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In search of lunch: The DNT investigates local offerings during Eat Downtown

For this week's "Eat Downtown" event, Restaurant 301 features a roast turkey open face sandwich with giblet gravy, roasted Granny Smith mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, toasted wild rice & cranberry bread, baby green beans and cranberry relish for the main entree with an accompanying grapefruit and raspberry salad. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 5
Clam chowder is one of the options for Eat Downtown at the Boat Club. Christa Lawler/clawler@duluthnews.com2 / 5
Canal Park Brewery is offering a mini Swedish Cream. 3 / 5
Pesto Pasta de Carlo at Valentini's Vicino Lago. Jon Nowacki / jnowacki@duluthnews.com4 / 5
Canal Park Brewery is offering a burger for its Eat Downtown lunch menu this week. 5 / 5

We were looking for low-price picks from upscale restaurants, tried and true desserts, an upgrade to a recent canned seafood obsession.

A bunch of lunchers from the News Tribune selected from the 16 participating stops in the fall go-round of Eat Downtown — Duluth's twice yearly take on Restaurant Week.

The gist: these spots offer a fixed price for lunch and/or dinner — $10 for the former, $25 for the latter. This includes some combination of soup, salad or appetizer, a main entree, and dessert.

Here is the story of the cheese spreads, accommodating servers and bliss out moments with cranberries.

BOAT CLUB RESTAURANT & BAR

600 E. Superior St.

Why this place: Um. This feels like a safe space to get confessional. For the past few weeks, I've been eating canned seafood. Specifically: smoked oysters on crackers with a dot of hot sauce and a long pull from an IPA. One of the appetizer options at Boat Club is clam chowder, which feels like a more sophisticated way to eat from the sea.

What I had: Clam chowder and a half sandwich.

The clam chowder is a light, but creamy mix of clams, potato chunks, celery with a couple of dollops of lemon oil on top. The sandwich, served on crusty bread, had — in order of favorite defining flavors — thick mounds of sharp cranberry cheese spread, prosciutto, salami, red onions, tomatoes and mixed greens. Did I mention the cheese spread, which could be its own appetizer at a holiday party.

Thoughts: For a spot that leans toward fine dining, Boat Club has dang good French fries. They are at the thin end of the thick-cut spectrum, golden, nicely seasoned. This lunch pick was just what I was looking for, but I'm a glutton and this glutton likes, nay needs, dessert. But the mini cheesecake bites are only available on the dinner menu.

— Christa Lawler

CANAL PARK BREWING CO.

300 Canal Park Drive

Why this place: As we doled out assignments for a review of Eat Downtown, I quickly put my hand up for Canal Park Brewery. And, surprisingly, it was not because of the obvious ... good beer. No, it was the third course, a mini Swedish Cream that grabbed my attention. I'd had it before and honestly, there's no better adjective to describe it than "dreamy." Think thickened cream and sugar whipped together, topped with blueberries, blackberries and raspberries crowned with a divine lingonberry sauce. I'm not a foodie, but I love sweets and have eaten them in lots of different places across the globe. Right here in Duluth, folks, we've got a world-class dessert. Tip: The full serving on the regular menu comes with a whimsical little white chocolate bowl filled with chocolate sauce. It just keeps getting better.

What we had: As almost an afterthought, from course one and two I chose the salad and the burger. For 10 bucks, this meal was great value. I thought the burger was slightly overdone, though in their defense the rareness at which I like to consume my meat is probably illegal in America. My dining partner, who is truly a devoted aficionado of the fried potato, labeled the fries some of the best in the business. And I quote: "The ratio of potato to deep-fried crunchy goodness was perfect."

Thoughts: I don't eat gluten and my dining partner is vegan so we're a really tough crowd right out of the gate. The true highlight of our visit was our server, Lora, who made several trips to the kitchen to get things just right for the Picky People at Table 10. If I owned a restaurant, I would steal her. Outstanding service. We all agreed we'd go back and have a go at the mainstream menu.

— Holly Henry

RESTAURANT 301

301 E. Superior St.

Why this place: I called dibs on Restaurant 301. I'd never been there and thought of it as fancy and expensive, and you can't beat getting both of those for $10.

What I had: Grapefruit and raspberry salad, roast turkey open face sandwich

Thoughts: I'm not one who opts for fruit in salads, but 301's mix was interesting. It had firm, juicy pink grapefruit and plump raspberries. The honey citrus vinaigrette mixed well with the flavors, and the combo didn't need much of it. With the salad came a basket of round crusty bread and a plate of olive oil, hard herbs, Parmesan and balsamic vinaigrette in lines like a Rorschach inkblot. (Fancy.)

The plate was still hot for the sandwich. There were two slices of wild rice and cranberry bread. Then a pile of tender turkey, to the side two mini scoops of Granny Smith Yukon gold potatoes. On top was just enough giblet gravy to get the job done, but not too much for soggy bread. Wild rice and cranberry bread was new to me when I moved to Duluth more than three years ago, and it's one of my favorites now. For this dish though, my favorite-favorite was the cranberry relish. It was tart and fresh tasting, and the baby green beans were delicate and glisten-y. Restaurant 301 is offering tomato basil bisque as a starter option for lunch and dinner this week, and I bet it's divine, but I'm more than happy with my choice. Taters, bread, turkey and gravy can feel heavy, but here, it's done right and well. The cranberry relish adds brightness, and there's enough food to take back to the office. It's a solid and savory comfort meal for $10.

— Melinda Lavine

VALENTINI'S VICINO LAGO

1400 London Road

Why this place: I browsed at the list of restaurants participating and glanced at their lunch menus. My first thought was that Silos Restaurant would be a cool place to check out since I still haven't been there, or JJ Astor. For a tourist, the panoramic views atop the Radisson are worth 10 bucks in and of themselves, but I see nice views every day from my front window. I was all about the food for this assignment, and the lunch offering at Valentini's jumped out at me more than Silos (jerk pulled pork sandwich) or JJ Astor (mushroom sandwich or turkey club).

What I had: Italian salsa with crackers and pesto pasta de Carlo

The salsa is excellent and something different. Sweet with just a touch of spiciness, just about everything imaginable is in this zesty mix: diced vegetables (including carrots, corn and onions), black olives, zucchini, squash, black beans, grape tomatoes and parsley tossed in an Italian vinaigrette. I'm generally not a huge fan of olives. They're like Will Ferrell: anything they're in, they take over, but with such a colorful and plentiful mix, everything is toned down here and can only contribute so much, not dominate. Light and perfect for lunch.

The shrimp in the pasta were small but what do you expect at this price? There was still a lot to like: prosciutto, marinated grilled artichoke hearts (very good), asparagus and grape tomatoes (which I couldn't get enough of), basil and garlic tossed with fettuccini in a pesto sauce.

Thoughts: Valentini's doesn't cut corners. You're consuming a smorgasbord of flavor with just one meal, sometimes one bite providing a plethora of palate-pleasing goodness. The portion was ample for lunch, and I left satisfied and full. At $10, it's a deal. I had chicken marsala here once I felt could have been better, or perhaps, I was expecting something else, cutlets instead of actual chicken breasts, but I certainly stand corrected and will keep Valentini's is near the top of my list.

— Jon Nowacki

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