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Black Woods Grill & Bar

October 8, 2014

While we did spend the part of the day of our arrival in Minnesota in the Twin Cities area catching up with some of my husband’s family and enjoying an amazing lunch at Pizzeria Lola, the point of traveling halfway across the country is to spend time with my in-laws in my husband’s childhood home.  My husband’s family is all located in Northern Minnesota, just south of the Canadian Border in a very beautiful part of the country.  However, this part of the state also means living in cities and townships that wouldn’t even make a blip on the map here in California.  For instance, my husband’s hometown when he was growing up consisted of about 9,000 residents, my hometown growing up consisted of about 30,000.  Today, my hometown has grown to about double in size, and my husband’s hometown has shrunken in size.  My mother-in-law had wanted us to all have a nice family dinner out together while my husband and I were in town and had asked if it would be alright if she planned something.  Going out to eat in that neck of the woods at someplace fun and entertaining generally means traveling about an hour south of my husband’s hometown to Duluth, Minnesota, the fifth largest city, most well known for being a seaport city right on the shores of Lake Superior.  Duluth has a population of just under 90,000 residents (just 30,000 more residents than my hometown in California, keeping in mind that the majority of Californians have never even heard of my hometown before, that’s how small it is considered) and is home to one of the state’s most well known universities, the University of Minnesota-Duluth.  The restaurant that my mother-in-law chose was one that the family had recently been to for a meal to celebrate my father-in-law’s birthday, and was no too far from the shore of Lake Superior, with a beautiful view looking out over the lake.  The lake, which surprisingly, at the end of May, still had a lot of ice on it.

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Black Woods Grill & Bar is a locally owned, family restaurant and bar that started with one location in Northern Minnesota in 1994 and has now grown to 3 different locations, including catering services for Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The Duluth location is built to look like an old-time luxurious, lake side cabin.  The furnishings inside of its cozy dining rooms are reminiscent of what a lake cabin would be filled with, beautiful iron work, large fireplaces, and beautiful bright windows that look out onto, and show off the spectacular beauty of the North Shore of Lake Superior.  It’s one of these beautiful round tables overlooking the lake that my mother-in-law specifically reserved for our family dinner for the 6 of us, myself and my husband, my mother- and father-in-law, and my sister-in-law and her husband who had driven up from the Twin Cities to spend the weekend with us while we were in town.

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We wanted to start off the meal with a couple of appetizers that we could all share.  My mother-in-law chose the Bulldog Bites.  Named after the mascot of the nearby University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, these bites were “seasoned bites of blackened tender sirloin seared with Cajun seasonings and sprinkled with chopped tomatoes and served over crispy onion straws” and served alongside a creamy horseradish dipping sauce.  While a little unusual with the chopped tomatoes, these little Bulldog Bites were quite tasty.  The sirloin was perfectly seasoned and tender and the crispy onions were an interesting contrasting texture.  The creamy horseradish dipping sauce was really the star of this dish, with just the perfect amount of bite from the horseradish.  The dipping sauce was such a hit, that my sister-in-law saved the remaining dipping sauce to enjoy with her entrée.  I must mention though, that even though we cleaned off this plate, and I enjoyed it, my husband wasn’t a fan at all and thought it wasn’t anything special at all.  We must have different tastes.

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Along with the Bulldog Bites, we also ordered onion rings for the table.  Described as “thick-cut sweet onions seasoned, breaded, and golden fried,” it was served with a side of Black Wood’s signature Agate sauce.  For the life of me, I have no idea with Agate sauce is.  But, whatever it is, it was also quite tasty.  I’m thinking Black Wood’s is a good place for dipping sauces.  If I recall, someone reserved this dipping sauce as well once the onion rings were polished off.  And believe me, crispy, sweet, breaded and fried onions, yeah, these were definitely polished off by the table.

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My husband made so much fun of me for the entrée I ordered for dinner.  After contemplating my choices, I opted for the North Atlantic Planked salmon.  The thing is, my husband couldn’t understand how I could go to Minnesota and order salmon rather than the local fish specialty that 3 of the 6 of us at the table ordered.  One of those 3 individuals being my husband.  But, I knew that was what my husband was going to order and I wanted to order something different because I knew I could steal a piece of my husband’s meal so I could try it too.  To this day, my husband still thinks I made a bad choice with dinner.  The salmon was glazed with Minnesota maple syrup and a bit of lemon pepper and seared on a cedar plank and baked in a wood-burning oven.  Served alongside seasonal asparagus and a baked potato, the entrée also came with a Caesar salad and a delicious fresh baked dinner roll.  Personally, I really liked the cedar plank salmon.  It was perfectly baked and flavorful and the Minnesota maple syrup added just a touch of sweetness to the fish.  North Atlantic salmon might not be a Minnesota specialty when it comes to fish, but Black Woods knew exactly how to prepare and serve it to tickle my tastebuds.

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So, if you’re wondering what was the local fish specialty that my husband, along with his mother and sister, all ordered, it was the walleye.  The Black Woods walleye may have come from the cold waters of Canada in the boundary waters, just north of Minnesota, but in the early summertime period, when walleye fishing season opens in Minnesota, it’s definitely a local specialty that every Minnesotan enjoys.  At Black Woods, every member of my husband’s family went with the option of ordering the walleye pan fried and dredged in Black Woods special seasonings.  Much like my entrée, the walleye was served with seasonal asparagus and a baked potato, with a Caesar salad to accompany the meal and a fresh baked dinner roll.  I think my husband inhaled his walleye filet in less than 2 seconds.  He’s always told me that walleye was his most favorite food in the whole world, not just seafood, but food in general.  And every time we go to Minnesota, he needs to make sure that he has walleye at least once.  The only thing about his walleye at Black Woods is that he found a lot of small pin bones in his filet, so it seemed like he kept having to fish them out – not a problem that either his mother or his sister had with their fish.  Admittedly, my husband did agree that if I had gotten his filet with all those bones, I would have been annoyed with it.  But for him, it didn’t bother him because he’s used to it.  He certainly did love the light breading and pan fried flavor of the fish with just a squeeze of lemon over the filet.  For him, walleye is just a little slice of heaven.

When it came to dessert, we all kind of looked at each other and couldn’t decide what we wanted.  We were all sort of full from dinner, but yet, it’s so hard to turn down dessert.  In the end, my husband and I had a little bit of role reversal as I ordered a dessert he’d normally be the one to order, and he definitely ordered a dessert that I normally would order.

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My choice of dessert was the snow white coconut cake.  Described as a moist white cake, layered three times with fully vanilla butter cream frosting and coated with snow white coconut dusted with powered sugar, this cake certainly did live up to its name of snow white.  White cake, white buttercream frosting, coconut flakes and powered sugar, oh yeah, it looked like something straight out of winter.  And the taste of the cake was heavenly.  It was so moist and fluffy.  The layers of vanilla butter cream were light, but incredibly flavorful and the cake was perfectly cooked, flaky and light.  The addition of the coconut flakes was just the right about to add just a hint of sweetness to the cake and a little bit of texture.  My husband who decided to share my dessert with me since I wanted some of his dessert too, even agreed that this cake was really good.  Normally, he’d have been the one to order a coconut cake as he’s a coconut fan even if he’s not the biggest cake fan.  But the fluffiness of this particular cake had my husband agreeing that it was quite good.

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For his dessert, my husband chose the wave of passion chocolate cake.  Now, I’m the chocoholic in the family and he’s not so much, so I was quite surprised that this was the dessert he went with.  The menu described the dessert as rich chocolate cake, made fresh daily, with a creamy caramel center, covered in whipped crème, Heath bar chunks and drizzled all over with chocolate sauce.  Boy, was this cake a stunner when it was brought to the table.  All that chocolate sauce and the caramel oozing out of the cake along with the delicious looking whipped crème.  Again, the chocolate cake was moist and warm and it was rich, just as described.  The Heath bar chunks added such great texture to the cake as it was crunchy and the toffee flavor really married well with the caramel sauce and the chocolate of the cake.  This was like eating a deconstructed Heath bar with the combination of the chocolate, and the caramel and the toffee.  As I said, I ended up eating half of my husband’s dessert and I loved it.  Just the right size for two people to share.  It was really rich, but not too much to be overpowering.  I definitely left dinner on a bit of a sugar high.

Black Woods Bar & Grill was a great restaurant with amazing, local, fresh food, and terrific homemade desserts, in a terrific setting in Duluth right overlooking Lake Superior.  It was a perfect family restaurant to spend time with my husband and his family, all the while feeling like we were sitting in the living room of a spacious lakeside cabin enjoying a perfectly home cooked meal.  For what my mother-in-law was looking for when she decided she wanted to find a great restaurant for a nice family dinner, I think she found exactly what she wanted.  We all had a great time together, enjoyed some good laughs, and really, that’s all it’s about.

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