Hot beef sandwich reminiscent of home cooking

Mom lives 1,113 miles away from Duluth now, but when Kathy Henderson gets a hankering for her mother's home cooking, she heads over to Julie's Family Restaurant in Superior.

Mom lives 1,113 miles away from Duluth now, but when Kathy Henderson gets a hankering for her mother's home cooking, she heads over to Julie's Family Restaurant in Superior.

Julie's makes a boiled dinner and hot beef sandwiches just like Henderson's mom used to make -- well, almost.

"I told her about it [the restaurant] and she said nobody's is as good as mine, and I said it's a close second," Henderson said as we took our seats in a booth on a Tuesday afternoon earlier this month. The restaurant was about a third full. We settled in, placed our orders and talked about Henderson's dining habits.


Habitual she is. Henderson goes out to eat every Saturday night with her partner, Bob, her brother, Mike, and his wife, Judy. They take turns choosing restaurants. Among their recent favorites are Carmen's Dry Dock in Cloquet, the Barker's Island Inn restaurant, and, for Chinese, the Golden Inn in Superior. And, of course, Julie's.


What do those places have in common? "The food is good, the atmosphere is good and they give you a lot to eat," Henderson said. "What more could you ask for?"

As for Julie's hot beef sandwich, it takes Henderson back to the home cooking of her mom, Ruby, who now lives in Lake Dallas, Texas. "On Sundays, she would cook a roast. And then on Mondays, she would make hot sandwiches, whether it was turkey, or beef, or pork," she recalled.

Our plates came up in short order -- about 10 minutes -- and Henderson broke hers down. "The mashed potatoes are real, you might even find a lump or two. The gravy may or may not be made from scratch, but if it's made from a base, it's a good one," she said. "The beef is good, and they don't skimp on it." In fact, her standard order is a half order. "I can't finish it all," she said.


The hot meat sandwich, served with potatoes in the middle and gravy over all, is one of the classic items of the American diner/café menu. It's one of my favorite "road food" choices -- great for those times when, in the middle of a five-hour drive, we're piling the family out of the car at a café in a town too small for a fast-food restaurant. For some reason, to me, it's nearly inseparable with coffee - maybe so I can counteract the expected soporific effects.

No matter where you go, it's almost always the same: store-bought white bread, smooth, brown gravy, generous amounts of beef, pork or turkey, and if you're lucky, real mashed potatoes nearly hot enough to induce esophageal pain.

Washed down with fresh, not-too-strong, not-too-weak coffee, Julie's hot-beef sandwich was exactly what I expected. The bread was white, Wonder-like, and the amount of roast beef was generous. Two round scoops of mashed potatoes were hot and tasted like real potatoes. The gravy's flavor, smoothness and consistent color suggested to me it was mix-based, not made completely from scratch.

Could the sandwich be improved? I suppose so. A dietician could quibble with this dish -- the gravy, no doubt, hides some luscious saturated fat calories. (Then again, laid next to your standard fast-food meal of fries, a fried sandwich and a high-fructose corn syrup-based beverage, the hot beef looks a lot better). A foodie would want the bread to be artisanal, beef to be grass-fed and gravy to be a beef stock/cabernet reduction. Then again, such modifications would move it far out of the $5.95 price range and perhaps to the point of absurdity.


Sometimes, you don't want to be surprised, intrigued or blown away by your meal. Sometimes, you just want to eat. If it's one of those times, Julie's could be your place.

Atmosphere notes: (1) Julie's is homey and comfortable, if a bit worn around the edges. (2) I popped in the place early, about 10 mintutes before Henderson and I met, and the cigarette smoke was noticeably annoying to me, a nonsmoker. By the time we sat down, the air had mostly cleared.


Julie Johnson, who has owned the restaurant with her husband, Leroy, for nearly 10 years, said they buy beef rounds and slow-roast them overnight, then slice them for sandwiches and other dishes. The bread is Taystee, the potatoes are cooked and mashed, not a mix, and the gravy is a blend of a gravy base and other ingredients. "It's one of our most popular dishes," she said.

Johnson said the restaurant was a Country Kitchen in a former life; before she owned it, it was Diane's Family Restaurant for about 10 years.

"What we try to do is have a lot of different homemade specials every day," Johnson said, rattling off choices such as boiled dinner (a ham-and-vegetable stew), beef stroganoff and Salisbury steak. In doing so, she's catering to the restaurant's sizeable clientele of regulars who dine there daily, sometimes more than once. Johnson said Julie's has a substantial Duluth following, possibly because of that city's restaurant smoking ban. "We see a lot of Minnesota plates in the lot," she said.

TOM WILKOWSKE can be reached at 723-5396 or by e-mail at .

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