I have lived in Minnesota most of my life. My stepmom came into my life when I was in high school. She was from Duluth. She moved there from Montana and spent most of her childhood days there. I remember when she told us she was from Duluth, I made a visibly horrible face and turned my nose up at such a place. At the time, Duluth restaurants weren’t known for much of anything, and I was convinced there could be nothing cool happening outside of the city limits of Minneapolis St Paul. My eighteen-year-old self was a fool. My fifty-year-old self will tell you Duluth is a super cool place. In Duluth, you will find students, makers, bikers, dock workers, sailors and brewers — and the town has a storied, generally cool vibe.
Currently, I visit Duluth at least twice a year. I go in the winter, and I also work on the Culinary Market at Art In Bayfront Park Duluth (August 21-23). My niece went to school at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and I wear my Bulldogs sweatshirt proudly. Here is a list of a few of my favorite spots in Duluth.
At Saras Table Chester Creek Café is a farm to table restaurant and has been so since long before it was trendy. They believe in meeting their farmers, knowing where their vegetables are sourced, and using all of these seasonal elements to create high-quality breakfast, lunch, and dinner items in a comfy setting. Saras Table is a very neighborhood spot that is perfect for breakfast, but they also showcase world flavors and vegan and vegetarian options. Try their Wild Rice Toast with fresh jam they make in-house or their jerk chicken or vegan sliders accompanied by their fresh-cut fries.
I never go to Duluth without eating at Duluth Grill. Everything on the menu is hearty, locally sourced comfort food that is fresh and delicious. Duluth Grill has all-day breakfast, and their chorizo breakfast skillet and red flannel hash with beets and potatoes are a must. Pancakes are as large as your plate, and all soups are made to order.
Northern Waters Smokehouse is a smoked fish shop with specialty meats and sandwiches as well as gourmet groceries. All the meats, fish and even cheeses are smoked in-house. The fish basket with your choice of smoked fish, scallion cream cheese, and saltines is a steal of a deal for $3. Also, check out the Sitka wild Alaskan salmon on a hard roll with pickled ginger, cilantro, sesame oil, wasabi, and slaw. The house-made corned beef and pastrami in the pastrami mommy are not to be missed. There is limited seating here, so plan to take a picnic or have a seat at the tables outside the deli.
The Pickwick is an old school supper club in Duluth that has been there since 1918. Over the years, there have been some changes, but the ambiance and supper club vibe still exist. The bar is full of old European style woodwork, painted canvases and antler horns, and has a traditional, clubby old-world feel. This is classic supper club fare with hand-cut steaks and chops and thick slabs of prime rib featured on Friday and Saturday nights. Don’t miss the giant onion rings or the smoked whitefish appetizer served with capers and onions, and there is always a variety of lake trout dishes and plates of pasta on the menu.
Vikre Distillery is in Canal Park at the base of the lift bridge. A visit to Vikre alone is worth a trip to Duluth in my book. Their craft cocktail room is small but cozy and features their handmade spirits made in Duluth with the water from Lake Superior. You can take a tour of the distillery. You can also participate in a tasting of their gins (they have numerous varieties including Boreal Spruce, Boreal Juniper, and Boreal Cedar) that all draw on their Duluth terroir for their individual flavor profiles. Don’t miss the aquavit, whiskey, and vodkas, as well. The folks that work here are warm, friendly, and will create an exceptional craft cocktail experience for you that really draws on their surroundings.