Food destination: Duluth

RICK NELSON | Updated 7/10/2013

Where to eat in the northern city’s ever-growing culinary scene.

Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge over Lake Superior.
Photo by Tom Wallace

Food lovers’ haven

The region’s most inspired cooking can be found at the New Scenic Cafe (5461 North Shore Dr.), a must-visit for Duluth-bound gastro-tourists. For 14 years, chef/owner Scott Graden has taken his cues from the seasons and the local larder, crafting an eclectic array of colorful, artfully composed and subtly delicious fare at lunch and dinner. The serene surroundings, expert service and picturesque lakeside location — roughly 20 exceedingly scenic minutes up the shore from downtown — only add to the experience.

Food lovers’ haven, part 2

Northern Waters Smokehaus (394 Lake Av. S.) may look like a modest sandwich shop, but appearances are deceiving. Owner Eric Goerdt presides over one of the state’s great culinary treasures. The shop’s repertoire includes sublime smoked meats (a pancetta of the gods, a bison pastrami), expertly prepared chorizo and dry-cured salamis plus smoked Lake Superior whitefish and trout.

Picnic fodder

It’s easy to fill a picnic basket at Whole Foods Co-op (610 E. 4th St.), Duluth’s well-stocked natural foods supermarket (no relation to the Whole Foods mega-chain). Peruse the dairy case for a small but winning selection of Midwestern cheeses, then stock up on olives at the salad bar and dried fruits and nuts in the bulk-food aisles. Make a meal from the deli’s prepared-to-order sandwich board, or grab a few freshly prepared spreads — cilantro and edamame hummus, roasted red pepper, curried tofu.

Brewcomer

Bursting with energy, great looks, an exceptional location and a rare lakeside patio, Canal Park Brewing Co. (300 Canal Park Dr.) has a lot going for it. There’s beer, of course, brewed on-site in a showy facility. But the kitchen also deserves points for turning out a wide range of beer-friendly fare. Think sports bar with a contemporary twist.

Food trucks

The mobile food scene has a nascent presence. The big green Rambler (@theRamblerMN on Twitter) is all about creative (and hefty) sandwiches — a kind of sweet-and-sour pulled pork, juicy pot roast with all the right trimmings — while Chow Haul (@chowhaul) hawks grilled chicken banh mi, peanut butter-jalapeño wontons and other global quick-service fare. Better yet, drop by Bent Paddle Brewing Co. (1912 W. Michigan St.) on Thursday evenings, when both are parked out front.

Big-city feel

The Zeitgeist Arts Cafe (222 E. Superior St.) is a two-level space that wouldn’t look out of place in Minneapolis’ North Loop. Chef Taylor Peterson treats his guests to a great-looking smoked salmon salad, delicate herb-scented gnocchi, texture- and flavor-packed rice bowls, a juicy bison burger crowned with a slab of Stilton cheese, a savory duck pot pie and other crowd-pleasing ideas.

Fresh fish

Hanabi Japanese Cuisine (110 N. 1st Av. W.) represents a seismic shift in the Duluth dining landscape. All the standards are present and accounted for: sushi, sashimi and a long list of highly elaborate rolls, plus a smattering of noodle and grilled teriyaki items, all served in pleasant surroundings. Oh, and happy hour? Some major deals are served daily, from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Superior Pizza

Set the GPS to Thirsty Pagan Brewing (1623 Broadway, Superior, Wis.), where the house specialty — alongside well-crafted beers — is an excellent sort-of deep-dish pizza. Baked in high-rimmed, oven-scarred round pans, the crust falls into a category all its own, with a crispy and sturdy outer shell that yields to a soft, bready interior. They don’t skimp on the toppings, either.