episode 1.8 – life in the "big marsh"

Let’s be clear:  I work in Lutsen, but I play in Grand Marais.

(I guess it’s kind of a win-win because my work usually consists of stuff like this.)  

Don’t get me wrong, all of the North Shore is the royal crown of Minnesota.  But for me, Grand Marais is the biggest gem.  It’s the town I fell in love with when I helped my cousin move there a few years ago.  I had no idea then that I would be living there within six months, but that was exactly the case.

So what’s so great about the little harbor that early French traders called “the big marsh?” (Title!  Relevance!)

Answer:  Fudge shoppes.

Just kidding.  Sort of.  We do have two of them.  But there is much more to Grand Marais than just fudge–there’s also doughnuts!

No, Mikel, no!  Never blog on an empty stomach, people.

While the food is divine, I think the real draw of the quaint, artsy little town is the juxtaposition of culture and nature.  Nowhere else can you find such a perfect clash of Americana sidling right up to the Northwoods.

Seriously.  It’s like look left and see this:

Look right, and it’s this:

One minute, you’re enjoying a mason jar of wine at My Sister’s Place….

…the next, you’re scouting locales for Season 2 of Lost!

There’s fine dining.

There’s hiking.

There’s microbrews on draft.

There’s a skatepark.

There’s art.

There’s Artists’ Point.

There’s frozen custard.

And there’s a thousand little places

where you can pull up a corner of serenity

and call it your own for hours at a time.

Two years later, and I still spend my days off walking up and down the streets of Grand Marais, taking it all in.  Trekking out to the edge of the lighthouse to read a book.  Hoofing it until the roads turn into shoreline.  Skipping perfectly water-smoothed stones into the big blue until the sun sets.

I tell all my guests the same thing:  if you’ve made it all the way to Lutsen for vacation, you have to visit Grand Marais.  It’s condensed relaxation.  A vacation within a vacation.

In honor of my favorite little town–and how much I love food–I decided to put together a little awards show.  Presenting The First Annual “Marshies.”  The best-of-the-best Grand Marais has to offer:

Best View:  Grand Marais Fusion

Wait, this one isn’t about food, is it?  Yes, it is.  GM Fusion, run by two of the greatest people you’ll ever meet, Carl and Beth, is technically an Herbalife shake shoppe.  But it is also a great hangout with a great view of the harbor.  Ask for the “Mikey Special” shake.

Best Pizza: Sven and Ole’s / My Sister’s Place

Two winners for best pizza?  Them’s fightin’ words!  But I couldn’t help but giving the Marshie to both of these places.  Sven and Ole’s pretty much has the market cornered on ‘za in Grand Marais.  It’s hard to contend with their thick crusts and unique toppings–and their dedication to being an uber-traditional pizzeria is admirable.

But you gotta try Sisters’ BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger–it’s a gamechanger.  Don’t forget the extra pickles!

Best Burger:  My Sister’s Place

Geez, Mikel, are you running PR for these guys or what?

Look, I just really like this place okay?  (Mason Jars!  Hello!)  But the burger menu does leave the others in the dust.  From the “Anna Banana” to the “Goober Burger,” there’s something for every palette.  Seriously, peanut-butter-and-mayo…try it!

Best Cocktail:  Gunflint Tavern

Live music, an amazing menu, and a bar on the roof make this the nightlife hot spot in Grand Marais.  I could’ve made an offshoot award for Best Nachos, and the Tav would hold the title on that one too.

But I digress (It’s a problem):  the best cocktail in town is the Anne Bonny; a sweet, citrusy twist on a Long Island.  You have to try it.  Great wine and beer selection as well!

Best Place to get a Mocha/Best Cookie:  The Java Moose

The quintessential coffee shop:  WiFi, chalkboards, muffin tops, artsy folk like me–the whole nine yards.  They also keep a lock on the recipe for the Thunder Cookie.

There’s definitely more to come from me on the topic of Grand Marais.  This weekend, the harbor is hosting the Dragon Boat Races.

Need a room?  I know a great little place.

Check it out for yourself.  Bonus points if you can find this spot:

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