NISSWA — Mike Manders knows the address to Grand View Lodge.
And he’s embraced it.
The executive chef of the Nisswa resort immersed himself into the Brainerd lakes area’s hunter-gatherer persona. He selected the essential ingredients and traditions. What he did next, however, would make even the most stern grandmother blush.
He gave potpie an identity crisis. He dressed up smoked pheasant in a pastel flannel. He had the audacity to even think about changing meatloaf. And the talent to pull off the transformation.
After the experimenting and “tomfoodery,” Manders created a menu for the remodeled Lodge Dining Room manly enough for Paul Bunyan, but refined enough for those not wielding an ax.
“Basically our plan with this menu was to take a collage of classic comfort foods and dishes people have seen and give our special spin on them,” said Manders, fresh off a vacation in Michigan’s upper peninsula where he was trying out different fish preparations.
Manders spun potpie into lobster potpie and added snow crab, but kept the key elements of ham and vegetables.
Ribs are on the menu. But they’re bison ribs braised in a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce with an apple slaw.
Smoked pheasant is central Minnesota enough. Maybe too Minnesotan. Manders placed it in a spring roll and paired it with a peanut Thai sauce and wakame salad.
“The trend is everyone is using local,” Manders said. “What I’m trying to do is also do local, but keep our menu as close to the midwest as we can. We live in the midwest area and I really want to focus on the northern experience.”
Manders tackled steak, too. First he marinated it and then went to work. The end result is steak bruschetta with avocado, arugula, shaved Parmesan and a tomato-caper vinaigrette.
“To me, finger foods are always fun,” Manders said. “I like to incorporate a lot of flavors and there are a lot of things going on in that dish. We started out building from the ground up. We started with the meat. Then you have the acidity of the tomato and balsamic reduction and the sweetness of the marinade. There are all kinds of things happening.”
The large plate Minnesota essentials are there like top sirloin and ribeye. The rotisserie chicken and pan-seared breast of duck are from Wild Acres in Pequot Lakes. The rainbow trout is from Star Prairie Farm in Wisconsin and the Minnesota walleye is from Red Lake.
There is a vegetable flatbread and wild mushroom stroganoff for the vegetarian and array of soups and salads.
Then there is the meatloaf — a venison wild rice version that surprisingly has tradition at Grand View.
“Actually, the venison meatloaf had been on the Grand View menu a long time ago and it’s something I brought back,” Manders said. “I tried it and the crazy thing is it is actually more successful as a spring dish than it is in the winter. We lightened it up by serving it with roasted potatoes and our own steak sauce.”
All this melding of Minnesota traditions with new flavors can be enjoyed in a setting fitting of cabin country where rustic wood is the main decor. A large fireplace is the centerpiece of comfort in the updated, but welcoming dining room.
This new spin on old traditions will have its grand introduction May 18. It’s a chance to experience new flavors in familiar forms for a good cause. All proceeds from the grand opening will go toward Bridges of Hope. The cost is $60 per couple. There will be a wine pull for $10 per cork. For more information on the grand opening, call (218) 963-8756.
“We really want to reintroduce the Lodge dining experience to the local population,” Manders said. “With this menu, while it’s not big, it does offer a lot of variety.”