Trip report: Great eating in Duluth (long)
Mr. Tastebud and I were in Duluth last week and ate really well. (Maybe my subject line should be "Over-eating in Duluth"?) We didn't have a car - we went up on a special train for a train convention - so no Russ Kendall's smoked whitefish or New Scenic Cafe for us. But we did really well on foot and by city bus, plus one trip by hotel shuttle.
My favorite place(s) was/were Takk for Maten Cafe and Kippis Tapas Bar. I loved them so much that I posted about them right away, in excruciating detail:
Here's where else we ate, with my favorites first:
At Sarah's Table / Chester Creek Cafe
We ordered from the nightly specials menu and had a wonderful meal at this confusingly-named place. (To add to the mystery, their web site is named for Taran's Marketplace, the grocery they replaced.) Mr. Tastebud had salmon with a pinot-berry sauce - it was superb. Mr. T. has a talent for ordering the best thing on the menu, and he was right on target tonight. He also ordered a side of brown rice, which was simple, perfectly cooked, and delicious with the rich main dish. I got the cioppino, which I loved. It was a huge bowl of fish stew, with a (slightly) spicy, tomato-y, red-peppery broth and plenty of seafood. (They were out of mussels, so they put in extra shrimp along with the salmon and white fish.) I also ordered a side of farro with dried figs, which means I had way too much food, but it the farro was delicious. I didn't regret it. Because we ordered the two most expensive things on the menu, plus two glasses of wine, our dinner wasn't cheap - $66 (plus tip) for two - but it was well worth the money. I'm sorry we didn't have time to try their "small plates" menu in the adjoining wine bar.
For fans of the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis, AST/CCC/TM reminds me of a more home-spun version of Birchwood - dishes are much simpler but have the same high quality and local/organic emphasis.
Transportation note: The #11 bus stops right in front, and saves a long walk uphill. It's a 2-1/2 or 3-mile walk back downtown, but it's downhill and/or along the beautiful lake shore. This is a great walk.
Northern Waters Smokehaus
We got take-out bison pastrami sandwiches for lunch one day. I had the Buffalo '06 (their version of a reuben) and Mr. Tastebud had the Pastrami Mommy (pastrami, provolone, and lettuce on pumpernickel). He had them leave off the pepperoncini, so I thought it was nice but boring. My sandwich was fantastic. I returned the next day to get the Cajun Finn (spicy smoked salmon with cream cheese, red pepper, and pepperoncini. Tasty and unusual, though I thought there was too much cream cheese; I'd ask them to hold it or go light next time.
Best of all, I learned that I can mail-order the marvelous bison pastrami. I'm on cloud nine!
Amazing Grace Bakery & Cafe
http://www.amazinggracebakery.com/ (Note: This is an amazingly unhelpful blog, mostly about their music events. More useful info - hours, at least - is available at http://www.dewitt-seitz.com/amazinggrace.html )
While Mr. Tastebud was at the convention, I went here for a solo breakfast of tea and oatmeal-buttermilk pancakes - I had them plain, but they're also available with fruit (apple-cinnamon the day I was there). Great flavor. And I picked up a two muffins (strawberry and blueberry) for the next day - both very nice, even as day-old treats (great flavor and just a hint of whole grains). The place wasn't busy, so I sat for a few hours using their free WiFi and watching the Aerial Lift Bridge go up and down. This is now my favorite thing to do in Duluth (other than walking the Point or riding the train).
We went late (8:30) on a rainy Saturday night, and they were quite busy. (I think they were short-staffed; another conventioneer reported that he went earlier, then gave up after waiting 20 minutes without ordering.) Our server seemed harried, but we got good service (other than forgotten napkins and silverware). And the food was great. We had Tandoori roti, mixed pickles, chicken makhani, and saag paneer (spinach with cheese). We asked for medium spicing, and I was quite pleased with the zippy heat level. It was a bit much for Mr. Tastebud, so it was just right for me. And we ate it all, because we couldn't bear to leave any leftovers. Yum!
Grape Vine Cafe
(no web site - see http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/129/1415357/restaurant/Grape-Vine-Cafe-Duluth )
This is a warm, family-run place that seems to be new(ish) in downtown Duluth. Our dinner had both highs and lows, but I liked this place a lot. There were problems with the bread (stale) and spanakopita appetizer (tasted like it was made with slightly old oil or butter), though the filling of the spanakopita was great. Mr. Tastebud's chicken kabobs were fine - just a bit dry, but very flavorful. Me, I had the evening special of grilled lamb chops. They were lovely - thick, juicy, and beautifully cooked. And the service was great. Despite the bobbles, I'd give them another try. I hear they make good saganaki (opa, flaming cheese!).
Hell's Kitchen Duluth
Mr. Tastebud is an oatmeal connoisseur, so this place was on our list to try for breakfast. He ordered the oatmeal, of course. I had a bowl of vanilla yogurt with berries, plus some toast with peanut butter. (We felt very abstemious, surrounded as we were by tables of waffles, pancakes, and benedicts.) The oatmeal was good - Irish oats, served plain by request (not swimming in cream or sugar). I really liked the rich and lemony yogurt, but wished there were more berries. The coarse-ground peanut butter was quite good, though it was too sweet for my tastes. I much preferred the orange-scented blackberry jam - I plan to pick up a jar next time I'm in downtown Mpls.
On the negative side, the portions are obnoxiously huge - I got well over two cups of yogurt (but only enough berries for half a cup). I hate wasting food, so I would much rather pay a bit less for half as much food. But I suppose they want to keep the tourists happy.
Famous Dave's at Canal Park
We were rushing for the sunset harbor cruise, so we zipped in for a lightning-quick dinner. Yeah, it's a chain, but at least it's a midwestern chain, and it's much better than Subway (across the street). Service was great, the pulled pork sandwich is pretty good, and I got to try a local beer (Lake Superior Kolsch - nice!).
In addition to all our meals, we had a good selection of non-meal treats.
Truffles from 185 Chocolat
These locally made truffles are as delicious as they are beautiful (not always a given). They're made with dark chocolate; Flavors are intense, and not too sweet. We tried the raspberry (very good), lemon (wonderful), and salted caramel (fabulous). If it hadn't been so hot, we would have returned for more to take home. But hooray, hooray - the web site says the truffles are available in the Twin Cities, at the Premier Cheese Market.
Portland Malt Shoppe
We walked by on a steamy hot night, so we HAD to stop. I had a chocolate malt made with mint chocolate chip ice cream. I loved it. Mr. Tastebud didn't want a malt - they're HUGE - so he had a strawberry-blackberry sundae without whipped cream. The strawberry ice cream was quite good - better than I expected. The blackberry topping was too sweet, but nice anyway. More here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/628434#4952910
Mount Royal Fine Foods
We were nearby (there's a great yarn store across the parking lot), so we stopped in for train snacks. We got supermarket-bakery muffins (so-so, but luckily so oil-laden that they kept nicely for two days). For groceries in Duluth, I prefer the Whole Foods co-op (NOT part of the California Whole Foods chain, by the way). But Mount Royal's produce selection was pretty good - I was pleased to see so many organic fruits and veggies. Transportation note: We took the hotel shuttle here, because the bus was detoured for construction, but the #11 bus normally goes right by.
Oh, and there's a very place to eat in Grand Rapids, MN (about 1.5 hours NW of Duluth):
Brewed Awakenings coffee shop
Our train excursion to Grand Rapids included a box lunch from Subway. Ick. Afterwards, Mr. Tastebud and I walked over to Brewed Awakenings coffee shop for some gelato. It was very nice - they make it on-site. And the food looked great - I wish we'd spurned our Subway sandwich for lunch here instead. We'll come back someday to try their soups, sandwiches, and quiche.
Ah, such happy memories! Too bad I don't have any bison pastrami and chocolate truffles right now.