The Skeptical Diner: Northwoods Cafe

When discussing food, one of the most difficult tasks is understanding and exposing your own bias. If you’re a vegetarian and you think that eating meat is immoral, you should reveal this fact before giving your opinion of Manny’s Steakhouse. (“Great salads! But limited selection.”) Likewise, if your father owns a Mexican restaurant, your opinion of rival restaurants should be offered with a full disclosure attached, if at all.

In that spirit, it should be known that before eating at the Northwoods Cafe in Silver Bay, I had spent roughly two days hiking and camping on the Superior Hiking Trail. My companions and I had also skipped breakfast and hiked muddy terrain for a number of miles before arriving, spurred by an impromptu storm that had dumped a couple inches of water on our camp.

In other words, to quote Don Quixote: “La mejor salsa del mundo es la hambre” — The best sauce in the world is hunger.

That’s about as true as quotes get. As your legitimately hungry body takes in the food, it thinks: “Ah-hah! I have an immediate use for this, thank you!” This is a real step up from the usual situation: “Okay, I’ll just throw this over here… on top of the rest of the fat.”

With that background established, the Northwoods Cafe is about as honest and true a diner as there ever was. The patrons, mostly (if not entirely) Silver Bay locals, drank coffee and gathered in cheerful clusters. The walls were covered in paintings of deer in the woods, and a sign on the wall read: “Unattended children will be given an expresso and a free puppy.” The waitresses were cheerful. The portions were generous, but not obscene (this very understandable situation led to us ordering a smaller, bonus meal we dubbed “second breakfast.”)

The coffee was smooth and mild, and the french toast was soft yet crunchy, golden brown and delicious. The pancakes sprawled across our plates and were thick without being bready. The sausages were zesty and slightly sweet. And the poached eggs on bacon on cheese on hashbrowns stack of stuff was just about perfect for a post-trail breakfast.

The Northwoods Cafe is not going to win any awards for avant garde food. They are not advancing the state of the art, surprising their customers or courting attention. They’re just serving a classic, unpretentious, wholesome American breakfast to a friendly crowd of people. Hungry or not, that’s a pretty good thing.

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