Stuff We Like: Betty’s Bar offers fish and fun along the North ShoreMention the words “Betty’s” and “North Shore” in the same sentence around Duluth, and most folks immediately think of the Two Harbors staple, “Betty’s Pies.”
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
Mention the words “Betty’s” and “North Shore” in the same sentence around Duluth, and most folks immediately think of the Two Harbors staple, “Betty’s Pies.”
However, there is a lesser-known gem of a similar name along Highway 61, just far enough for the locals to know and the tourists to try to find: Betty’s Bar.
Located in Knife River, Betty’s Bar offers smoked fish for what owner/ operator Kenny Kendall claims are the lowest prices on the North Shore. With salmon, whitefish, trout and ciscoes, you can belly up at Betty’s and enjoy fish caught days and sometimes just hours before.
I stopped in with some friends on a recent Saturday and ordered a pound of trout and a half-pound of salmon. Outside, a sign marks the spot as the “home of the barbequed, honey-cured trout.”
I don’t know if I’ve ever detected a hint of honey in the trout from Betty’s, but it’s quickly become my favorite. Some might call it oily or even greasy, but I consider it juicier and an all-around better bargain than salmon. The smoked flavor is throughout — down to the bones. I get hungry just thinking about it.
For fish-lovers, few things are as pleasing to the palate or as simple as quality smoked fish. Kenny provides crackers, which really act more like a fish-delivery device than anything else. They certainly don’t get in the way.
“What are you thinking about?” my girlfriend asked me as I gazed blankly around the bar, slowly chewing.
“Indulging,” I said.
The smoked fish can be shipped anywhere across the U.S. and is just part of the allure of Betty’s Bar. The place has an old-school charm. Walk in, and you feel like you’ve leapt back in time.
The jukebox features 10 songs for a buck. One look at it, and you’d think you were at Bob’s Country Bunker of “The Blues Brothers” fame. (“We like both kinds of music: country, and western.”)
Kenny, meanwhile, is a man of many hats. Not a Jack of all trades, mind you, but literally many hats. All kinds of them. Among his favorites are “Goofy,” “Got Beer?” “Jamaica Mon,” “Pizza Man” and “Bear Face.”
Signed dollar bills, hats and even the occasional lingerie adorn the ceiling, and Kenny is quick to entertain first-time visitors with stories of Lake Superior dolphins and seashells. (One time Kenny even claims to have duped tourists into getting up one morning to see the “dolphins” run.)
A sign at Betty’s Bar proclaims “62 years and still smoking,” but the Kendall family’s history of smoking fish is even longer.
The tradition was passed down from Kenny’s grandfather, W.T. Kendall, to Kenny’s father, Lowell “Smokey” Kendall, and uncle Russ Kendall, owner of the smoked fish establishment just across Highway 61.
I had the pleasure of having a beer with Russ before he passed away in September 2007, and I also was fortunate to get to know Betty Kendall, Kenny’s mother and a saint of a person in her own right, before she died the following October.
Betty Kendall ran “Betty’s Bar” for years and continues to have an imprint on her namesake, with Betty Boop memorabilia still along the back wall behind the bar, just as she left it. Like great smoked fish, some things never change.
“That was my dad’s slogan,” Kenny says. “If you can’t stop, just wave.”