Friday, October 14, 2011

Rutabagas and the Drive Home

Wednesday night I was an attending author at the Killer Cocktails party put on for the librarians attending the Minnesota Library Associations annual conference, held in Duluth this year. More on that later! Anyway, I drove home from Duluth yesterday afternoon and got off I35 to drive Hwy 23 for part of the trip home (the Veterans Evergreen Memorial Scenic Byway). I love the back roads, because you see stuff that the Interstate doesn’t offer.
For example, I spotted these at a rest stop in Bruno, MN (birthplace of Ralph Plaisted, “First Explorer to Officially Reach the North Pole by Snow Mobile in April, 1968” as a sign proclaims) – you don’t see these much anymore!

Anyway, the highlight of this drive for me was the town of Askov, pop. 364 – once known as the Rutabaga capital of the world. I’d never heard of the place before, but it was such a fun and quirky little town. All the streets that I saw had Danish names, and there are Danish flags all over the place. But the thing that I especially loved about Askov is this little shop called Lena’s Scandinavian Gifts and Coffee House (home of the Rutabaga malt! And no, I didn’t try it, although maybe next time...) I entered mainly because I needed some coffee, but ended up talking to a guy who worked there for about 20 minutes or so because it was such a unique shop. First, it was filled with all things Danish – except for all of the things rutabaga-related; rutabaga jam, rutabaga shirts, rutabaga...well, other rutabaga things. Second, the shop is in a building built in 1905, and the walls and ceiling are all covered in beautifully textured and colored tin . The tin walls were part of the original building, and the guy I talked to said that they took off about five layers of paint a few years back to get to the original finish.
A shop like this is such a fun find for me, since nowadays nearly all tourist shops have the same basic crap in them; t-shirts, shot glasses, postcards, hats, all with the name of whatever state or town you’re in. All very cookie-cutter.
Lena’s was different. Original. By reflecting the spirit, uniqueness and flavor of the town (instead of just trying to cash in on its name) it added to the spirit, uniqueness and flavor of the town. Askov wouldn’t be nearly as fun without Lena’s, and Lena’s wouldn’t be the same without being surrounded by Askov’s ambiance and history.
So stop by
Lena’s if you’re on your way up to the Lake Superior region.  I highly recommend it. Their krumkake is tasty, and their caramel lattes are delicious. But as for the rutabaga malts – proceed at your own risk!

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  1. Nice to "meet" another MN-derived writer! I haven't had krumkake in ages -- this coming holiday season for sure.