., are smack dab in the middle of the dinner “hour” (unless you want to eat at 5:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m., which we don’t). And the choice between a local, healthful, creatively prepared meal at one of our favorite Twin Cities-area restaurants or the latest Judd Apatow film is usually an easy one for us to make.

Being foodies also influences, in a big way, where we go for an in-state getaway, though I recognize that not everyone’s wired the same way. For example, I have friends and relatives who are more particular about the thread count of the sheets in their hotel room, the exact locations of WiFi hotspots, and whether or not they’ll have a lake view or a parking-lot view, than with the quality of the food they’ll eat when they’re away from home.

Not me. When I go away, I want to eat as well as I do at home, with one caveat: I’m on vacation, so I don’t want to cook (though that's usually my husband's job) – or clean up (usually my job).

So where do I go? Grand Marais. I just returned from my third visit there in 13 months.

Grand Marias – a 4 ½ hour drive from the Twin Cities – is a picturesque small town with two harbors on the Minnesota shoreline of Lake Superior. It's a famous tourist destination because of its stunning location, its thriving artists’ community, and its bevy of restaurants that are considerably better than you would expect in a town of 5,000 residents.

Or so I’ve heard. About the great selection of restaurants, I mean. See, I’ve been to only one of them and every time I eat there, I have a hard time finding any incentive to go elsewhere.

Maybe you’ve heard of the Angry Trout Cafe. It’s become a bit of a legend for its commitment to sustainability – not just in its food (fish from Lake Superior, locally grown fruit and vegetables, hand-harvested Minnesota wild rice), but in its building, its furnishings, its equipment, and its way of doing business. From its website:

“The Angry Trout Cafe is committed to operating in accordance with the concept of sustainability, striving to have a positive effect on our community economically, socially, and environmentally. Some examples of our sustainable business practices include serving organically- and sustainably-raised foods, using wind-powered electricity, and investing in our neighborhood economy by purchasing as much as we can from local providers.” 

It’s a funky place, an old fishing shanty perched on a rickety harbor and furnished with an odd assortment of recycled objects, each with a story to tell: chairs made from recycled tractor seats, “to go” cups that are actually used mugs from flea markets and second-hand shops, hand-sewn napkins purposefully made small so it takes less soap and water to wash them. There’s no detail overlooked: from the tile in the bathroom, to the light fixtures, to the metal fish sculpture hanging over the entrance, this place honors craftsmanship, resourcefulness, and economy.

But all this would be far less meaningful if the Angry Trout’s served mediocre food. It doesn’t – far from it. In fact, I can’t imagine a menu that is better aligned with its location and its mission of sustainability. The perfectly grilled fish served there – usually a choice of trout, whitefish or herring – were swimming in the lake a few hours earlier. The greens, peas, cucumbers, carrots, onions, and tomatoes that they build their salads with, came from a farm a few miles away. The raspberries, blueberries and strawberries are also local and sustainably produced, as are the ingredients for the bacon cheeseburgers and the kid’s meal chicken nuggets. (Yes, there are non-fishy options, but I never order them.) Everything is bursting with freshness, with flavor, and with nutrients. The food satisfies in a way that’s not just about how full your stomach is, but in how good you feel mentally, physically and emotionally after you eat there. Honestly, I credit the food at Angry Trout for helping me sleep so soundly when I’m at the North Shore.

When I was there last week, I tried to schedule some time to talk to the owners George Wilkes and Barb LaVigne. But I never got a call back; no doubt they get inquiries like mine all the time. They probably thought I was one of those obsequious food writers trying to get a meal comp’d in exchange for a favorable review. But the Angry Trout doesn’t need me or anyone else to tell you how great it is; if the food itself doesn’t convince you, nothing else will. (And they got a good review from me anyway.)

So if you’re a foodie, trying to choose the perfect Minnesota vacation destination, don’t compromise your high culinary standards. You’ll regret it. Instead, go to Grand Marais and eat at The Angry Trout. Then prepare for a good night’s sleep – regardless of the thread count of your sheets.



Shari Danielson is editorial director at Simple, Good and Tasty.
You can write to her at