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Ely Steak House

August 23, 2012

Located within the boundaries of St. Louis County, the third largest county (by size) in the United States, the small city of Ely, with a population around 3,500 residents, is well-known to outdoor enthusiasts.  Ely, is the gateway, and jumping-off point for many canoers, campers, wildlife seekers and other outdoor adventurers looking to head into the idyllic Boundary Waters Canoe Area of far northern Minnesota.  During a recent trip to Minnesota, myself and my husband’s family found ourselves up in Ely (not too far from my husband’s hometown) for a visit to the International Wolf Center.  The mission of the International Wolf Center is to educate the public on wolf behavior, biology, environment and interaction with humans.  The highlight of the Wolf Center is their adult grey wolves and cubs that they have on display for the public to watch in a somewhat natural habitat.  Unfortunately, our visit there that day was rather unsuccessful.  We kind of caught a glimpse of one of the 2 cubs in a side pen that was hard to see, and the 2 adult wolves they have that the public can see decided it would be better to hide in the back forested area where no one could see them!  Oh well.  That’s why they are called wildlife, right?  They don’t always cooperate.  After we finished our visit to the International Wolf Center, my mother-in-law figured that while we were in town, we should just have dinner in Ely.  The location for dinner chose was the Ely Steak House.

A family-run operation, the Ely Steak House, which has stood at the top of Sheridan Street, the main street in Ely, was opened in 1997.  Built with the philosophy in mind that a canoer coming in from a multi-day trip out on the Boundary Waters would want to come into town for nothing more than a great steak and an ice-cold beer.  So, the restaurant strives to make the best, most memorable steak dishes in town, and serves over 50 different types of bottled beer.  But it isn’t just steaks you can find on the menu here.  The Ely Steak House also serves a lot of Minnesota favorites.

We started off our meal by ordering a couple of appetizers for the table.  My mother-in-law insisted that we order walleye fingers, which was just fine by me since I wanted to have some walleye again.  If you’re like me, a California girl, you may never have heard of walleye before.  I’d never heard of it until I met my husband, and discovered its his favorite fish.  For the record, walleye is a freshwater fish native to most of Canada and the northern United States.  Walleye is actually the state fish of Minnesota and it is well-loved.  In fact, more walleye is consumed in Minnesota than anywhere else in the country.  The walleye fingers at the Ely Steak House are appetizer size cut of walleye filet handbreaded and fried and served up alongside chipotle pepper sauce.  They basically served it finger food style.  It was well cooked, the breading was crispy and well seasoned, but didn’t overpower the light flakiness of the walleye.  My sister-in-law was in love with the chipotle pepper sauce!

The other appetizer we ordered was a special they had that day: state fair deep-fried cheese curds.  Ok, until I visited Minnesota for the first time last year and we were ordering food at one of the food courts at the Mall of America, I had never heard of cheese curds before.  I saw an eatery at the food court advertise deep-fried cheese curds and I had to ask my husband what it was.  He said that you find them all the time at county fairs and the Minnesota state fair.  He couldn’t believe I’d never heard of them.  He said he loved them!  When he saw them on the menu at the Ely Steak House he had to order some.  I discovered that cheese curds, especially deep-fried cheese curds are really a Midwest fare.  Technically, cheese curds are the solid part of soured milk and are often found in areas where cheese factories and dairy farms are plentiful as the curds are best when eaten fresh.  Deep-frying cheese curds is much like battering and frying onion rings.  The cheese curds are generally mild in flavor and have a consistency much like regular cheese.  The deep-fried cheese curds were pretty good.  They were mild in flavor and had a consistency much like cheese with a hint of saltiness to them.

As a starter a couple of us ordered the French onion soup.  Being up in northern Minnesota, I’m not sure we expected that much for the French onion soup being served here, but we were pretty much blown away when it arrived.  A crock pot full of delicious and savory French onion soup, topped with a crouton and then doused with melted cheese and then garnished with some chopped parsley was very tasty!  It was warm, delicious and very well done.  This would have been a great meal in and of itself.

Being in Minnesota, and not having many changes to try walleye, I ordered walleye filets for dinner.  I got a choice of having the filets either hand breaded and deep-fried or grilled.  Following the instructions of my husband who says that deep-fried is the only way to go, that’s what I ordered.  Served alongside a tartar sauce and steak fries, my meal was delicious and satisfying.  walleye is so flaky and moist and the breading on the filets was delicious and perfectly seasoned.

Keeping with the walleye theme, my husband also ordered walleye.  However, instead of ordering filets, he ordered something I’d never seen before on a menu, and I don’t think he had either: walleye parmigiana.  Essentially, you take a couple of walleye filets, bread and deep fry them, and then top them with marinara sauce, melted parmesan cheese and then a side of pasta and garlic bread.  It’s exactly like chicken parmigiana, but with walleye filets instead.  Definitely a creative and interesting menu item.  While the dish was good, my husband said there was a lot of sauce and a lot of pasta and the walleye filets kind of got lost amongst everything else.  And the flavor of the walleye kind of got lost in all of the strong flavors of the marinara as well.

So, we went to a steakhouse and neither of us ordered steak or actually had any meat at all.  Ok, well my brother-in-law and father-in-law both had steaks for dinner, but neither my husband nor I did.  I was tempted to order a steak, but in the end thought that while in Minnesota, I should eat something more associated with Minnesota.  I was happy I had chosen the walleye filets for my dinner.  My husband is happy to get walleye any way he can get it, so I don’t think he was too disappointed with his dinner choice.  Ely is a fun town right on the outskirts of the Boundary Water Canoe Area, and I’ve enjoyed visiting it the two times I’ve gone to Minnesota.  It was that much more fun to have a nice family dinner together at a nice restaurant as well.

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