The little cabin in the woods on the shore of Goose Lake has undergone many changes over the years, but its current incarnation as Cabin 61 may be its best form yet. What was Don’s Little Bar, a burger-centric neighborhood bar, was purchased last year and completely renovated and reimagined as a rustic, family-friendly spot featuring craft cocktails and a new menu full of elevated comfort food.
The new owners, four women who met through the Midwest Ski Otters waterski club—Lindsey Carpenter, Melissa Laughlin, Kristi Skillings and Carrie Berg—along with a fifth partner, Paul Rumpza, bought the bar in June 2016 and spent that summer remodeling it.
The Ski Otters practice four days per week on Goose Lake and perform a free show every Sunday night during the summer months, and “Don’s was right up the road, so we used to go there quite a bit,” says Carpenter. “It was getting a bit rundown, and we thought we’d give it a fresh look, a fresh place for people to come and enjoy the lake.”
The partners gutted the structure and replaced outdated décor with light-colored tile floors that look like wood, corrugated steel ceilings and hand-stained logs. The result is a modern take on the Up North look, a blend of simple materials and clean lines that is both casual and tastefully detailed. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel right at home having a burger at the bar while watching a Wild game on one of the flat-screen TVs, or enjoying a glass of wine and a leisurely dinner at one of the butcher-block tables.
While the owners collaborated on the revamped concept, they always intended to put the day-to-day management of the restaurant in to the hands of professionals. “When we reopened as Cabin 61 in September 2016, one of our partners, Dan Laughlin, was managing it and he did a great job, but it was never intended to be long-term; he had to get back to his job and we were searching for the right fit when we started talking to Daron [Close].”
Daron Close, director of operations for DC Restaurant Group, which owns and operates Acqua in White Bear Lake and Forest Lake, Pi Pizzaria in Forest Lake, and several Meet Markets locations as well as the recently opened sushi spot MIZU, was already a fan of the refurbished Cabin 61 when Carpenter and her husband approached him for advice and then to take over the restaurant’s operations.
“It’s a great space and they did an awesome job remodeling, so they were 90 percent where they needed to be,” says Close. “It just needed a different menu and some marketing.”
Debuted in June, the menu features refined renditions of classic pub fare, with offerings like beef brisket mac-and-cheese spiked with rosemary and thyme ($14), a kale Caesar salad ($8) and house-made salt-and-vinegar chips ($4).
Carpenter says they are hoping to offer an expanded outdoor space for next summer, with an area for lawn games and a waterfront deck for al fresco dining. “We’re working to put together an eco-friendly backyard,” says Carpenter. “We want it to feel like you’re at your own cabin on the lake.”
Open Monday–Friday 4 p.m.–midnight, Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.–midnight. Full menu available until 10 p.m. Sunday–Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Menu Highlights: Northern Charm
The menu at Cabin 61 reflects the site’s woodsy roots while incorporating inventive takes on Midwestern mainstays, meaning you can find a traditional tater tot hot dish ($10) right next to balsamic-soy glazed mushrooms ($7). Chef Tim Berkley, executive chef of the Meet Markets, oversees the kitchen, which Close says is still turning out some of the best burgers in the area. A prime example is the Campfire Burger ($12), a 7-ounce burger topped with smoked Gouda, peanut butter, bacon and spicy lingonberry jam. One bite and you’ll wonder why you never thought of adding bacon to a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.
Berkley’s passion for bacon is on full display with the popular Lumberjack BLT ($12), a triple-decker sandwich stuffed with half a pound of applewood-smoked bacon, pork belly, tomato, lettuce and Cajun mayo on honey brioche bread. “People say it’s one of the best sandwiches they’ve ever eaten,” says Close.
Also popular are the Korean BBQ-style baby-back ribs with pickled vegetables ($10), and the Ellsworth cheese curds ($8), served with creamy buttermilk ranch. Desserts like the cinnamon-sugar dusted mini-donuts ($6) and the indulgent s’more fondue ($8), are impossible to pass up.
The beer list is diverse and features local craft brews like Excelsior Brewing’s Big Island Blond Ale ($5.50) and a rich cream ale from Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors, Minn. ($4.75). For something a bit stiffer, try the New Fashioned Nightcap ($7), a fortifying cocktail of whiskey, bitters, orange and cherry, or the refreshing Fancy Margarita ($8), a blend of tequila Blanco, triple sec, and lime that packs a delicious punch with hints of elderflower and grapefruit.
“We’re finding things that trigger emotions or things from history and doing twists on them,” says Close. “Cheese curds and mini-donuts take everybody back to the State Fair.”