Hungry diners have been known to drive up from the Twin Cities for a meal at the New Scenic Café (5461 North Shore Scenic Dr., 218/525-6274, www.sceniccafe.com, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, $10–23), which serves an ever-changing menu of refined locally focused dishes in a casual atmosphere. Be prepared for a crowd and a wait, especially at dinner.
Just two miles up the road, the newer Nokomis (5593 North Shore Scenic Dr., 218/525-2286, www.nokomisonthelake.com, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily summer, noon–10 p.m. Wed.–Sun. rest of year, $14–23), started by picking up some of those overflow diners and now attracts its own following. The menu changes seasonally, with the walleye po’boy, elk burger, white fish cakes, and coq au vin all getting national raves. A seat on the deck with a view of the lake across scenic Highway 61, is an essential part of the experience.
Even more great food, this time with a cheeky twist, is to be found at the Twin Cities export Hell’s Kitchen (10 Lake Ave. S., 218/727-1620, 8 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Sun., $11–15). Although it built its reputation on breakfast—lemon ricotta pancakes, quarter-inch-thick bacon, wild rice porridge—it’s also great for lunch and dinner, with casual eats like barbecue ribs and bison burgers.
Duluth does have more traditional white-tablecloth dining. In the Fitger’s complex, Midi (600 Superior St. E., 218/727-4880, www.midirestaurant.com, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 7 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., $13–26) has the feel of a wine cellar and prides itself on fine service. Unique on the menu are the German sausages and roulades, but otherwise you can expect the usual steak, seafood, and chicken.
Restaurant 301 (301 Superior St. E., 218/336-2705, www.restaurant301.com, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, lounge open until midnight, $16–28) dazzles with fancy presentations of upscale meats and seafood. You can’t beat the Sunday tasting menu: same great cooking, but just $15 for three courses.
At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Café (1902 8th St. E., 218/724-6811, 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 7:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Sun., $6–22) is a casual place near UMD where walls of books invite you to stay awhile. The regular menu has basics like a veggie burger and Caesar salad, while the daily specials, based on organic and free-range ingredients and often seasoned with herbs from their own herb garden, get more creative. At breakfast, the huge pancakes get raves.
Another favorite local place for breakfast is Uncle Louis Café (520 4th St. E., 218/727-4518, 6 a.m.–2:45 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–2:45 p.m. Sat.–Sun., $5–10), where the spots at the bar are coveted, and the short-order cook slings out hearty omelets and heaping plates of potatoes.
For breakfast, lunch, dinner, live music, or just a cup of coffee, Amazing Grace Bakery and Café (394 Lake Ave. S., 218/723-0075, www.amazinggracebakery.com, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 7 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat.), is the spot. This little bohemian basement space with a shady outdoor patio serves up largely local and organic sandwiches and soups, with plenty of choices for vegans and vegetarians.
Grandma’s Saloon & Grill (522 Lake Ave. S., 218/727-4192, 11:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m. daily, $7–25), covered in unique antiques and collectibles, is a Northland institution. The please-everyone menu covers such options as curried wild rice Cajun shrimp, turkey burgers, and lasagna.
If you can’t bear to go inside on a beautiful Duluth day, Crabby Bill’s (504 Canal Park Dr., www.crabbybillsduluth.com, $3–8) is a 35-foot tugboat in Canal Park. Out its service window come delicious battered seafood, wild rice bratwurst, and bear-battered French fries.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition