7 Minute Miles

Northland Vacation 2020

Posted Sunday, July 5th, 2020 05:09 pm GMT -5 in Casinos, Family, Food, Friends, Golf, Longform, Travel

I’ve been fortunate to continue working through the pandemic, but it’s been tough to take time away (especially since I’m the only IT person left). Thanks to the support of my boss and one of our awesome game day staffers, I was able to take a week off without looking at work email once. We originally intended to spend the week on Isle Royale National Park, but the ferry and Rock Harbor Lodge decided to scrap the whole 2020 season and our reservations were cancelled.

Plan B was to stay the first half of the week at Lutsen Resort and the Fourth of July weekend on Lake Vermilion (at Fortune Bay). Those plans changed as the temperatures kept rising – it was even hot along the usually cool shoreline of Lake Superior and we discovered upon check-in that Lutsen Resort does not have air conditioning. They were accommodating by offering us a full refund, but there were really no other options in Lutsen or the surrounding spots (Grand Marais, Tofte, Grand Portage). Fortune Bay could get us in early, so we set off on highway 1 through Ely and decided to spend the whole week on Vermilion.

Fortune Bay has done a nice job with COVID safety and procedures. They had temperature checks set up on the entry road, mandatory face masks and lots of signage, plexiglass and hand sanitizer. The casino floor had basically every other machine turned off, but they kindly turned on my favorite game for the week (big thanks to EJ). I think I made it worth their hassle, though, while still getting a lot of quality playing time. They had Frozen-themed giveaways on Thursday and Friday for 100 points earned (an Olaf waffle maker on day one and an Olaf snow cone maker on day two), so I spread my playing time out accordingly. Marisa really, really wanted these, so I was happy for the solid play-through.

Food options during the week were a little limited, but what was open was solid. We stopped at the Ely Steakhouse on the way over from Lutsen and they were following all of the state orders for in-person dining. On the other end of the spectrum, the Vermilion Club was following just about none of the rules, which blew us away (maybe “VC” really stands for Virus Central). We still ate there twice in-person and had take-out a third day, because Poor Gary’s pizza and the bleu cheese and chicken wings are Northland classics (hopefully we were personally careful enough).

Back at Fortune Bay, I hit the Wilderness Grill four times, having great experiences each time. The new chef used to work at Alma in Minneapolis and I really liked all of the sandwiches I tried (pulled chicken, walleye, porchetta and cheeseburger). Their new fries are reminiscent of the state fair classics. In the casino proper, we had a wonderful dinner at the Sunset Steakhouse and stopped several times at the Gold Mine Grill, which is getting better with service and staffing (they’ve always had great coffeeshop-style food options). The Tamarack Buffet was closed for service, but was the room was being used for socially-distanced overflow seating.

Thought I would play a lot of golf during the week, but the temperatures were warm and I just didn’t feel like going every day. I did drive down to Coleraine to play Eagle Ridge with the Millers and got in a twilight round on The Wilderness with John, Cathy and Bonnie. The whole region needs rain badly, so there were some near-dead areas on both courses (especially in the roughs). The Wilderness also has a lot of behind the scenes changes: the contract with KemperSports was not renewed and former golf GM Tom Beaudry and superintendent Vince Dodge have both moved on to the state of cheese. Still love that course, though, and it continues to be the one I’ve played the most.

It was also great to hang out at Dacha Batinich on Birch Point again with Mary and the crew. Big thanks to John and Cathy for taking us out on the boat for a pizza picnic (and for taking Sasha and Marisa out again later in the week). Skip-Bo games and great conversations make that little cabin a very special place indeed.

Originally published by DK on July 5, 2020 at 5:09 pm