On the eat beat: News Tribune reporters dig deep into Eat Downtown
We wanted to try an otherwise financially inaccessible restaurant. We wanted one of our favorite spots to kill a simple soup, simple sandwich combo.
We wanted seafood with a view.
On Monday, a handful of News Tribune reporters scattered to restaurants participating in the bi-yearly, weeklong Eat Downtown. For the uninitiated: Restaurants offer fixed price, multi-course lunches ($10) and/or dinner ($25) as a chance to sample their style. In most cases, there are two options to choose from. Eat Downtown: Flavors of Fall runs through Nov. 10. For a full list of restaurants and menus, go to downtownduluth.com/events/eat-downtown.
Spoiler alert: We found a Thanksgiving feast, a vinaigrette recipe worth copying, and controversial mashed potatoes.
The Boat Club
600 E. Superior St.
Why this place: Seafood, Lake Superior, why not?
What I had: Photographer Bob King and I shared everything on offer: Italian wedding soup, seafood pasta, a muffuletta and a crab Cobb salad.
Thoughts: The soup was the right thing for an overcast Duluth day: an elegant broth with orzo, spinach and four Swedish meatball-style meatballs. It has the kind of look that gets it into magazine shoots but the kind of heft that says "of the North."
But the seafood pasta salad — an homage to church picnics and family reunions everywhere — was served in the wrong season. I appreciated the sophisticated touch of calamari atop the shrimp, capers and curly pasta heavy with mayo, because it added much needed contrast.
The classic muffuletta first came without the olive tapenade that makes it a muffuletta. We got another one, and the briny, salty zing of the olive mix melded well with the rich provolone and cold cuts. Great bread, too.
The crab Cobb salad was the showpiece. Good crab and lots of it. We may have left some of the avocado and bleu cheese crumbles behind, but nary a piece of silken crab remained. The Old Bay on the table was a good move.
— Jana Hollingsworth
Dubh Linn Irish Brew Pub
109 W. Superior St.
Why this place: I was lured by the mashed potatoes.
What I had: Reuben sandwich and mashed potatoes
Thoughts: The bread is the thing. It's a "light Jewish rye," baked and delivered by Ashland Baking Company. Co-owner Michael Maxim said there is less caramel in it than some other rye breads, so the flavor is more subtle. It's just what I'd ask for in a rye bread, which I find can be overpowering. Maxim agreed: "The rye becomes the sandwich rather than the meat and the kraut and the cheese." This bread doesn't take over the flavor and offers a chewy resistance.
The sandwich is a nicely piled package of gooey fun. The meat is shaved fine, making it easy to bite through. The kraut is sour, the sauce tangy. The cheese melts over the whole thing, sealing it together. Half was enough for me, and I appreciated the small take-out box, just the right size.
My husband tried the fish and chips, made with a firm, flavorful cod and served with a colorful tartar sauce. The 4-ounce lunch serving is great for a light meal.
Which brings me to the potatoes, the reason I went there. Maxim said they sometimes confuse customers. "How do you get them so smooth?" they'll ask. They are prepared using a potato ricer, with cream, butter, garlic, a little salt and other spices. My preference would be that they be less smooth, less creamy and less like something you'd spread on a bagel. But my husband gobbled them up. And Christa Lawler wrote during the Eat Downtown event in March: "The mashed potatoes, though. Pure decadence. Light garlic, heavy butter, so creamy." Though not my favorite, they are homemade and flavorful. I encourage you to go try them yourself.
Both the meals we tried are on the regular lunch menu for $10. It's a menu with a lot of variety; plenty of things to check out next time.
— Beverly Godfrey
301 E. Superior St.
Why this place: I had never been, though after looking through the regular menu, I'm considering making a savings account specifically for eating here.
What I had: Oven-roasted squash and apple bisque before a roast turkey open-face sandwich.
Thoughts: Decadent yet balanced. What we have here is a manageable portion of a Thanksgiving feast atop fresh multigrain toast after a choice of soup or salad, both a step above, especially for the $10 all-inclusive price tag. The turkey was moist, the giblet gravy was light but flavorful, the roasted-Granny-Smith-apple-and-Yukon-gold mashed potatoes were a whipped delight. Buttery sugar snap peas provided a bright and aromatic break, plus there was even a cranberry relish that left me wanting seconds — a first for cranberry anything. It was altogether a tad heavy for a lunch, but I'd order it again any day. For all the Christmas creep afoot — decorations in October?! — I'm a big fan of seeing Thanksgiving food just take over November.
— Brooks Johnson
800 W Railroad St.
Why this place: The entree options, and an intro to a Nordic dessert
What I had: Autumn salad, wood-fired chicken sandwich, Swedish cream with lingonberries.
Thoughts: The butternut squash was still warm on Silos' autumn salad with baby spinach, cranberries and blue cheese. It came with a side of thick, sweet-but-not-too-sweet maple vinaigrette that stole my palate. I snagged a list of its ingredients from the waitress, and between that and the squash, my salad game will grow stronger.
It's a hearty sandwich with juicy and grill-marked chicken, colorful and lovely roasted red peppers and green baby arugula. It's a little tame on the flavor side after the zingy salad, but the layer of pimento cream cheese adds a scrumptious touch.
For dessert, it was my first time trying Swedish cream or lingonberries, and I'm sold on both. Forever. Great presentation with fresh blueberries and mint sprigs.
For $10, this is a lot of bang for your buck for three courses, and the entree comes with a side dish. As my lunch date and I left, I noticed a table of four women chatting and eating their autumn salads. "I'll be back," I thought.
— Melinda Lavine
Toasty's Sandwich Shop
220 W. Superior St.
Why this place: Why not? We've ordered out from Toasty's multiple times, but I've never sat down to eat there. It's in the site of the former Mr. Nick's and Jalapeno Express, among others, and truth be told, I miss the Jalapeno Express (my nickname is Taco Jon, after all), but Toasty's is a worthy replacement.
What I had: Bent Paddle Black French beer onion soup, half Tom turkey sandwich and
crème brulee French toast with Minnesota blueberry glaze
Thoughts: A half bruschetta and grilled cheeseburger are other options. The cheeseburger would have been the safe bet. I asked what's on Tom's turkey, named after owner Tom Hagen, and the woman at the cash register had me at pepper jack. Toasty's clearly does a lot of their business via delivery, as Hagen was running out two plastic bags plump full of food for international students at Duluth Marshall when I arrived.
The place is Toasty's, but could easily be called Tasty's. This is what happens when chefs do sandwiches, true sandwich artists (sorry, Subway). It's gourmet quality on toast, grilled cheese to perfection. You'll notice the difference in quality with each bite. The French onion soup wasn't too salty or cheesy, just about right, and the dessert really hit the spot. Given the fact Toasty's has this special running till 6 p.m. each day, it's the best deal in town late in the afternoon this week, and for someone who works nights, it begs the question, why don't I eat there every day?
— Jon Nowacki
Zeitgeist Arts Cafe
222 E. Superior St.
Why this place: I'm into the very punk-rock decision to offer just one seemingly simple soup and one seemingly simple sandwich option. It's very, shrug, "we got this."
What I had: What everyone else who eats here will have — grilled ham and cheese sandwich with tomato basil soup, chocolate chip cookie.
Thoughts: At this point in history, Zeitgeist Arts Cafe is among the most consistently solid restaurants in the bi-town area, whether it's the tahini magic that makes the Green Living Rice Bowl, the addictive pommes frites or those tender pink slices of yellowfin tuna featured in salad Nicoise. A soup and sandwich: No problem.
The melted cheddar oozed from the exactly right sized, lightly grilled sandwich. The muted-orange tomato soup, no chunks, had swirls of balsamic art and chive sprinkles. It feels hyperbolic to say it was perfect, but I'm cool with that. It was perfect.
Pro tip: You don't have to dip the former into the latter, but why would you waste the opportunity.
The chocolate chip cookie needed milk.
"Am I going to regret it if I don't order that?" a friend called from the bar. I nodded.
— Christa Lawler