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The beacon burger comes with a slather of cream cheese, barbecue sauce and “beacon” berries, which are a mixture of Maine blueberries, cranberries and sugar. Photos by Jana Hollingsworth / jhollingsworth@duluthnews.com

DINING OUT: Lighthouse at Emily’s offers refreshing, creative fare

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features Duluth, 55802
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

A restaurant that offers the option to sit on a porch out front, on a deck out back or in an array of charmingly decorated rooms is a restaurant after my own heart.

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The Lighthouse at Emily’s, 15 miles north of Duluth, is a North Shore family’s second time around at operating an establishment. It also ran the Lighthouse on Homestead, and moved to Emily’s in 2011. It’s always had a following, and maybe garnered a stronger one with the presence along the Knife River on the scenic roadway.

This is a restaurant that takes a burger, mixes up a compote of wild blueberries and cranberries with cream cheese and barbecue sauce and throws it on top. Co-owner Lynne Compton’s husband Doug came up with the creation, and he deserves a medal. (It did win first place at Red Rock Radio Grill Wars in 2010.)

It’s called the beacon burger, ($10.95) and with the 8,754 twists restaurants put on burgers these days I found this refreshing and creative.

Emily’s likes to source local as much as it can. In bigger cities, that’s the order of the day. But in the Twin Ports, I can probably still use my fingers and some of my toes to count the restaurants that attempt that. The beer list is small but includes nearby Castle Danger, Bent Paddle, Lake Superior Brewing and Ashland’s South Shore, for example. It’s known for its fish — salmon, trout, whitefish, Canadian walleye — all from Lake Superior Fish Co. Local fisherman Mark Torgerson also supplies herring.

The smoked salmon sandwich ($11.95) is mixed with grilled onions. There’s melted Swiss — a rarity for a fish sandwich but this is no complaint — and a dill sauce flecked with mandarin pieces. It comes on marble rye. It was like a smoked fish plate with all the trimmings turned into sandwich form. The salty goodness paired well with a smooth Castle Danger pale ale ($6). The onion rings ($2.50) were an unneeded splurge, but lent a crisp vessel for the spicy bistro sauce, which one must request.

Take this all in on the back deck next to the Knife River and you have a fine night. Inside, an enormous fireplace takes up one wall of a room and a cute bar lines the wall of another. White Christmas lights cast a warm glow on the beadboard walls and nautically themed, Scandinavian-inspired decor. It gets loud in there, but with homemade Swedish meatball and full turkey dinner nights, doesn’t it just remind you of eating in someone’s (much nicer) dining room?

The family’s philosophy, said co-owner Brita Aug, is to focus on homemade food while keeping the restaurant family-oriented.

“We hand-pull the roast beef, and it’s real mashed potatoes and gravy and meatloaf,” said Aug, who owns the restaurant with her sisters and a niece. “We keep it as homemade as we can. That’s how we grew up and like to eat.”

The staff has allowed dining with a dog on the front porch and then at a table next to the river, when food was brought out in take-out containers along with water for the thirsty pup. The extra effort was appreciated and the friendliness was very Minnesotan.

The thing about casual places like this, situated on touristy roads leading to vacation destinations, is that some don’t try to be special because they don’t have to be. But Emily’s, like a few select others that dot the North Shore and the South Shore, goes out of its way to please people. It sources that local beer and fish and makes that special sauce. People notice these touches, and they return.

LIGHTHOUSE AT EMILY’S 218 Scenic Drive, Knife River

Lighthouseatemilys.com

(218) 834-2501

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday

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