The Hideaway series documents a marvelously placid three days I spent by myself in a fish house on Lake Vermilion. You can read first chapter here. This chapter begins on the morning of January 2, just after dawn. I woke from an uneven night’s sleep and made for Ely, in search of a good breakfast and a couple of plug-ins. I found them on Sheridan St., at Insula Restaurant.
From my hermitage, I drove 25 miles one Wednesday morning for breakfast at Ely’s Insula Restaurant. I did this for two reasons: first, 25 miles is actually pretty close by “middle of Lake Vermilion” standards; and second, it seemed like a place where a fellow could lurk around for a long time while his electronics charged without fear of judgement.
And so I went, up ice-damaged highway on cold, hard tires. It felt at times like I was driving Fred Flintstone’s car, and did I mention my heat isn’t working too well? I wiggled my toes every now and then, just to make sure I could still feel them. It was that kind of day.
I parked on Ely’s main street, Sheridan St., car snugly up against a large snowbank. Around this time of year, you only parking options on Sheridan St. are “snugly up against a large snowbank” and “slightly out in the street.”
Here is the hourly weather history for Ely, Minnesota, on January 2. Notice how, around 3:30 a.m., the temperature briefly dips off the chart. Given that, I considered myself somewhat fortunate to be traipsing around Ely around 8 a.m., when the temperature had spiked up nearly to 0 degrees! The sky was that weird, gray kind of bright; the wind was perfectly normal, and a perfectly normal January wind is music to nobody’s ears.
For a town of Ely’s size, there’s a lot of work out here for a dine-a-holic such as myself. If you came to Ely just for food, you probably came for a Mutt at Gator’s Grilled Cheese Emporium. I tried and failed back in 2017 to finish The Mutt; I came back and crushed it last year. But I’m far from done with downtown Ely. Kwazy Wabbit, Zaverl’s, Sir G’s, and Dee’s Bar and Lounge are just a few of the establishments I passed and whose names I scribbled down in my notebook. Soon.
In the space formerly occupied by Vertin’s Cafe, across the street from the Kerntz Funeral Home and Lobo Gun Leather, is Insula Restaurant. According to a story published by the Ely Echo, Insula Lake was where co-owner Dan Vollum had his first canoe trip as a child in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
The restaurant looks current and they play The Current over the speakers, but here’s what really stuck out: along the wall opposite the front door, I do believe every six-person table had its own wall outlet beneath it.
At the end of your meal, you’re given a little note pad with your bill and encouraged to write comments. I wrote, “Thank you for letting me drink all your coffee and lurk while all of my electronics charged. I really enjoyed the food. PS: I had gunk in my nose the whole time, didn’t I?”
RumChata French toast, nice and fluffy, dusted with powered sugar, eerily reminiscent of the Saturday morning cartoons and heaping spoonfuls of cereal. Two slices of bacon, extra crispy. I don’t prefer them so crispy, but it’s bacon. We like bacon.
I casually reduced this meal to unused butter packets and crumbs.
I had free stomach space, an abundance of time to kill, and confidence. That’s how I let myself run through a spinach frittata for an immediate second breakfast. It’s a nice teacup platter-sized helping of spinach, goat cheese, wild rice, and tomatoes. I got it with sourdough toast. Crushed all of that, too.
How many cups of coffee? I’ve no idea. My server didn’t let me go empty.
The frittatas are the menu’s main attraction at Insula, but they’ve got plenty of game if frittatas aren’t your thing. They’ve got New England crab cake benedict, a corned beef hash that looked magnificent in the photo result Google displayed for me (I didn’t see it in person), a burrito, biscuits and gravy, and so on.
Is there a Bloody Mary? Of course they do – I said “basics,” didn’t I? You can have a regular Bloody Mary, or a Bloody Viking: pepper vodka(!), smoked cheddar (!!) potato sausage (!!!), and lefse (faints).
The menu transitions into a much larger beast in the afternoon with burgers, sandwiches, entrees, appetizers, and salads. By the time you read this, I might have already gone back for the Vertin’s Special (a triple-decker sandwich with ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheddar, and Swiss). The tap lines are Minnesota only, and they serve craft cocktails.
Right about here is where I would make the inevitable statement about how my breakfast charged my properly for the day, and charged my laptop in kind. In truth, I left the laptop charger back at the fish house.
This isn’t the first time stories have come from Lake Vermilion. Last year, seven of us gathered at the Vermilion Club and marveled at the Bamboozler.