To locals and tourists alike, smoked fish and Northern Minnesota go hand-in-hand. Until recently, Russ Kendall’s was where you went to find the best smoked fish around. Then came Eric Goerdt.
In 1998, Goerdt opened Northern Waters Smokehaus, offering sandwiches made with smoked delicacies like fish, lamb, salami, and bison. The café, in the Dewitt-Seitz building in Canal Park, is bright and charming, but small. Patrons—some of whom visit daily—spill out into the hallway or outside onto the deck. Take-out is popular.
My favorite is the Northern Bagel—smoked Atlantic salmon topped with scallion cream cheese on a perfectly toasted bagel—crispy on the outside but warm and chewy on the inside. The Pastrami Mommy is a quarter-pound of smoked bison pastrami, topped with pepperocini, provolone, lettuce, mustard, and mayo, served on rye bread.
If you have never had bison, it’s juicy and unbelievably flavorful. You can try it with sauerkraut on the Buffalo ’06, with Swiss cheese and house Russian dressing on rye bread. For those of you who won’t listen to me about bison, this dish also comes with beef brisket.
The Silence of the Lambwich is a gyro the way God intended—thinly sliced, smoke-roasted, curry rubbed leg of lamb, topped with fresh basil, diced tomato, onion, cucumber and a zippy yogurt on naan flat bread.
If you are not in the mood for a sandwich, the deli case offers a large selection of local cheeses and smoked fish.
Then, in February, Northern Waters Restaurant opened in the Mount Royal Complex at 1608 Woodland Avenue (where Bixby’s once thrived). The décor is simple, somewhat European in style—and space is no object. Booths line one side, with a bar table along the front windows. The interior is cozy with couches and coffee tables. The new location also includes a beer and wine bar.
The good vibes are made contagious by a long table that stretches the length of the entire restaurant and can seat about 60. No, they’re not expecting a party that big (though the food is so good, who knows?). This is a table for anyone to sit and share their meal, rather than only having the option of one party per table.
The Mt. Royal restaurant is a fresh take on established excellence, still featuring Goerdt’s smoked fish and meat. Northern Waters uses fresh (and, as much as possible, local) ingredients to expand into a dinner experience.
The Pork Shoulder Tacos top slow-cooked, shredded pork with onion, cilantro, and avocado, wrapped in a corn tortilla. At most local places, the corn tortillas are tasteless and soggy because they’re not cooked properly, Here, they’re grilled to a light crispness. I was surprised to not see salsa, sour cream, or lettuce, but the meat is so flavorful that a sauce might have only detracted from this dish.
The Royal Finn is a twist on their Cajun Finn Sandwich—Atlantic salmon smoked in black pepper and coriander, topped with mixed greens, pepperoncini, lemon-caper cream cheese, and “sweetie drops” (pickled peppers from Peru—say that three times fast!), all served on a toasted Stirato roll with homemade potato chips.
Schnitzel Sticks are something you don’t see every day, so why not order some? The strips of smoked pork loin, breaded, deep-fried, and served with honey mustard, are much more fun than chicken fingers.
For vegetarians, the Veg Head will surely satisfy with hummus, sweetie drops, greens, cilantro, cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, and sesame vinaigrette, all wrapped in naan bread. The Mushi Mushi Banh is a Stirato roll filled with sliced marinated mushrooms, cucumbers, cilantro butter, sriracha, and house kimchi (which is fermented cabbage, but I was right about the bison, wasn’t I?).
Eric Goerdt is a master of his art, and this new location is a welcome addition to what Northern Waters Smokehaus was already doing right.