by Mandy Moran Froemming
If you’re in the mood for a meal made from scratch and a place to swap a good hunting or fishing story, then Woodsmans Grill is your kind of place.
The Anoka restaurant opened Dec. 19, 2011 at its 1918 First Avenue location, bringing some wild game fare to the historic downtown.
Part owner and executive chef Shawn Richardson has put together a menu full of hearty burgers, sandwiches, breakfasts and entrees that feature local favorites along with some outdoor flavor, including wild game like bison, elk and venison. His business partners also include friends Chris Daas of Spring Lake Park and Jerry Schmidt of Billings, Mont.
Richardson said he was ready to get away from the corporate restaurant world after spending 20 years working in or consulting for a lot of chain restaurants in the U.S. and Mexico. Anoka felt like the right fit, with its small town feel, much like his home town of Alexandria.
Woodsmans Grill is a compilation of a lot of the favorite eating places that Richardson and his hunting partners have found over the years. The idea for Woodsmans Grill came together on a recent fishing trip to Superior.
“We were kind of complaining there really wasn’t anywhere with a scratch kitchen that serves wild game,” said Richardson. “This (Woodsmans Grill) has elements of a lot of different places we like to go when we’re on hunting and fishing trips – places that have really good food.”
There are only three items on the menu that go in the deep fryer – wings, fries and beer battered fish – everything else is sauteed, grilled or smoked. Richardson does his own on-site smoking of meats and fish.
When a menu goes off the beaten path and includes 13 different meats, sourcing food can become a challenge. Richardson says 99 percent of these meats are purchased locally from places like Eichten’s Hidden Acres Farm in Center City or Wild Acres Game Birds from Pequot Lakes.
While the core menu offerings will stay the same, specials will change depending on what kind of game or fish is available seasonally.
Recent specials include smoked prime rib on Saturday nights and all you-can-eat walleye on Fridays. On Wednesday morning the breakfast special was bacon-stuffed pancakes.
Richardson said he has been surprised by the popularity at some of the more creative menu options.
Early favorites have been an Ahi tuna appetizer that he describes as a deconstructed sushi roll.
“People have just been eating that up,” Richardson said.
Also popular have been the walleye and bbq pork benedicts on the breakfast menu.
“Some of the stuff that I thought was a little weird or over the top people are really going for,” said Richardson.
Prices for sandwiches and burgers range from $6 to $9, with the entree price points running from $12 to $16. Breakfast is served until 3 p.m.
Pat Jackson has been hired as the general manager of the 50-seat restaurant.
Just a month in, Woodsmans Grill is already building up a clientele of regulars.
“There are some guys who like to come in here and tell hunting and fishing stories for hours,” said Richardson.
The walls show off plenty of mounts to inspire those stories. Some are Richardson’s personal trophies, while others have been provided by Jack’s Taxidermy.
Richardson already has his eye on the future and is thinking about adding a customer’s brag board so they can show off photos of their hunting or fishing trophies. He’s planning to sponsor a softball team and get involved with local charity fund-raisers. There might even be chili or rib cook-off challenges on the horizon.
Although he’s busy enough getting the new restaurant off the ground, Richardson also hopes to have the cookbook he’s working on out this summer. It will include all the recipes he has collected over the years and focus on what he calls man-cave meals, all meat and no sides or salads.
“The cool thing about hunting and fishing trips is you meet a lot of locals that might invite you back to their camp or even their house,” said Richardson. “Then you might come across a dish or a recipe you’ve never even thought of.”
Woodsmans Grill opens at 8 a.m. every day and closes at 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Fridays at 9 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
The restaurant is licensed to sell beer and wine and will take special reservations for private parties.
Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]