DNT back-to-college guide: Tasty treats in the Twin PortsTucked away in the nooks and crannies of Duluth and Superior are some very special places that serve some very special food. Or some very cheap food, served very late.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Basic food cravings can be filled pretty easily in Duluth.
You know where to find the Subways, the Burger Kings and the Buffalo Wild Wings of the world. Our slow-to-receive-popular-restaurant-chains region even has a Noodles and Co. at the Miller Hill Mall, finally. (Thank you!) But, dear college student population, you have not discovered every food joy in the fair city where you have chosen to live for the next four years.
Tucked away in the nooks and crannies of Duluth and Superior are some very special places that serve some very special food. Or some very cheap food, served very late. We know how you like that. We offer you our finds:
Weird but good burgers
Like bacon, beer and cheese? Want it all together on a burger? Think of thickened beer cheese soup spread onto a burger with bacon and there you have it. It’s good, I promise. Also: cheese-curd burgers! Yes! The supreme pizza burger has pizza sauce and a deep-fried piece of provolone. Not even the State Fair has that.
The latest, best pizza delivery
The Pizza Luce baked potato pizza can be all yours at 1:30 a.m., or even 2:30 a.m. on weekends, whether you are studying for a modern history exam or playing beer pong with your friends.
Insider tip: If you’re out, from 9 to midnight, Blackwoods Grill and Bar offers half-price pizzas and flat-breads.
Only have $5 to your name? You’re in luck, because Black Water Lounge offers $5 pizzas.
Breakfast with parents
Should your parents happen to visit and should they want to spend money on you, take them to Sunday brunch here, where you won’t see any of your hungover friends but Dad will surely enjoy the blackened pork belly hash and Mom will love the croque monsieur Benedict. You’ll just be happy to have free food. Zeitgeist, with its two-story wall of windows and sleek furniture, is a fun, modern space.
Over in Superior, the cheap, cheap, cheap diner-like The Kitchen gets you giant omelets and pancakes for like, pennies. And talk about atmosphere. Friendly service and solid food.
Oddly, people of the Northland have a fondness for ice cream and its ilk despite our frigid weather. A lot of places that sell it close for the winter. But you can find gelato year-round. Va Bene carries 12 flavors every day, six of which it always has and six of which it rotates. Popular choices include chocolate birthday cake, lavender honey, caramel sea salt and limoncello.
Also try Ganucci’s Italian Market for roasted banana, vanilla bean and pistachio gelato.
To practice the art of wooing
If 21 or older: the Rathskeller at Tycoons Alehouse. If underage, Tycoons, 132 E. Superior St., Duluth, (218) 623-1889, duluthtycoons.com
The Rathskeller, fashioned a bit like a Prohibition-era speakeasy, is reached via elevator in the sub-basement of Tycoons. Cavern-like with brick arches, there are low-lying tables and comfy chairs — some with pillows — and a few high-tops. The candle and chandelier-lit space begs for quiet conversation with your artisan smoked fish and cheese plate and hard-to-find German hefeweizen. If you’re not 21, share the beer-battered onion rings and Duluth cheese steak upstairs in the restaurant, converted from the old historic Duluth City Hall. The space opened this year.
Insider tip: Get a Fitger’s Brewhouse beer and a brat for $6 from 9 p.m. to midnight daily. (Tycoon’s is owned by Fitger’s Brewery owners.)
Pasta for the college budget
Get half the pasta for half the price of a full bowl during lunch every day, but Monday nights are the best time to get your starch fix when the Target Field-famous “Mega Meatball,” stuffed with cheese and a plate of spaghetti, is just $10. The restaurant is close to both the College of St. Scholastica and the University of Minnesota Duluth.
If you eat gluten-free
This is by no means comprehensive, but the gluten-free message has been heard, and restaurants are trying to accommodate sensitive customers. Some of those doing it particularly well include Chester Creek Café, Duluth Grill and Lake Avenue Café, all in Duluth. Chester Creek, 1902 E. Eighth St., (218) 724-6811, astccc.net, can serve all of its sandwiches gluten-free with gluten-free bread (get the ham and gouda melt) and has a wide assortment of gluten-free desserts. Duluth Grill, 118 S. 27th Ave. W., (218) 726-1150, duluthgrill.com, offers a gluten-free menu that includes mac and cheese, Thai chicken pizza and a smoked salmon wrap.
Lake Ave Café, 394 S. Lake Ave., (218) 722-2355, lakeavenuerestaurantandbar.com, has a list of menu items it can prepare gluten-free.
Chef-driven cuisine for $5 a plate
The aforementioned Lake Avenue Café has a late-night menu that really isn’t matched by anyone else in town. It changes often and makes for a really fun outing if you like to order a mess of small plates and mix it up. Right now, the more adventurous can get sriracha chicken, marrow and fig or roasted eggplant pizzas for $5, or go simple with a sausage or Greektown. Lake Superior fish cakes can also be had for $5, and the addictive Lake Ave. mac and cheese is a couple bucks more. The outdoor patio should stay open into November if weather allows it. The menu begins at 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on weekends.
Great Duluth experiences that also involve food
Take in the city of Duluth and its lights from the Radisson’s top-floor spinning restaurant. Order the chocolate pot de crème or the vanilla bean panna cotta. Share it with a ladyfriend or a boyfriend or a friend-friend and appreciate the scene laid out before you. Both dessert and view are breathtaking.
Hike Chester Park Trail from Chester Park Bowl to make a pit stop at Burrito Union. The trail is one of the most flood-damaged in the city, and a lot of work has gone into repairing it, with months to go. It should be traveled with caution, but it and the creek that runs through the area are part of a beautiful landscape in the middle of Duluth. When you reach one end of it, stop at Burrito Union for a two-fisted Empire Builder, and then continue your journey on the other half of the trail. Insider tip: Two tacos and a pint of beer for $5 from 9 to midnight daily.
Have a walleye sandwich or wild rice burger on the deck of Grandma’s Saloon and Grill and watch lakers and salties come into the harbor. It’s a fantastically clichéd tourist activity but it’s a nice introduction to Duluth, and you can catch locals doing it, too. But here’s where the secret comes in: After lunch, take a walk on the pier and go underneath the Aerial Lift Bridge and wait for cars to cross. Stop and listen. It feels weird, right?
Road trips that involve food
Get a group of friends together to drive to Gooseberry Falls State Park a few miles past Two Harbors. When you’ve had your fill of thunderous waterfalls of wonder, stop at the Lighthouse at Emily’s in Knife River, 218 Scenic Highway 61, (218) 834-2501, lighthouseatemilys.com. If you want to be all local-like, share the smoked fish sampler, or any of the sandwiches. There’s a fun candy shop — Great Lakes Candy Kitchen — across the road.
This one is going to take serious commitment, but it’s the best road trip around in northern Minnesota and it will make you feel sort of like you’re in Costa Rica. Head to the Gunflint Lodge Towering Pines Canopy Tour, along the Gunflint Trail, (800) 328-3325, www.gunflint.com. It’s a series of eight zip lines that stretch between 200-year-old white pines and some man-made towers on a hill overlooking Gunflint Lake. One is nearly 800 feet long and goes straight off a rock cliff that drops 75 feet down. It’s about a three-hour drive from Duluth, but if you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie, it’s worth it. The zip tour lasts about two hours including training, and it’s open into October. Eat lunch at the Trail Center Lodge, 7611 Gunflint Trail, (218) 388-2214, trailcenterlodge.com. Get the “canoe”: a burger, fries and a malt for just over $10.