Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Weekend in Duluth

As a fond farewell to summer - you know, why does everyone say that when it's over 90 degrees today? Anyway, in honor of the long weekend, Matt & I decided to drive up to Duluth and spend time in my adopted hometown.
Loving a good road trip, Matt was up and ready to go with the rooster. I had a little difficulty because of some serious talking and bonding my friend Jeremy and I had done the night before. Nothing like getting ripped before the weekend with an old buddy who knows all your most embarrassing stories.
The road was glorious and the traffic was moving at a decent clip. The sun was shining and the soft air kissed our faces as we crested every hill. The day was ours! Just as we went under the bridge for the Cloquet exit, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. The closer we came to Duluth, the more ominous the sky. From the bottom of the big hill, we saw what we were driving up and in to. If you ever read The Mist by Stephen King you have a good idea what we were driving in to. There was a huge gray fog covering the entire Twin Ports area. As we crested the hill I couldn't see anything below us! I had to turn on the convertible's heat for the first time in a long time and huddled down into my seat. This was insane! Only Duluth. Of course it's 87 and sunny everywhere else in the entire state, but Duluth is 61 with 0 visibility.
Driving along the freeway to the Mesaba exit, I kept glancing up, hoping that my eyes weren't deceiving me and there were small glimpses of blue sky to be seen.
We were starving by the time we arrived, so we picked up my mom and decided to go in search of lunch. (Julie stayed home with a terrible sounding cold.) We went to the former Teran's market because we'd been hearing such great things. (My friend Emily, in high school, used to work at Taren's - it was really weird going into a former meat market and being greeted by a subdued coffee shop.) I'm not really sure what the real name of the place is. It seems that no one could really agree, so they just picked everything. It might be Sarah's Table or it could be Chester Creek Cafe, but the sign out front says Teran's. The space was charming and inviting. The smell of the place just puts you home, coffee, baked goods and toasty wood notes. Get me a bottle of wine that can mimic THAT.
We were quickly seated at an odd table. It was small and Matt had to sit on the end and stare at a blank wall. It was really a table for two with an extra chair. Mom and I ordered to split the GLBT sandwich (it was Pride that weekend - we're a very inclusive people) and Matt ordered the braised beef brisket sandwich. I was filling Mom and Matt in on an Overview of Agriculture in the US over the past century that I'd take for work recently, when I realized that I had covered most everything that I knew and still our food hadn't arrived. That's like a hundred years of farming! Were they braising the beef right now? What on Earth could be taking so long? Another 10 minutes crept by before the waitress showed up with our sandwiches. She looked at me, "Oh. I forgot you were sharing." And left. We waited. And waited. Screw it. I picked up my half of the sandwich and dug in. Matt was already trying to handle his messy beef. I had to use my napkin for a plate and gave her a bit of the ol' hairy eyeball as she delivered the food to the table behind us. I was almost done before I finally got a plate. I was alternately irritated and delighted because oh, my God was this sandwich is a flavor wonder. The ciabatta was just a little chewy, not that tooth-tugging stuff I get at the grocery store. It was SO fresh and so perfect. The avocado was delicately seasoned, the bacon was thick and smokey and the tomato was obviously not the grocery store variety. But couldn't she have at least said something once she DID drop off the plate? Any sign of life what so ever would have been welcome. Perhaps she was just having a really, really bad day and could not get it together enough to even smile or make eye contact or something. We weren't the only people that noticed. The table behind us sent back one of their dishes and refused to get anything else, just wanting to leave. I could tell by the girl's face, who was facing me, that their afternoon had just taken a bummer road due to this dining experience. It's really a shame, too, because the food's really got something. Matt's sandwich was also good, long roasted beef with pickled red onion and a horseradish aioli. His was good - but ours was out of this world. When she EVENTUALLY brought us our bill - it wasn't even ours. It was for another table altogether. Even though the food was outstanding, I don't know if I'll be going back there. For one thing, I don't live there and secondly - I was really peeved by the time we left. It's a shame when something goes so horribly out of whack when the place is obviously trying so hard. They're big in the local food, small farms, sustainable growing trend. Especially after my Agri class, this is something I want to support. It's too bad.
For dinner that night, we stayed in and grilled steaks with portobello mushrooms and orange red bell peppers. The fog had finally lifted and the evening was glorious. My mom and I are the grill MASTERS. Matt has absolutely no self control when it comes to pouring charcoal into a grill and we nearly smoked out Mom's elderly next door neighbor and jazz enthusiast, Betty.
For breakfast we rose early and made Mom's old fashioned from scratch buttermilk pancakes. She's been getting eggs from a gal that assists my elderly grandmother that are just incredible! The yolks are so custard-y that the pancakes were yellow! The batter almost looked like lemon curd. They were light and almost creamy in texture on the inside. We ate them slathered in butter with our friend Judy's home made maple syrup drizzled over them. YUM.
While I was perusing the Sunday paper, I was startled to find the obituary for Russ Kendall. We love driving up the North Shore to grab some smoked fish from his place for summer picnics. We'd been planning to go that very day! We wondered if the place would be open. We knew the old man hadn't been running the store for some time, but it's a really small shop. The building is so interesting. There's the smoke shop - a little retail store front like an old fashioned market, there's an adjoining room that looks like a bunch of junk and then, past that, you can look in and see, there's a little bar in there! I love this place. I'm not even much of a fish fan and I love, love, love the succulent smoked whitefish. We decided to chance it and pack a cooler full of food. We had Prima Donna aged Gouda and a spicy sweet jalapeno and piquillo pepper cheddar. Thankfully, the place was open. The teenagers behind the counter didn't even blink when we said we were sorry to hear about Russ' passing. I'm guessing they weren't close.

We continued to wind our way along the scintillating aquamarine lake until we finally reached Split Rock lighthouse. We set out our food by Pebble Beach, which is really more a bunch of little round rocks from the giant, craggy cliffs surrounding the water. I managed to pick my way through the loose rocks and dip my toes in the icy waters of Lake Superior. The serenity of this spot is the kind of soul nourishment that I'm so rarely fed in the cities. The vividness of the colors escape any camera lense. The itnensity of the islands and vastness of this powerful body of water diminishes every blaring car horn ever sounded. I stood, soaked and savored this life.
Back in the picnic area there were a few too many flies and bees for easy dining, but still, the view, the food... it just couldn't be beat.
Afterwards we hiked up to see the lighthouse. This would prove to be a mistake. See, here's the thing, I don't really like "people." Persons are usually okay, one on one, I can usually make an argument for at least two thirds of the population. But, all muddled together a la the State Fair, or worse - tourist destination on a holiday weekend that's a magnet for the confused and the unsupervising their kids sect? I came close to elbowing a lady who kept backing into me taking a picture of what, for all I could tell, was NOTHING. She wasn't aimed at the lighthouse or the view - no this dippy is aiming at the museum parking lot! WHY was this shot so important that she needed to invade my personal space? The tour groups! Oh, dear God, I've seen herds of cattle with more personality. No. This was a really, really bad idea. Glasses clips flipped up, black socks and shorts, children who speak like Buckwheat's derelict cousin! NO!!!!
It wasn't long before Mom and Matt loaded me back into the car, wiping my brow and gently slipping some Andrew Bird into the stereo. Not on Labor Day. Never again.
It was a pretty light lunch, so by the time we met up with my friend Penny and her husband Scott, we were pretty hungry. I'd been looking forward to trying the Burrito Union since it had just been a rumor about the old Whole Foods building. (Which is right next to a Laundromat that has a whole bunch of little birds living in it - it's too weird to miss. Go check it out if you're ever in town.) Penny & Scott are new parents and still pretty much newlyweds - they just had their first anniversary on Friday! I was so happy to hear that Penny was ready for a little night out. I know it's got to be really hard to leave your new baby at home.
The Burrito Union was another list of pros and cons - the room is gorgeous. We got a comfortable booth and I envied the view the people sitting outside had. You can see right down to the lake. Again - we got the most incompetent server! This time, the poor kid appeared to have been really, really nervous. We speculated that he'd just gotten in trouble and this was his LAST CHANCE before getting canned. Therefore, he screwed up everything he touched. He was running around like a madman, not accomplishing anything, while the other two servers seemed to not only have their collective shizz together, but also were really calm, friendly and wonderful. I wanted to sit in their section!! Since our guy didn't have time to bring us our drinks, the other guy did asking, "Okay, so who's the boring person?"
He held up the pale yellow beer and cocked an eyebrow.
"Oh," Penny said, "That's mine."
"You mean to tell me that out of all the beers we make - you pick this one!?"
She laughed while I was pointing and yelling, "She is! She is the boring eater! Totally chicken nuggets and mac and cheese." I'm sure she appreciated that. I wanted to move to that guy's section.
My other gripe is that they ONLY serve burritos. Would it kill them to throw a taco or something into the mix? To be coming from the guys that run the amazing Brewhouse, I really expected more from the food. It was boring. The chorizo con queso tasted like hamburger meat in cheese whiz. My burrito was okay, after the 35 minutes it took to get to our table.
Our panicked server whizzed by saying, "There was a huge problem in the kitchen and one order was screwed up, so they're all screwed up!! I'm checking on your food right now!!!!" Then ran away. Dude. You're so lying! The whole room is open, so we can SEE him in the kitchen. He'd just forgotten to put in our order.
When I HAD ordered I said, "We'll start with the queso..."
"Okay, okay, so I just want to make sure... you want the queso to come out BEFORE the other food, right?"
"Yeah, and can I get this temperanillo/ garnacha blend?"
"Oh, so the Antigua Temperanillo?"
"Nooo, the other one, the blend, what's this say?"
"Oh... so you don't want this one - the Antigua?"

After the tourists, my rage had been sapped. This guy was lucky. I wanted to love the place so much! But, it was pretty disappointing. I did however run into Penny's old friend Adam Hansen, whose sister Miriam was a friend of mine and pen pal in high school. She's teaching children in Honduras right now. Can you believe this is someone I used to be friends with? It occasionally amazes me what people are capable of. She's making the world a better place and I'm complaining about nachos. I used to be such a hippie... Anyway, enough nostalgia - let's drink more!
We went to this new(ish) Irish pub called Carmody's. I loved it! The room is super casual, clean and the atmosphere is relaxed and fun. Again, we're out drinking on a Sunday night, so who knows if it's usually full of rowdy college kids doing Jag Bombs, but this night, it was a subdued, but boozy crowd, playing pub trivia and nursing beers.
I can't believe Penny & Scott were able to stand being out until 11, but it was a good time for us to call it a night, too. The sun and wind and fun was exhausting.
I do love Duluth and if you're ever going, I've got a long list of reliably good spots to go. I highly suggest you take yourself a road trip and go discover what all there is to see, drink, eat and scream at.


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