Star of the North campaign - Minnesota State Fair
Itinerary

What to Eat, Drink and Do on a Road Trip from Minneapolis to the Iron Range

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Minnesota State Fair  / Paul Vincent

What to Eat, Drink and Do on a Road Trip from Minneapolis to the Iron Range

By Andrew Parks

Photographer Ben Hon (@stuffbeneats) and marketing guru Claire Mosteller (Yobo Soju, Burlap & Barrel, Padma Lakshmi) are always searching for new spots to celebrate their love of food and travel, so we sent the longtime friends on the ultimate culinary tour of Minnesota. One that featured everything from the postcard-worthy mine pits of the Iron Range to a little soirée we like to lovingly call The Great Minnesota Get-Together.  

Here is how you can experience all of the tasty spots on Claire and Ben’s itinerary.... 

  1. Break for brunch in a historic department store
    A couple friends order brunch at Leader in Cambridge, Minnesota

    Leader / Paul Vincent

    Break for brunch in a historic department store

    The A.W. Johnson Family has owned and operated Leader since 1918, but its restaurant space is more of a recent development spurred on by fourth generation owners Grant and Michelle Johnson. The couple sees Leader as a cornerstone of their Cambridge community — a place to shop for locally sourced goods and tuck into terrific all-day breakfast dishes like a salmon popover scramble and Swedish pancakes with lingonberry jam and powdered sugar.  

    Lunch is also lovely here, whether you’re sipping on wild rice soup with garlic chives, puffed grains, and pulled chicken, or crushing a Canadian perch sandwich that’s been smeared with tangy North Shore tartar sauce and brightened up by Nordic pickles. 

    Find more top food & drink spots.

  2. Catch a lobster (mushroom)
    Foraging for lobster mushrooms in Eveleth

    Foraging for lobster mushrooms in Eveleth / Paul Vincent

    Catch a lobster (mushroom)

    There’s a reason why Mike Kempenich, a.k.a. the Gentleman Forager, calls himself “The Most Interesting Man in the Woods”. As one of the region’s chief foraging experts — see also: such fellow Minnesotans as Ironwood Foraging founder Tim Clemens, James Beard Award-winning chef Alan Bergo, and ethnobotanist/TikTok phenomenon Linda Black Elk — he supplies many restaurants with wild ingredients and hosts everything from mushroom identification classes to special events centered around chanterelles, morels and porcini.

    Check out his current schedule over at gentlemanforager.com and our complete guide to foraging in Minnesota, or trace Mosteller and Hon’s journey off the grid in the mystical woods of Eveleth.  

  3. Channel Bob Dylan’s childhood
    Iron man statue at Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm

    The "Iron Man" statue at the entrance of Minnesota Discovery Center 

    Channel Bob Dylan’s childhood

    While he was born in Duluth — one of Minnesota’s most treasured cities — the singer-songwriter once known as Bobby Zimmerman spent his formative years (1948-1959) in Hibbing. The small Iron Range town is where Dylan became obsessed with music, started his first bands, and graduated high school. Take a trip back in time by reliving such landmarks as Dylan’s childhood home and the building where he learned how to play the guitar (Braman Music, now the site of a massage school).  

    Keep those selfies coming by driving over to nearby Chisholm and standing in front of the 85-foot “Iron Man” statue that welcomes visitors to the Minnesota Discovery Center. A nod to the mining boom that put the Iron Range on the map, it’s the country’s fifth largest free-standing statue — a brass and copper behemoth that more than lives up to its solemn official name, “The Emergence of Man Through Steel”.  

  4. Mountain bike on a former mine pit
    Kayaking at Redhead Mountain Bike Park

    Kayaking at Redhead Mountain Bike Park  / Paul Vincent

    Mountain bike on a former mine pit

    Redhead Mountain Bike Park at the Minnesota Discovery Center boasts 25 miles of world class trails specifically made for mountain bikers. What was once a barren landscape is now a shining example of how to restore and reclaim our natural world, Minnesota style. If you’re not into coasting across gravity-defying peaks and valleys, the free park also offers incredible kayaking opportunities in crystal-clear water that runs as deep as 250 feet.

    Another otherworldly vantage point is the vast open pit at Hull Rust Mine, a historic landmark at Hibbing’s Tourist Senior Center.  

    Read our Where to Go Mountain Biking in Minnesota guide

  5. Make your way back down to the Mill District
    Two friends walk across the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis

    Walking across the iconic Stone Arch Bridge is a must in Minneapolis  / Paul Vincent

    Make your way back down to the Mill District

    Since most domestic and international flights leave from the metro area’s peerless MSP Airport, any trip out to the Iron Range should tack on at least a few more days in downtown Minneapolis. Its riverside Mill District is the perfect homebase. Canopy by Hilton is in the heart of it all and within a short walk of local highlights like the iconic Stone Arch Bridge. The former railroad path is being repaired over the next couple years, but it’s partially open to bikers, pedestrians, and anyone who can’t resist swinging by to bask its golden hour glow or see one of Minneapolis’ best farmers markets during the summer.  

  6. Dig into the world’s first de-colonized menu
    A couple friends chat with the chef at Owamni

    Owamni / Paul Vincent

    Dig into the world’s first de-colonized menu

    Chef Sean Sherman’s revelatory Mill City restaurant hasn’t stopped reinventing the rules of fine dining since its long-awaited 2021 opening or subsequent James Beard award for the nation’s best new eatery. With dishes that lean heavily on corn, wild rice and other hand-harvested ingredients rather than dairy, beef, pork, chicken, wheat flour and sugar, Owamni celebrates the culinary roots of Minnesota’s 11 Native American tribes and more than earns its mark as one of Minneapolis’ best restaurants.   

  7. Sample a critically acclaimed croissant
    Pastry chef Shawn McKenzie and a couple diners at Cafe Ceres

    Café Cerés / Paul Vincent

    Sample a critically acclaimed croissant

    One of the most remarkable developments of Daniel del Prado’s ever-growing restaurant empire (Colita, Martina, Cardamom… the list goes on) has been the breakout success of his former pastry chef from a Portland fish shop, Shawn McKenzie. The James Beard nominee is the co-owner / croissant whisperer at the local chain Café Cerés, a prime spot for unique pastries like Turkish bagels, chocolate chip tahini cookies, and pistachio croissants. Not to mention dynamic coffee drinks like dukkah-dusted and ras el hanout-spiked lattes and a mocha that’s made with carob powder. 

  8. Create the ultimate food crawl
    Minnesota State Fair's Corn Roast stand

    Minnesota State Fair's iconic Corn Roast stand  / Paul Vincent

    Create the ultimate food crawl

    Few things in the world are as quintessentially Minnesotan as the State Fair that caps every summer with crop art, butter sculptures, and a revolving door of Giant Slide riders. Anyone who’s been to the beloved event in the lead up to Labor Day knows it’s one of the country’s most rewarding food and drink experiences.  

    Aside from long-running local favorites like the Corn Roast, Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar, and the corn dog-adjacent Pronto Pups (made with pancake batter instead of cornbread), the fair is a welcome celebration of the many cultural groups that make our state so distinct and diverse.

    Crispy lutefisk buns at the Minnesota State Fair

    Crispy lutefisk buns at the Minnesota State Fair / Paul Vincent

     

    Where else would you be able to snack on lutefisk steam buns, best-in-class sambusas, masala-stuffed dosas and walleye on a stick? As Hon said with a smile during his visit, “only in Minnesota.” 

    Check out more Star of the North itineraries, including road trips to the Walleye Capital of the World and Grand Marais.  

Andrew Parks

Andrew Parks is the multimedia editor at Explore Minnesota. His past lives include copywriting and content strategy for such clients as Food & Wine, Apple, Condé Nast Traveler, Bandcamp, AFAR, Bon Appétit, and Red Bull.