NAGC’s Best Adventurer Food, 2019

Read More Nordhem Karlstad MN

Even when you’re on the road, everybody’s gotta eat. There are the hidden gems, and there are the inevitable sore disappointments. On my adventures, I’ve found my share of each. In the interest of rewarding the proprietors of first-rate eateries, I would like to share some of my favorites with you. Hopefully this will also serve to help you avoid some of the duds lurking out there. The map below is interactive, so click on the icons to obtain addresses, phone numbers, and websites. Have at it, and let me know what you think!

Nordhem Restaurant and Heritage Center

Nordhem Karlstad Kittson Minnesota

Let’s not beat around the bush. Instead, I’ll start with the crown jewel of this list: The Nordhem Restaurant and Heritage Center. The Nordhem is a tribute— no, a monument— to small town pride and local Scandinavian heritage (Nordhem is apparently Swedish for “northern home”). This family-centric business on the main drag through Karlstad is quite unlike anything else you are apt to find in any old dot on the map. From the moment you pass through the front door, you know you’ve stumbled upon something special. 

Owner Sharon Wikstrom had an artistic vision for her restaurant and painted much of it. When she passed away, her son Matthew and daughter in law Andrea took up the mantle and finished the job. Now, murals above booths depict Scandinavian folk tales and doors throughout the restaurant display biblical scenes and traditional rosemaling. In all, it is spectacular. 

The rest of the restaurant’s interior is painted in a color scheme identical to that of a little church in Øystese, Norway that my wife and I happened to visit in 2018. No joke; I have the pictures to prove it. You certainly can’t accuse the folks in Karlstad of inauthenticity. 

When it comes to the menu, Nordhem won’t disappoint. With daily specials and pages of dishes to choose from, there is no chance of sitting in your booth thinking, “there’s nothing here I want.” A handful of offerings from Sweden and Norway also keep things interesting. I’ve eaten there a few times, including the Sunday buffet,  and everything reflected the homemade, personal treatment they specialize in. You owe it to yourself to stop in (or make a special trip to) Karlstad.

The Local Pizzeria Zumbro Falls Paul Bankers Godfather's Pizza

The Local Pizzeria

On the opposite end of our map sits The Local Pizzeria. Tucked away in Zumbro Falls, this (literally) mom-and-pop operation has auspicious roots. Husband and wife team Paul and Peggy Bankers opened The Local Pizzeria in 2015. They had been living in Denver for years, and wanted to get back to Minnesota. But that doesn’t mean they’re new to the pizza business. Far from it. 

Paul had a hand in the beginnings of Godfather’s Pizza in Nebraska years ago (he still has the top-secret recipes for the crust and sauce). Together with Peggy, they opened a Waldo’s Pizza in St. Cloud, where I remember eating decades ago. From St. Cloud they moved to Denver where Paul stayed active in the foodservice industry. And now, they serve top-notch handmade pizza to a loyal fan base. I can attest to that, as our family had both the “Pork-A-Licious” and the “Barn” for our first meal at the Local. We were camping over 20 miles away at Frontenac State Park at the time and it was more than worth the drive. 

The restaurant is housed in a historic building that once serviced the stage coach business; horses used to be tied up where the main dining room is now. There are more tables in an adjacent room and patio seating outside. And an assortment of ice cream flavors awaits the diner who doesn’t actually gorge himself on the pizza (like I did). 

Zumbro Falls is not far from either U.S. highways 52 or 61, and is worth a short deviation from your route. Or, Zumbro Falls is itself a worthy destination for canoeing, kayaking, river fishing, camping, or fall leaf-peeping trips. And since nobody in their right mind doesn’t like pizza, there’s practically no excuse not to drop in and experience The Local. Just keep in mind: they are usually closed Mondays and Tuesdays since there are only two employees, and if they ever want a vacation, they have to shut the place down. So you might want to call ahead to confirm the oven is hot when you want to go: 507-753-2444

Sportsmen’s Cafe

There aren’t many places you can go to find an old-fashioned diner experience anymore. This fact can be somewhat distressing to people of a certain age. But don’t despair, the Sportsmen’s Cafe in Mora has your back. 

At Sportsmen’s, classic diner design and furnishings evoke former times. A long L-shaped counter with stools dominates the inside of the dining room, and booths line the walls. Full-size front windows invite passers by to stop and have a sit-down meal instead of being handed one through a window. If that’s not enough, a full menu, daily specials, and homemade pie should seal the deal. And that’s basically it. No theme or gimmicks, and no “dining experience.” Just a regular restaurant that serves good food. For what it’s worth, they seem to have a loyal group of local patrons; that’s always a good sign. 

We used to drive past this place in the north end of town, wondering what it was like. One summer day when I was driving by with just my son, he requested that we finally stop and try it. How could I refuse? We each had a meal with pie, and now the Sportsmen’s Cafe is officially his favorite restaurant in all the world. At my age, it’s hard to come up with favorites. But for me, Sportsmen’s Cafe is near the top of my list too. 

Grand Buffet   

I know what you’re thinking: A buffet?  In a mall?  Seriously, Roy?  Yes. Stay with me here. 

Few people claim not to like Chinese food. I definitely love it. And in my opinion, more is always better in this arena. Sure, you may not like to stuff yourself with salty, saucy goodness like I do.  But unless your diet is limited to mac & cheese and chicken strips, you can always find something you like at a buffet, right? 

Our family of four usually eats here a couple times a year, and we’ve never not had a good meal. Everybody has their favorite dishes. My wife likes the sesame chicken. My kids usually quit the buffet halfway through to start making their own soft serve cones. As for me, the Mongolian beef reigns supreme. In my opinion, it is perfectly done with lots of green beans and onions, swimming in a heavenly sauce. It’s the best Mongolian beef I’ve ever had, anywhere. The only place they might make it better is in Mongolia, and maybe not even there. Plus, I know the ingredients are fresh. We see them every time as we leave, sorting and preparing the green beans on a table near the register. Mall food? No. It’s practically homemade. 

Sweet Tooth Division

McGregor Bakery

This place is pretty new to me. Apparently, they’ve been in business since 2006. I don’t know how I managed to overlook it for so many years, but I’m glad my eyes have been opened. 

They make some outstanding donuts, rolls, scones, danishes, and other sweet treats, and the secret’s out. It is one hopping place in the mornings. I learned the hard way that if you don’t get there on the early side, you won’t have much to choose from. In fact, if we are driving up north in the morning rather than the night before, I can convince the whole family to get up much earlier than they otherwise would by promising to stop at McGregor Bakery. Getting what you want at McGregor Bakery can be a powerful motivator. 

Last time I was there, I had a cranberry flavored danish that was so beautiful I couldn’t pass it up. It tasted as good as it looked. The time before that, we all had almond-flavored twists. Nothing has ever been short of divine, which makes me wonder: what do they put in that dough?

World’s Best Donuts   

Overstated claims tend to lead to disappointments. World’s Best Donuts in Grand Marais has been around for 50 years, which is one reason their name might not be all smoke-and-mirrors marketing. The other reason, in my opinion, is their cake donuts. 

They make a big deal about their “skizzle,” which defies classification, other than to say it’s fried dough with sugar all over it. It’s good, but there are a ton of other things to try at this tiny North Shore institution. In past years, I’ve had long johns and skizzles and all sorts of things. But this last May I picked up a skizzle to take home and a cake donut which left me feeling a bit blindsided. If I hadn’t been so far down the road when I bit into it, I would have turned around and bought a dozen more. It’s a mistake that haunts me every day and will continue to do so until I manage to get there again. It’s the best I’ve ever had, which is saying a lot. 

They open again on May 20th, 2020. The countdown has begun. 

Rothsay Truck Stop and Cafe   

For years, I heard my dad rave about the pie at the Rothsay Truck Stop. To hear him talk about it, you’d think he would eat their sour cream raisin pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He tries to time his trips to and from North Dakota so he can eat there. Needless to say, I was skeptical the first time I ate there with him. I hate it when things don’t live up to the hype. But it did. I don’t remember which meal I ate there, but I definitely remember being glad I made the time- just for that pie. 

Now, I don’t usually go out of my way for pie…and I still never have. The Rothsay Truck Stop and Cafe is mere feet off Interstate 94 in Rothsay, the prairie chicken capital of Minnesota.

 

 

 

NAGC News, 2019 Highlights

Tribute to a Vizsla

Grouse hunting VizslaRoy’s article entitled “For The Good Times” was included in the March/April issue of the magazine Pointing Dog Journal. It was the narrative of the final hunt with his longtime hunting buddy, Johann. 13-year-old Johann is still with us, but his hunting days are, sadly, in the past. That hunt last November seemed like a perfect time to pay tribute to this hard-working, bird-crazy, lovable family dog, and the folks at PDJ were gracious to let the bird dog community read it. Thanks go out to Jake Smith and Pointing Dog Journal.  

Video Venture

Never A Goose Chase is now also available in video form! YouTube has been hosting an NAGC channel since March. Currently, there are 2 videos up: one from Roy’s maple syrup making venture, and one from Roy’s solo trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in May. Nut foraging videos are currently in production, and a video log is in the works. Subscribe to NAGC’s YouTube home so you don’t miss videos as they come out. 

Awards for Never A Goose Chase

Roy recently became a member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), and attended the annual conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in September. It was a week rich in networking and story ideas, and he received Awards-In-Craft prizes for Never A Goose Chase content from the last year. The featured photo from “BWCA Entry Point 44: Ice-Out Lake Trout” won third place in the Photography division in the fishing category. That very blog post won second place in the Electronic Media/Blog division, fishing category. As if that wasn’t enough, Roy’s post “Do Something New: Spot & Stalk Duck Hunting” also won second place in the Electronic Media/Blog division, hunting category. He was pleased with his first showing, and that first AGLOW conference will not be his last. 

 

 

 

Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Black Cherry

Read More Minnesota black cherry

I’m sure you’ve heard of “black cherry,” either as a flavoring or as a type of wood. For me, the name evokes a certain flavor of candy. But did you know it’s a harvestable fruit here in Minnesota? Yes, it is. And this year’s harvest was outstanding. 

I’d been waiting several years for a good crop of these cherries- perhaps 4 or 5. They were not something I went out of my way for, but I usually checked on a couple different trees at least once toward the end of each summer. Well, this year, it was clear conditions were somehow just right. Branches were full of green clusters by July all over in my area.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Black Cherry”

How My Alma Mater Prepared Me To Sleep On The Ground

Read More Gustavus Adolphus College

Waking up somewhere cold and hard is not an occasional occurrence for me. Just a few weeks ago, I took my first solo trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area as the snow and ice receded from the landscape. Earlier this year, I slept a night on the ice of Lake Mille Lacs while I explored a lake that is still big and new to me. A couple months before that, I endured one late-October night (in a slightly leaky tent) while I tried my hand at netting whitefish in far northern Minnesota. I was fortunate enough to catch a modest number of fish each time, for which I was grateful, but everyone knows there are easier ways to bring food home for the table. So what makes me embrace physical exertion and discomfort doing these or any such things? 

Continue reading “How My Alma Mater Prepared Me To Sleep On The Ground”

BWCA Entry Point 44: Ice-Out Lake Trout

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Way up north, in the far reaches of Cook County, hundreds of deep cold lakes lie hidden in the hills and shaggy conifer forests. This is the stronghold of Minnesota’s lake trout population, with dozens of lakes hosting populations of one degree or another. There is a special place in my heart for lake trout, and an honored place on my table for any of the salmonid family. Since our trip to Crystal Lake last spring in the BWCA, I had been looking for my next opportunity to go after more of these delectable fatty fish. Also since last year, I had developed a deep burning desire to take a solo trip, which I had never done before. A permit for one person for Entry Point 44- with lake trout in Ram Lake and Little Trout Lake- seemed the perfect way to scratch both itches.  Continue reading “BWCA Entry Point 44: Ice-Out Lake Trout”

Do Something New: Smelt Netting

When I was growing up in the ’80s, the smelt boom on Lake Superior was already over and fading into collective memory, becoming legend. “Smelting” in its heyday was something everybody knew about and a great many rushed to the rivers to partake in. Nowadays, it’s almost exclusively a “used to” activity; you might have heard it too: “we used to go up there and fill up a barrel with smelt in half an hour.” In recent years, however, I’ve learned that the smelt still run and a select few still pursue them. 

Last Wednesday, I bought a smelt net from a guy on Craig’s List for 10 bucks. The next day I headed for Lake Superior with that net, hip waders, a 5 gallon bucket, what little information could be gleaned from the internet regarding current conditions, and a whole lot of hope. The plan was to start up the shore after sunset, and work my way down if I found nothing. The first stop was the booming metropolis of Knife River.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Smelt Netting”

The End of Their Era: When Our Outdoor Mentors Pass On

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My dad’s friend Larry was a staple of my formative years, a regular presence in our hunting endeavors in the late 80s and early 90s. His light, contagious demeanor was always welcome, and I won’t soon forget how his jokes and wise cracks punctuated the many car rides, duck blinds, and nights in the camper, not to mention his deft incitement of near-inappropriate moments at home and in the narthex of the church. I can still hear his crazy, half-wheezed, unfettered laugh, and I know I always will. 

He passed away last week, after a years-long tussle with cancer; this news was not unexpected, certainly, but its inevitability did not serve to mitigate its impact. His loss comes as yet another blow to constancy, a cold chipping away at my sense of youth and connection to the past. So it goes whenever a part of us seems gone forever and can only be kept alive in memory and stories. For me, it would be hard in this moment not to pause and remember the others that have gone on ahead.  Continue reading “The End of Their Era: When Our Outdoor Mentors Pass On”

Do Something New: Tapping Maple Trees and Making Syrup

Read More Minnesota maple basswood forest

When you try something new, sometimes it doesn’t go so well. A week ago, it was looking like I wouldn’t see so much as a drop of maple sap coming out of my taps. There was more than a foot of snow on the ground, and although the temperatures seemed perfect, nothing was happening. I didn’t know the first thing about how to make maple syrup, not to mention all the nuances regarding the tree tapping and sap collection along the way.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Tapping Maple Trees and Making Syrup”

Do Something New: Build a Quinzee

Read More quinzee, quinzhee, snow shelter

When I came across the word “quinzee” repeatedly within a short span of time this winter, it got my attention. I first had to do an internet search to determine exactly what it was, but knew right away I not only wanted to learn how to build a quinzee, I also needed to try sleeping in it. This seemed fun, but carried out in my own yard at home, it was an easy way to try something I might like to use in lieu of a tent on a future wilderness trip. 
Continue reading “Do Something New: Build a Quinzee”

What to Fix- Chokecherry Recipes

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Believe me, I’ve been there too. You find yourself in the presence of an abundance of some kind of foraged treasure- perhaps for the first time– and you collect more than you know what to do with. Most of the time these things can be preserved, and we can decide to do with it all later. For some reason I always seem to envision this taking place on a January day that’s so nasty I can’t even go ice fishing. 

Anyway, the time to decide what to do with all those chokecherries has come. If you’re like me, you’ve made a couple batches of pancake syrup and/or jelly, but there are still several bags of berries waiting down in the basement freezer. The good news is, chokecherry syrup and jelly are unique and tireless, at least in our house (I believe every forager owes it to themselves to at least try the pancake syrup). The better news is, you don’t have to restrict yourself to syrup and jelly; if you use your imagination a bit and have the patience to endure a little trial and error, there are lots of uses for your purple tree caviar.  Continue reading “What to Fix- Chokecherry Recipes”

My Public Lands: 2018

After the Public Lands Day rally at the state capitol rotunda last year, it seemed like a good idea to keep track of my public land usage until the next rally rolled around. I normally visit a lot of state and federal public lands throughout the year, but never kept a record, and so never really knew the extent of my own personal use. My mission to document my outings proved not only enlightening, but also spurred me on to go new places and try new things. 

The following is a visual representation of my visits- as well as my varied activities- on Minnesota’s public lands since last April. You may notice that not every single day or visit is represented by a photograph. For instance, some photographs represent an activity carried out on several different parcels, at noted. Likewise, some outings occurred on many different days, such as foraging in Chippewa National Forest and George Washington State Forest throughout the summer and fall. I only wish I had remembered to bring my rally sign with me every time; regrettably, there are some gaps in coverage. 

Our public lands, as you can see, are important to me throughout the year for camping, fishing, hunting, foraging, educating my children, and much more. If you are so inclined, please consider joining the Public Lands Day rally at the Minnesota state capitol February 7th, at 3:00. Thanks, and get outside. 

C.C. Andrews State Forest, Kettle River

Sucker fishing and camping, Cloquet Valley S.F. and CC Andrews S.F., April 2018 Continue reading “My Public Lands: 2018”

Trip Report: Lake Mille Lacs, January 2019

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Easy victories, camaraderie in the outdoors, a warm place to lay my head at night. These are all things I like as much as the next guy. When I pried myself out of bed last Thursday morning, however, I knew none of these things awaited me on Lake Mille Lacs. The lack of all three things, however, pointed toward a high probability of good fishing, which was more than I could resist. 

The latest buzz hinted that the west side of the main lake was just becoming accessible, and some folks had gotten out to the mud flats on ATVs and snowmobiles and found great fishing. The ice wasn’t reliably thick yet, it was said to be wet around cracks, and roads and bridges had not yet been extended past the bays. I don’t have a snowmobile or ATV, and I have no interest in being that guy who ends up needing a towing hookup at the bottom of the lake. My plan, if you could call it that, was to drive to the lake and see if it looked reasonable to walk out to the nearest mud flat. If it seemed foolhardy, I knew there was some fishing activity happening near some resorts, which I could fall back on. What I found when I arrived exceeded expectations; there was a well-worn road coming off the public access already, which immediately split off in three directions. I quickly packed up and started hightailing it for my destination, some 2 miles distant.  Continue reading “Trip Report: Lake Mille Lacs, January 2019”

Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Chaga

Read More Drying chaga

If there was a beauty contest for fungus, I know one that would probably come in last: chaga. Resembling a black scaly scab on the wound of a birch tree, there is really nothing attractive about it. But for every point it loses for its ugliness, it makes up for in medicinal qualities. Well, that’s the reputation it has, anyway. It has quite a following among select foragers. However, that could possibly be chalked up to a lack of other things available to gather through the cold months. 

Inonotus obliquus

Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Chaga”