Duluth Harbor lift bridge raised for charter fishing boats to get through.
Steve and I got away for the weekend on a long-awaited trip to the North Shore, as Minnesotans call the shore of Lake Superior from Duluth to the Canadian border (really they mean Duluth to Grand Marais, which is too bad, because Grand Portage is really wonderful and just 17 miles farther north).
The trip met both our delights: furniture and food. On the way to Duluth we stopped for a burger at the Crystal Bar and Grill in Mora. I’d attach their website if they had one. This place looked like a bar from the outside, but inside it was a really friendly, brightly lit cafe with no scent of spilled beer. Everyone in town was there. It reminded me of the little bars in towns along the North Dakota border that clearly have two lives: cafe by day and bar by night. I kinda wish I’d gotten the special. Instead I got the patty melt, which was a regular size and shaped hamburger on wheat toast with cheese and grilled onions. Yum.
Front of the old Loll factory, which does not jut out like the back.
In Duluth we went straight to what we thought was the Loll factory. Loll is a Duluth company that makes high-quality, high-design outdoor furniture. Adirondacks for Room and Board. The first factory, a super cool modern building that looks like a giant rusted shipping container with windows jutting out over an old railroad siding, is no longer Loll. Now it is Epicurean, maker of custom cutting boards (this will make sense later).
They told us to just go down the road a mile or so and we’d see Loll on the right. So we did. And since it was late afternoon on a Friday in August, we were welcomed in, got to meet and talk to the designers, and were given a tour of the factory by Hattie, the very friendly front desk person. Here she is with Nate, who climbed up to get us our souvenir cutting board (which Hattie is displaying).
Visiting with the designers was really fun, and seeing the “prototypes” along a wall in their office. The main problem with plastic, of course, is that the legs get “soft” over a certain height.
Orders going out
So maintaining clean designs with that material is challenging. I also loved all the whimsical plastic stuff they had around– bicycles and clocks and Barrel-of-Monkeys plant hangers, etc. When you have a C&C machine and lots of scraps of high-quality plastic, you can make cool stuff. They were proud to show us (through a window) their THREE C&C machines. And when the founder is still an active designer/producer, you get air conditioning on the factory floor (but they’re also proud of the heat return system that uses the machine heat to keep the whole building warm in a Duluth winter).
It is also a wonderfully Portlandia operation. Lots of men with beards and men and women with tattoos loving their old school uniforms with their names embroidered over the pocket. The company actually started as two guys making skate board parks. Like serious skate board parks with half pipes. The parks were made of plastic and compressed wood fiber board. And they wanted to figure out a way to use the scrap material. So they started making Adirondack chairs. And cutting boards out of the wood fiber. And eventually this became Epicurean for the wood fiber boards and Loll (which is short for Lolligagger) for the furniture. They don’t make skate parks anymore. And their plastic is very high quality and infused with sun diffuser to retain color fastness.
Loll became the theme of the trip. Friday night we went to the Rustic Inn, a restaurant in the wonderfully named “unincorporated community” (population 30) Castle Danger, where Steve could get his second burger of the day (and Castle Danger beer brewed in Two Harbors) and I could get a very good smoked salmon sandwich on Ciabatta (and a very bad Caesar salad that was iceberg lettuce with a few croutons and Caesar dressing from a bottle).
But Saturday night we went to my favorite restaurant– one we first visited on our honeymoon eight years ago– New Scenic Cafe. Their logo is these two red Loll chairs.
More Loll at Scenic, where the wait can be long, but is also scenic!
It did not disappoint. Steve almost had a burger, but I talked him up to a smoked salmon burger (the bun, which was pitch black thanks to squid ink, was sadly ordinary in taste and texture and unfortunately stuck to his teeth). I had the scallops, which were seared to perfection and served over a citrusy sweet mix of little things I couldn’t identify. And really, that I could taste the scallops– right down to their carmelized smokiness, was such a treat. But even more, I ordered a glass of red wine and it was delicious. It was really, really good. The first time I’ve enjoyed a glass of wine in I don’t know how long. I’m back, baby.
For dessert, we hit up Culvers on the way back! (Sugar is still not tasting good to me, and that wine was not sweet at all, which was to my benefit. I couldn’t see wasting money on pie or sweets that weekend… the Culvers was OK until I was about halfway through.)
I bought the cookbook. It is thick. It is beautiful. It tells you in pages of detail how to make beautiful little plates of food, often one plate at a time. I am getting a collection of cookbooks (who am I fooling) that is replacing on the shelves my collection of African Literature (which I used to teach).
I will probably never make a single dish from here in its entirety, but it has really good instructions on how to perfectly sear scallops and also a recipe for a lamb meatloaf on top of a red onion slice that I might not be able to resist (though mine probably will not have 16 slices of 1 inch squares of braised cabbage on top or be accompanied by one baby red potato, one Parisian carrot, and one fingerling sweet potato and will definitely not be served with cream sherry & foie gras sauce and a raw egg yolk).
Given how few peas I get from the garden each year, I like the idea of this garlic scape-encircled salad.
And I find it hard to imagine myself deep frying and shaping wonton wrappers into little taco shells, but this sashimi taco (with a full page of instructions) is appealing. In fact, I wish I’d have been able to talk Steve up to ordering these for dinner, but I was worried he might not be satisfied with an appetizer as dinner, no matter how fancy. He did enjoy his “West Coast Style IPA” presented as seriously as a high-end bottle of wine.
It was a great trip, a wonderful break between chemo and surgery. I’m so glad I could taste the food and wine! My senses are still a bit dulled, but it was fabulous. And though the walk along the beach (after crossing the lift bridge) was challenging with the neuropathy (I only fell once, and that was on the edge of a sidewalk coming back, which really could have happened to me in full health!), we found a gorgeous bed and breakfast where Steve wants to stay next time.
We finished our trip with brunch at At Sarah’s Table in Duluth. We got to sit outside, in the shade, with a view of Lake Superior. The food was delicious and there was a great Loll bench to sit on during the short wait. Steve didn’t get to read his plants book because we had to discuss, of course, why it was called “At Sarah’s Table.” Probably another Sarah’s Table in the state, Steve opined. To which I countered: But then why not Sarah’s Organic Table or something like that, not the set up of “At Sarah’s Table, (where….) ?? Our brunch table conversation was much more scintillating, I promise.
This place was nestled in a neighborhood, and reminded us of some of the great restaurants in Minneapolis neighborhoods. It had a Duluth flavor, though, with a gentrified condo building across the street that had its own raised bed gardens, and more raised beds (with herbs) next to the restaurant, a hose running from the garden to a house three doors down. We lamented, again, why St. Cloud doesn’t have any good (i.e., not greasy spoon) brunch places. I think it could be done by pairing up with an established restaurant (like the White Horse Tavern) that right now just serves its regular lunch menu, but not by opening a dedicated space. Anyone out there want to make that happen for us? Cause we love brunch.