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Lakes Area Dining: Cru creates a unique dining experience

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NISSWA — Cru is courageous.

Cru is cozy.

Cru is many things, but the key to its early success might be collaboration.

Grand View Lodge’s representative in the lakes area fine dining scene will enter its second spring with a brand new menu. The brain child of Chef de Cuisine Paul Fitzpatrick was supported by GVL’s Executive Chef Mike Manders, who hired the 2000 Brainerd High School graduate to run with the concept of unique.

So what’s on the new menu?

“Just what I think would taste good,” said Fitzpatrick. “Sometimes I come up with crazy ideas and I talk with Mike. He’s been in the business a lot longer than I have so it’s nice to hear it from him. We wanted to bring different flavors and just do some really unique stuff, which isn’t up here.”

Duck confit flatbread, crawfish gnocchi, sauteed mussels in a parmesan broth and a smoked mushroom and goat cheese salad are a few of the new items patrons can expect when the menu launches April 18.

Fitzpatrick, who attended The Art Institutes International Minnesota in Minneapolis before moving back north, said he wanted to expose the lakes area to different flavors.

“Ever since I can remember it’s always been the same up here — deep fried walleyes, the steak and potatoes and bar food everywhere,” he said. “It was hard to leave the Cities, but also I wanted to bring my knowledge up here. People know about food up here and we have a lot of vacationers from the Cities so they know. That’s why I was really excited about this particular place because of the different ingredients I get to use and the freshness.”

The soy glazed duck leg, pasta carbonara and more will remain from the winter menu, which has seen its share of changes. The original concept was small plates, but there was a demand for larger meals and the staff adapted.

Cru collaborates with Wild Acres in Pequot Lakes for its duck and they are working with the Farm at St. Mathias for fresh produce.

“We are trying to build a relationship with local farmers,” Manders said, “It’s harder than you would expect. One, the Minnesota harvest season doesn’t fit well with resorts. By the time they’re bringing in their produce, we’re starting to wind down almost. When we developed this concept, Paul and I decided we were going to do everything we possibly can through the main dining room and (Cru) to buy as much local as we can.”

Fitzpatrick works a lot with Asian flavors and curry like his firecracker shrimp that has rice noodles, scallion, roasted red pepper and Thai chili sauce.

Fitzpatrick works with a crew of two. Marley Stanger, who he’s known since sixth grade, and the new guy on the block, Eric Estabrook from Arizona.

With the chefs slaving away in the kitchen, the real magic begins as soon as customers walk down the steps of Grand View’s Gull Lake Center. There waiting is Christine Iannelli. The food and beverage manager and head of house is eager to introduce customers to what is probably Cru’s biggest draw — the walk-in wine cellar, which covers one whole side of the dining room.

“The fun part was thinking of something to do with the wine cellar,” said Iannelli. “We had to do something different and unique. What’s the draw down here? The wine is the main focus. This is a beautiful cellar and there are tons of wine.”

The cellar helps battle Cru’s basement location. A fire place and rich wood trim create a cozy northwoods feel for the 72-seat room that’s more causal bistro than intimidating white-linen dining.

There is little to be intimidated about at Cru, including the immense wine selection. Prices range from $25 to $250 a bottle. Patrons are encouraged to walk in, select and enjoy their choice. The educated wait staff, especially Iannelli, is available for recommendations or to answer questions.

There is a tasting table inside that features the wine tasting of the day, but diners can sample their choice of wine as well. The wine is separated by price with a special “Make us an offer” section. For those not interested in wine, Cru does have a full bar with an expanding beer selection.

A visit with Iannelli is a learning experience. She owns a culinary degree herself, but has found her niche in providing wine insight and developing a pleasant dining experience.

“My wine by the glass list is going to be something that you’re not going to be able to get anywhere else,” said Iannelli. “This is unique and different and you get to try different things here. The wine is something that enhances the experience here.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at or at 855-5856.

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
(218) 855-5856