red stag kitchen 9/7/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

A little story of what not to do in the Boundary Waters, a new twist on old school food in NE Minneapolis plus, it’s time to man up and throw a whole fish on the grill!

Sorry for the delay in getting back to this….a vacation (that story to follow in a minute) and that pesky little State Fair thing got in the way.  But, a few stories to share from the month of August that came and went in a REAL hurry (back to school already????  September looking like a beautiful fall day on Kodiak Island right now….at least it’s not snowing.  Where’s my crab boat?).

First, here’s the vacation story for you.  Well, using the term vacation loosely.  I shared with you a while back that we were heading to the Boundary Waters and how we plan for food while “out on trail” as they say (read that here).  The food turned out great.  The weather?  Not so much.

Today, Tuesday, September 7th, we are getting blasted by 30-40 mph winds with gusts up to 50 mph.  Well, that’s what happened to us on a lovely little Alder Lake (well, not that little).

To Quote George from Seinfeld, “The sea was angry that day my friends!”

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We were only 2 lakes into the BWCA.  We entered on East Bearskin, made it to a great campsite in a cove on Alder.  From there, the plan was a couple day trips to small lakes to the north of us.  We never made it.  That wind?  Not good for a canoe.  We had 20-30 mph winds (at least…seemed much higher at times) that basically kept us stuck for 3 days.  Most of the lakes in the Gunflint Trail region of the BWCA tend to have east-west orientations to them (think long and skinny).  And when the wind blows from the west, you can get stranded.

This normally doesn’t happen for 3 days…maybe 1, more like 4-8 hours (according to Dave from Hungry Jack Outfitters who we went through for the trip).  Then it calms down and you’re on your way.  We didn’t get that lucky.

Not to say we didn’t have fun.  We did.  Caught a few fish, did some swimming, saw some amazingly beautiful lakes and a part of the state that’s not to be missed.  And we cooked and ate a lot.  We were never short on food.

Not a bad view, is it?  Even the dog liked it.

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Then it was time to go.  Now, we could have waited one more day to see if the wind would die down but that was no guarantee.  In fact, we ran across a traveler who told us it was supposed to be worse the next day.  So, we took a shot.  I went first in my solo canoe.  Nose first, straight into the wind hoping I could keep it straight into the waves (which were healthy 3 foot rollers and more than enough to scare the heck out of you in a canoe), I set out to cross the big part of the lake.  No good.  Halfway across, a blast of wind hit me, turned me sideways and it took one wave to knock me over.  Me, two packs and a flipped canoe went into Alder Lake.  The fun part was swimming it all back to shore.  Not a good start.

From there, we made a decision to walk the canoes with packs in them around the points and try to cross to the right side of the lake (this involves walking knee-waist deep in water, holding the canoe and trying to stay upright).  From there, we’d hug the shoreline and attempt to stay out of the wind.  I’ll save the details other than to say we did not stay upright (huge rocks, drop-offs, boulders, trees in the water, etc.  Not good and our legs were destroyed).  And staying out of the wind was impossible.  By the time we got across the lake, it had taken us about 5 hours.  Coming in, it took us 30 minutes.

boundary waters 9/7/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

At this point, we were done for.  We still had to cross East Bearskin which is about twice as big and with what were probably larger waves.  We were staring into the face of a cold, wet and fairly miserable night of camping at the portage between the two lakes.  Only fate intervened.

For what he says is the first time in his over 20 years outfitting groups in the BWCA, Dave from Hungry Jack took a boat with motor across East Bearskin to the portage on a whim, wondering if anyone had made it that far (East Bearskin allows up to 25 HP motors, one of the few in the BWCA that does).  At this point, he had a few groups that were a day or two late as they waited out the wind.  We got to shore just as he walked down the path.  It was like seeing an angel.  As I told him that day, it’s the first time I’ve ever wanted to kiss a bearded man.  And hopefully the last.

He was able to tow our canoes back and we rode in the boat across the angriest lake I’ve ever been on.  It was like crossing the North Atlantic that day.  He told us it took about 7 minutes to get to the portage (with the wind) and it took us 45 minutes to go back (against the wind).  We were soaked by huge waves crashing over our little boat.  By the time we were back to shore, I thought we were all going to get hypothermia.

Everyone has asked me since why we would ever go there….”that is not a vacation” they’d say.  And they’re right.  It’s not.  We were destroyed by that day.  Our legs beaten and scarred by rocks and trees, I sprained my foot at the portage (and later found out I tore a ligament and am still in a walking boot.  Very fancy) and I’ve never spent the better part of a day on adrenaline like we did that day.  It was a day of survival.

Put it this way….you go looking for adventure, sometimes you find it.  I’m proud of the three of us (and my dog Ernie!) and how we handled ourselves.  Nobody freaked out, nobody panicked and we did what we could to make sure we were safe.  You may go in the water but life jackets were on, extra clothes were kept dry (although everything else was soaked) and we watched out for each other.  It’s hard to understand but when you’re in those situations where all but the basics are stripped away, you come out of it refocused and refreshed.  You just told yourself something important.  If I can do that, I can handle my normal, boring old life!

So, out of the BWCA and into Grand Marais, one of my favorite places not only in Minnesota, but of all the places I’ve ever been.  First stop, the classic Sven and Ole’s!

sven and oles 9/7/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

Sven and Ole’s Pizza has been a standby in Grand Marais since the early 80’s (and everyone has at least run across a “Sven and Ole’s” bumper sticker along the way).  They actually have really good pizza.  And a few really different flavors you won’t find at Dominos!  Our choice that day was the Shicken & Vild Rice Zah.  Otherwise it’s known as Chicken and Wild Rice if you don’t speak Minnesotan as well as the folks in Grand Marais.  And while you’re there, might as well get the bucket of pickled herring too.  Some of the best you’ll have.  I know, I know, who actually eats pickled herring.  That’s the garbage uncle Lenny used to eat before you could stand to be anywhere near his breath.  And that’s before he chased it with a six pack of Pabst.

But you’re missing out!  The tartness of the pickled herring is something I look forward too when I head to the North Shore.  It’s not like the slimy, canned stuff you’re used to seeing.  This stuff is fresh herring from Lake Superior.  It has just the right amount of saltiness and pickling spices.  It’s delicious.  If, you know, you’re into that sort of thing.

Couple of other notes following the Labor Day weekend…..and this is NOT the end of summer.  I refuse to buy into that.  The grill will stay hot for at least a couple more months.

Speaking of which, Sunday, I tried to make a whole grilled fish on the grill for the first time.  I’ve made plenty of fish on the grill (just the filets) but had never done the whole, head on thing before.  Here’s how I did it and I recommend it highly….it’s not difficult and it stays much more moist and flavorful.  This is a Caribbean style (Bahamian Grilled Fish):

  • Pick up a whole fish from the store (check out Coastal Seafoods in south Minneapolis or sometimes you can find good fish at Costco or Sam’s if you’re members there).  I went with Red Snapper but almost anything from Trout to Salmon to Sea Bass will work…even large Walleye.  But find it complete with head and tail still intact (it should be cleaned however…gutted and scaled).
  • Wash the fish inside and out then pat dry.  Give it a quick rub in olive oil then salt and pepper, again inside and out.  You’ll want to make 3-4 slashes across each filet (from top to bottom) down to the bone.  Like this:

snapper cooked2 9/7/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

  • Make a quick marinade.  I used garlic, the juice and zest of one lemon, rosemary, a little Old Bay and I minced one small habanero from my garden.  Careful if you go the habanero route, they’re VERY spicy.  Use a jalapeno or maybe an Anaheim pepper if you want some heat but aren’t looking for the fiery type.  But, I still recommend the Habanero.  They might be spicy but the taste is worth it.  Take out the ribs and seeds and you’ll be OK.  Try to make a paste by mincing and grinding it with a mortar and pestle…or use a food processor.  Spread it evenly over the fish and in the cavity making sure you get it into the slashes you made.  Marinade it for at least an hour, no more than 3-4 hours though.  It won’t take long.
  • For the grill, use what is called indirect heat.  Get one side hot, leave the other side off (if it’s gas…if using coal, bunch it all on one side).
  • Wrap the fish in aluminum foil but make it so you have almost a pouch….like you’re leaving space above the fish.  On the top of the fish, cover it with lemon slices.  You can also use banana leaves if you want to really make it like they would in the islands but foil works just as well.
  • Start it straight over the high heat for maybe 10 minutes.  You just want to get the juices flowing a little bit.  Then slide it over to the cooler side of the grill and close the top.  Depending on the size, it should take 30 minutes to an hour.  To check the doneness, just lift the flesh where you made a slash in the filet.  It should lift away from the bone and flake easily.
  • Let it rest for about 10 minutes in the foil, then uncover.  Serve it right in the foil or carefully slide it onto a platter.  Garnish it with a little more lemon and rosemary.  You can pick the filets easily right off the bone.  Then, when you’re ready for the other side, don’t flip the fish.  I was told that’s bad luck (I don’t make this stuff up).  You can just pick the entire backbone up and slide it off the bottom filet and you’re back in business.
  • Experiment with the flavors a little depending on what you like.  A fish like snapper is very receptive to all kinds of different things.  Try lemongrass and soy sauce to give it an Asian twist.  Or some paprika, tomatoes and fennel for more Mediterranean flavors.

Give it a shot.  I was intimidated by cooking whole fish on the grill but this is a recipe you almost can’t go wrong with.  Lots of fresh fruit flavor from the lemons (you could also go with limes which are more traditional actually) and the heat from the peppers you use gives it a great kick!  And please, don’t be afraid because it has a head and tail.  It won’t bite!

One quick restaurant note….finally made it over to the Red Stag Supper Club in NE Minneapolis.  This is a place that’s been there a couple years now and I’ve heard good things.   Plus, it’s another in a wonderful chain of local restaurants that is trying to use sustainable and locally farmed food, the best thing that could ever happen to the Twin Cities’ dining scene!  Local is where it’s at.  It’s good for the farm economy and it’s good for us.  The Thrifty Hipster has a few Happy Hour and drink specials on his website that are worth checking out.

Chad Hartman (12p-3p weekdays on WCCO!) raves about Red Stag and reminded me, I have to go.  Went there Saturday night with some friends and really enjoyed it.  We had a terrific fettuccini with clams and a flat iron steak that was perfect.  The best part about Red Stag is some of the old school menu items you’ll find.  Cheese Curds with a smoky homemade ketchup, roasted carrots (I LOVE roasted carrots), and another Minnesota favorite, Smelt!  Those fishy tasting little things you either love or hate.  Heck, they even do a Friday Fish Fry!

One thing I’m dying to try is Slow Food Sunday.  They prepare a new special every Sunday night from 5-10pm for $19. Various entrees include Coq au vin, Slow Braised Short Ribs, Pot Roast, Hot Dish, Smothered Chicken, and Cassoulet.  Sign me up!

If you’re looking for a different dining experience with an old school type of twist, Red Stag is worth a visit.  They also make a mean Manhattan along with other old world cocktails if you just want to visit the bar (when’s the last time you ordered a Gin Fizz?  If you know, you’ve been around a while!).


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