Have you ever been hanging out and watching some sort of food program on TV only to realize it is covering a city or town you’re about to visit? If so, we friggin’ good for you, because I just had that experience for the first time and it was glorious. It began with an episode of Man vs. Food covering Duluth, Minnesota of all places. The restaurant was Northern Waters Smokehaus and despite all of my great memories of the classic restaurants in Duluth’s Canal Park, I was excited to try out something new.
State Fairs are often an afterthought. A relic of times past when most of us lived in rural areas and guessing the weight of a pumpkin was the best entertainment of the month. They offer variations on the same rides, foods and entertainment that you find at your local Memorial Day Carnival or County Fair and, I mean, how many people even go to those? But the Minnesota State Fair is so far from an afterthought that it seems to be on the minds of Minnesotans for the 50 weeks of the year in which it is not in operation. Plans are made, new foods are devised and longed after; then, just like that, it’s over again. This year, however, the Unvegan paid a visit to see how it would all stack up.
When life presents the longest restaurant name in history to you for brunch, what do you do? If you’re anything like me, you embrace it and so I headed to At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe in Duluth, Minnesota to see what such a place had to offer. I was mildly disappointed to find that the dish names were only a fraction of the length of restaurant’s name.
A few years ago I paid a visit to Duluth Grill in Duluth, Minnesota. I am a man who loves dining in the Northwoods and so when Duluth Grill reached out to me and offered me a free copy of The Duluth Grill Cook Book II I could hardly contain my excitement. Sure, I had no idea that there was a first cookbook, but I was eager to try this one out.
When in the Twin Cities, I almost always feel the need to get a Jucy Lucy. Or, I just avoid burgers entirely. Yet, on this trip my path led me to Freehouse, a microbrewery that is so incredibly popular that we had to wait longer for a table than the hostess had told us initially. Seriously. Fortunately, we were able to get things started with a couple of beers and some cheese curds before taking our seats.
In the Twin Cities for a whirlwind couple of days, I found myself at Butcher and the Boar in Minneapolis. As a James Beard Semi-Finalist last year, I was expecting some good things. After seeing they had Take the Back on tap, I knew I was in for something good. Since I was with a couple of other people that supported my unvegan needs and the menu seemed made for sharing, we decided to go in on a few things together.
Apparently, the Twin Cities are about more than just Jucy Lucys. And while some may question that, Black Sheep in St. Paul gives reason to believe in life beyond cheese-stuffed burgers. A coal-fired pizza place, Black Sheep still relies on cheese, but in quite a different manner. Walking in to the below-ground-level spot, I was immediately inundated with the scent of garlic, a smell that signaled good things ahead, as well as a scent that would remain with me for the rest of the day.
There are few regional food items that become so popular that they take on a life of their own outside of said region. And I’m not talking about Mexican food leaving Mexico or pizza making its way into the US from Italy. No, I’m talking Buffalo Wings, New England Clam Chowder and Chicago-Style Deep Dish. Now, there’s a new one that seems poised to join that elite club: the Jucy Lucy. This creation has gone as far to inspire a restaurant dedicated to the Jucy Lucy in LA called Juicy Lucy (note the different spelling) and Jucy Lucy’s can be found on restaurant menus all around the nation. So it may be surprising that the Jucy Lucy, a cheese-stuffed burger, came from a little dive bar called Matt’s in Minneapolis.
Duluth Grill is a restaurant that may as well have been created for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It’s off the beaten path not just in the fact that it is in Duluth, but because of the part of Duluth it is in. Plus, while it is clearly a diner, it is more than just a diner, serving unique, local and organic fare with an eye for people with food allergies. Guy seems to love that kind of stuff, which is why he paid Duluth Grill a visit and why, despite all of my nostalgic connection to Duluth, I felt good about going there as well.
Out in the suburbs of Minneapolis is a place called St. Louis Park. Within that park is the West End, a mall containing, well, you know what malls have. This one, though, had a restaurant called Rojo. Mexican in theme, the place was slightly upscale and was kind of what is expected from Mexican restaurants so far from the border. Nothing was particular creative or exciting-looking, but this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.