Sulu’s: Brenda Sue and Linda Lou’s Main Street Espresso Cafe

Christmas decorations on a wooden counter at a coffee cafe in Tower, Minnesota

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 and the second chapter here. This chapter begins on the morning of January 3, just after dawn. I woke to climbing temperatures and light rain. I was in need of hot coffee, good food, and a shower. I got two of those things in Tower at Sulu’s Espresso Cafe.

There are people who look just smashing after a few days in the woods. They’re beautifully unkempt and their edges are perfectly frayed. They walk back into civilization having conquered. The dust on their pants and boots suggest they may have chopped down a tree. Their faces wear the satisfaction that could only be earned cooking a fresh kill over a campfire. They probably walked in with a heavy bag over their shoulder, and that bag probably landed with quite a thud on the floor. They are impressive beings, indeed.

I am not one of them.

I rolled out of bed Thursday morning, January 3, able to feel my own skin crawl under a thin layer of grime. That I hadn’t showered in two days was painfully obvious. My neck hair had outgrown my facial hair, and the hair on my head was twisted in several directions. I’d spent the previous night drinking a six pack of Earth Rider’s Precious Materials lager, and filling almost a whole notebook with scribbles. When I rolled up on Tower’s Main St., I did so looking like my unsavory twin had mugged me and made off with my stuff.

I arrived just after first light, and Main Street was still mostly asleep. Across the street from my parked car, not a single light had come on yet at The Tower News. The post office had one car parked in front. Down the street, though, Good Ol’ Days was open and I’ve got to think a half-dozen or so of their famous Bloody Marys were gettin’ empty. A light rain had begun to fall over town, and temperatures were creeping into the 20s above zero. After two days below zero (at times, 15-16 degrees below zero), this morning felt miraculously warm.

There was the beeping of a plow truck off in the distance, the slam of my car door, and me: The Real Frank, I swear, and there’s no Real Frank unconscious by the lake without clothes, so there’s no need to check.

I came to Main Street in search of a hot drink and baked goods. And for that, I stopped in to Sulu’s Espresso Cafe.

A white chocolate raspberry scone at Sulu's Espresso Cafe in Tower, Minnesota
White Chocolate Raspberry Scone

The owners of Sulu’s Espresso Cafe are Brenda Sue Winkelaar and Linda Lou DiCasmirro. As is the case with many Iron Range businesses, there isn’t much of an Internet footprint. Two of the first three reviewers on the cafe’s Facebook page swoon over the raspberry and white chocolate scone. I’m also about to.

But we start with coffee. A bean dispenser and three coffee pumps behind the register boast Sulu’s partnership with Duluth-based Alakef Coffee Roasters.

Imagine waking up and walking right outside onto an ice sheet. Imagine seeing a dark, fuzzy-lined landscape; imagine a cold wind greeting you right on the first step out, and how it feels the way a jumper cable mishap looks like in cartoons. Now imagine the first cup of coffee right after that.

The coffee is unlimited, and the pastries are baked fresh every day.

I had three cups over the course of approximately 90 minutes, exactly one plain white bagel with plain white cream cheese, and one coconut chocolate chip cookie. The coconut chocolate chip cookies are big enough that you need to take a bite before dunking it in your coffee, and I really liked this coconut chocolate chip cookie when it was dunked in coffee.

I got a cup of coffee to go, and in doing so caved to the temptation of a white chocolate and raspberry scone. The scone for the road was eaten on the road, and it left me wishing I’d have ordered a second white chocolate raspberry scone for the road so I could have had it back at the fish house. I trust the real Frank would have enjoyed it very much.

A morning sky view from a fish house on Lake Vermilion, in northern Minnesota


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