From an octopus-shaped hot dog to house-made fruit roll-ups, At Sara's Table Chester Creek Cafe doesn’t mess around when it comes to serving kids.

“I know from experience that if a child has fun things to do at the table and an actual meal to look forward to, they can be engaged and love their dining experiences as much as their parents,” said executive chef Jillian Forte.

Chester Creek Cafe is one of many area restaurants that doesn’t overlook its littlest customers. Dining out with kids under a certain age is hard enough. Here are a few places that make an extra effort, whether it’s using top-tier ingredients, offering fruits and vegetables and a wider range of choices, or providing toys and games to keep kids from screens and utter boredom.

Pepperoni pita pizza at Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Lake. (Jana Hollingsworth / For the News Tribune)
Pepperoni pita pizza at Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Lake. (Jana Hollingsworth / For the News Tribune)

Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake

805 E. Superior St.

218-728-1192

sirbens.com

A place known for its beer selection and live music isn’t an obvious choice, but Sir Ben’s has a stack of games and plenty of other kid distractions, along with nice menu variety. We like the little nachos ($7) and the pita pizza ($6.50). And the music is generally the folksy, toe-tapping kind that kids like and gets everyone in a jovial mood. The sunny patio in the summer is an excellent choice for families.

The New Scenic Cafe children's brioche French toast with maple syrup. (Jana Hollingsworth / For the News Tribune.)
The New Scenic Cafe children's brioche French toast with maple syrup. (Jana Hollingsworth / For the News Tribune.)

New Scenic Cafe

5461 North Shore Dr.

218-525-6274

newsceniccafe.com

Even before I had a child, I admired how the New Scenic handled food for kids. There are some safe choices, for sure, but each dish is a little different, a little elevated from the norm. That shouldn’t surprise given the pedigree of the restaurant, but it’s still appreciated. There is a sloppy joe with fruit, and a cheeseburger that comes with tater tots. The French toast, which can be ordered whenever, is an eggy brioche served with blueberries and rich whipped cream. (Delightful for parents who finish the leftovers in the morning.) Really picky kids can get a meat and cheese platter with Ritz crackers and peanut butter. Everything is $7. And a lunch box filled with blocks, an Etch-a-Sketch and other toys arrives as soon as you’re seated. In the warmer months, the outdoor fire pit and flower-filled grounds overlooking Lake Superior are perfect for letting off steam.

Grandma's Saloon children's Fun Run Spaghetti. (Jana Hollingsworth / For the News Tribune)
Grandma's Saloon children's Fun Run Spaghetti. (Jana Hollingsworth / For the News Tribune)

Grandma’s Saloon and Grill

(Miller Hill Mall-area location)

2202 Maple Grove Road

218-722-9313

grandmasrestaurants.com

The Grandma’s saloons keep to the greatest hits of kids menus, but the Fun Run Spaghetti and breadstick ($7) is a favorite. It’s a smaller portion of the adult version, and the famous marinara is perfect for little ones. We like the mall location for its cozy atmosphere. Grandma’s-owned Bellisio’s, too, rightfully offers kids excellent pasta choices. The only time my 4-year-old has cleaned her plate was there, and it was their children's spaghetti. (Since Bellisio’s is fine dining, taking your brood there depends on your tolerance for annoying-other-diners paranoia, but staff members treat my girl wonderfully.)

Fitger's Brewhouse kids fish with tartar sauce and broccoli. (Jana Hollingsworth / For the News Tribune)
Fitger's Brewhouse kids fish with tartar sauce and broccoli. (Jana Hollingsworth / For the News Tribune)

Fitger’s Brewhouse

600 E. Superior St.

218-279-2739

fitgersbrewhouse.com

I like that fish ($7) is an option at the Brewhouse, even though it’s fried. I also appreciate that broccoli is a side item if you can distract your kid from ordering the beloved beer-battered fries. The homemade root beer float is a delicious treat, and it’s nice to be able to walk the halls of Fitger’s when waiting for food gets to be too much for a kid. And the Apricot Wheat for Mom.

Chicken nuggets, chocolate cookie, broccoli, ranch dressing and grape skewers at At Sara's Table Chester Creek Cafe. (Jana Hollingsworth / News Tribune)
Chicken nuggets, chocolate cookie, broccoli, ranch dressing and grape skewers at At Sara's Table Chester Creek Cafe. (Jana Hollingsworth / News Tribune)

At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe

1902 E. Eighth St.

218-724-6811

astccc.net

The Japanese-style bento box at Chester Creek has to be the coolest kids' meal in town. It changes, but we’ve had it with organic chicken nuggets, grape skewers, cold broccoli florets with ranch and a chocolate cookie decorated like the poop emoji, right down to the big eyes. Gross to adults, hilarious to kids. At $12 (including a drink) it’s more than what most restaurants charge for a children's meal, but Chester Creek’s sustainable practices — a heavy emphasis on using organic food and local growers and producers — play into it.

Forte said she spent a lot of time researching balanced menu ideas for kids, presented in an engaging way.

“Kids love cutesy food, things with faces and shapes and funny names,” said the chef, who insists cookies be decorated with faces.

The box is sometimes vegetarian or gluten-free, keeping with the values of the cafe. The coloring sheet depicts veggies, and its word-search includes words such as “recycling” and “compost.”

At Sara's Table Chester Creek Cafe line cook Jeremy Barany plates a children's bento box recently at the restaurant. (Jana Hollingsworth / For the News Tribune)
At Sara's Table Chester Creek Cafe line cook Jeremy Barany plates a children's bento box recently at the restaurant. (Jana Hollingsworth / For the News Tribune)

“I often feel like my job is to educate our customers about what is local and in season, so doing this for the kids feels just as important,” Forte said. “I want those words and images to be normal for them.”

(Chester Creek is undergoing an expansion to increase kitchen space and add a private dining level, with expected completion in March. It remains open during construction.)

Also of note

OMC Smokehouse in Lincoln Park has a great kids' menu, but we like cobbling together the inexpensive sides to make a meal for our daughter: Real mac and cheese and peas and pancetta. She gobbles it up. Canal Park Brewery also eschews Kraft: Its version of mac is the sort that parents happily finish, with two sizes to pick from depending on appetites. We all know kids will eat pizza just about anywhere anytime, but it is special at Vitta Pizza. Kids can get their own little wood-fired pie, and it’s not as greasy as most anywhere else. Tavern on the Hill also has thoughtful options for kids, including a grilled chicken, rice and fruit dish for those steering away from anything fried or cheesy.

Freelance writer Jana Hollingsworth is a Twin Ports native and former News Tribune reporter. Write to her at jana.hollingsworth@gmail.com.