In Minnesota’s Iron Range, Midwestern With a Modern Twist


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Sarah Master’s sophisticated take on seared salmon.

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Justin Silvis

Pengilly is so small it doesn’t show up on most maps. But this town of about 400 on Minnesota’s Iron Range just got an unusual addition. Sarah Master, a Minneapolis-area chef who was a semifinalist on “The Taste,” on ABC, has moved back to her hometown and bought one of its two restaurants.

Now, she and Dan Beckwith, co-owner, are bringing surprising new flavors to this old lakeside resort. In its last incarnation, Mr. Roberts was an affordable place for people to grab a burger after a day out fishing. The resort still has the rusty beer sign, the dirt driveway and a garage full of odds and ends. But between the R. V.s and the fishing boats, a bright red little bistro hints at something a little fresher.

“It’s super fun for me to be able to take this food that I ate as a kid, take those kinds of elements and modernize them,” Ms. Master said. “I just wanted to do something different.”

That means the Buffalo wings are now spiked with Szechuan peppercorns and ras el hanout, and Buffalo cauliflower has a crisp thin crust and a sprinkling of slivered celery hearts. Entrees skew meat-heavy (this is still northern Minnesota) but with flourishes that take them far beyond their church potluck roots.

During a recent visit, braised shredded lamb was lent added depth by Minnesota-harvested cremini, oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Served atop an eggy pain perdu and dotted with slivers of dried apricot, it was equal parts savory and sweet. Goulash, a local favorite, was brought up-to-date with seared grass-fed rib-eye, stewed cippolini onions and roasted cherry tomatoes.

In Minneapolis, this kind of food would be pleasant but unsurprising. But in this traditional mining area, where tastes run toward Miller Lite and mashed potatoes, it’s almost a political act. Ms. Master said a few locals have criticized the restaurant’s higher prices and “fancy” food, but that her TV appearances and local roots have kept patrons coming.

You could end your meal with the excellent carrot cake, which has rich molasses notes and accents of ginger and allspice. But the best finale is to walk on the sandy beach, as I did with my 11-year-old half sister. She had earlier told me that for all the unfamiliar flavors, she’d be happy to come again.

“I thought this was going to taste weird,” she said. “But it’s actually good.”



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