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Hanging Horn's breaded walleye is worth the trip

Ever since I dined at Hanging Horn Village 16 or 17 years ago, I've been looking for an excuse to get back. I found it this week when Nanette Blom and I dined on the restaurant's Northwoods Walleye. The Hanging Horn is Blom's "favorite place to e...

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Ever since I dined at Hanging Horn Village 16 or 17 years ago, I've been looking for an excuse to get back. I found it this week when Nanette Blom and I dined on the restaurant's Northwoods Walleye. The Hanging Horn is Blom's "favorite place to eat on Earth" and the walleye is her favorite dish. But the food is only part of the deal for Blom who said, "I have to really like the atmosphere, too."

Hanging Horn has plenty of that. Located on Little Hanging Horn Lake between Barnum and Moose Lake, it has been a Methodist youth camp, a music camp and an English-style pub and inn. The restaurant, which was the former main lodge, has a rustic cottage feel.

Blom and I took our seats about 6 p.m. Sunday at a table overlooking the lake; unfortunately, fog prevented a decent view. A half-dozen other tables were filled. "This place is packed in the summer on Friday and Saturday nights," Blom said as we perused the menu.

We ordered the Northwoods Walleye, a classic breaded fillet, with salads and potatoes. Blom chose boiled Yukon Gold potatoes while I had the standard baked potato. Blom ordered a vodka martni, dry, two olives. I ordered French onion soup and a Pilsner Urquell, a Czech beer I first tasted on my previous visit to the restaurant.

Our waitress was attentive but unobtrusive as she brought out our drinks, salads, bread board and soup.

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Blom discovered the Hanging Horn about five years ago, after moving to her home in rural Barnum. The restaurant has become a frequent Saturday night dining spot for her, her fiance Jim and their friends. They even put the restaurant to the test last summer when Blom and her twin sister had a 50th birthday bash there. "We had a huge group, and we thought maybe the quality of the food would slip a little with that many people, but it was all top-notch," she said.

Our entrees arrived just as we were finishing our salads and soup. Blom explained the walleye fillet's appeal this way: "The breading here is nice and light. I don't like breading that overpowers the fish."

TOM'S TAKE

The Hanging Horn Village has my idea of a great walleye fillet. It was close to an inch thick at its center and evenly but thinly breaded. The first few bites released a light crunch and an almost painfully hot burst of steam, followed by that soft, subtle walleye flavor. For me, the trick is to keep the breading simple and stay out of the walleye's way, which this dish did.

The French onion soup was a warming treat, with a slab of a mozzarella-topped baguette floating in its dark, rich, aromatic beef stock. The side salad had a mix of greens and was laced with a few slices of cucumber, croutons, black walnuts and blue cheese dressing. It provided a nice contrast to the salty soup.

The bread was a classic baguette style, both in shape and quality. The crust was hard, thick and slightly shiny, and the crumb soft.

I chose the Pilsner Urquell for two reasons. One, it's a light yet flavorful beer that seemed to say "summer" when paired with this walleye fillet. Two, it was first introduced to me by Barry Taylor, an Englishman and former co-owner of the Hanging Horn, on my first visit all those years ago. [Taylor told me that British beer connoisseur Michael Jackson once called it the best beer in the world.] I consider Taylor's advice an important point in my gustatory education.

My only disappointment at Hanging Horn was that I could order only one entree for the evening. But that could be remedied by a future trip, when the New York Florentine steak, the Wild Raspberry Duck or the Butternut Ravioli beckon.

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ABOUT THE DISH, RESTAURANT

Restaurant co-owner Sue Jordan said the walleye fillet typifies the restaurant's approach: Take a Northwoods supper club-style menu and bring in from-scratch cooking techniques and refinements. "When we bought this restaurant [in 2001], a lot of things weren't being made from scratch," she said.

The filet is Canadian lake walleye that's flash-frozen on the fishing boat. "I think that's the best quality you can get, unless you're right on the water where it comes from," she said. Although Jordan didn't provide much detail on the breading, she did say it wasn't a beer-battered and that the filet is deep-fried.

Jordan previously worked the front of house at the Hotel Sofitel in the Twin Cities and helped launch a new Chicago property before studying culinary arts at the Cordon Bleu's Twin Cities program. She won a prestigious internship at Maxim's in Paris and lets her passion for classical French cooking fly twice a year at special wine dinners, which fill quickly. The spring dinner was Tuesday and the next one is Nov. 6.

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