Brewhouse Prix Fixe

I always feel odd enjoying the Fitger’s Brewhouse. Nearly everyone under 30 I’ve ever known in Duluth, and some older, has worked for the Brewhouse empire. And empire is not a carelessly chosen word; the success of the Brewhouse, Red Star, Burrito Union and the new expansion into City Hall may be local in origin, but functions in much the same way Wal-Mart does: by grinding through an ample supply of tourism-economy low-wage no-benefit employees. I feel good about eating local; I wish that I felt better about the economic impact of that particular local choice.

That said, there’s a newspaper circulating in the free racks around town talking about how the Brewhouse supports local agriculture, and so I thought I’d give them a chance, again, in prix fixe, as part of the Greater Downtown Council’s Eat Downtown event. I was not disappointed.

The burger was hearty and filling, the fries and onion rings are almost a meal to themselves, and the German chocolate stout cupcake will bring Kate and me back in the future.

Really, really awesome. Whoever designed this Prix Fixe (and gave me a window into the local agriculure connection at the Brewhouse in that newspaper) has brought me back to their table.

Now, if I could buy that cake to bring to work …

38 Comments

Jesus

about 10 years ago

Does Dave Hoops still brew the beer or amateur hipsters? Because I think the beer is losing its magic or maybe someone indulged in their beer too much. Carmody Mint Stout and Agnes Red are tasty. A couple more microbrewers in town will give the Brewhouse a run for its money. like in Portland If you are not brewing something new you are going out of business. Burrito Union is gross compared to the Brewhouse's food and service.

Sam

about 10 years ago

I agree with Jesus about Burrito Union.  I love that kind of food; it's too bad.

digit3

about 10 years ago

Dave and his underlings are still brewing. No way that he could do it all himself and I think that they work as a good team. 

I fully agree about the Burrito Union. I don't understand how these established restaurateurs can continue to create such awful food in that joint. They have a golden opportunity to take over what is a pretty darned weak local Mexican food market and make some kick-butt food but they just don't seem to give a rat's ass. Maybe because the clientele there is mostly budget-driven students? Regardless, a $5 burrito doesn't have to taste like crap.

My only complaint about the Brewhouse beers is that I don't think, given their brewing system size coupled with the demand for their beers, that they are conditioning them long enough. I get headaches the next morning from just a couple of pints. 

Having one or two more local brewpubs would be stellar. It would indeed push everybody to make great beer, which would only benefit the taste buds of the masses.

zra

about 10 years ago

I had my El Nino hangoverish headache this morning, too. I love the brew, but I'm convinced it's super-hoppiness gives me the troubles. 

I've been less than impressed with most of the Carmody offerings in the past. Perhaps its consistency of the quality that I've become accustomed to? 

Being one who has to go for quality over quantity, my selections are chosen carefully. 

Burgers are hit or miss, more hit than miss. The menu could hange a bit, but the carrot cake is a treat you can set your watch to.

Carla

about 10 years ago

Can we talk seriously about this low wage, no benefits thing?  This is a topic near to my heart and one that has a lot of parts. What could we really do to change the situation?

It's a double edged sword, even triple or quadruple. People want low-cost food and that always means someone gets exploited -- whether it's the farm workers, the delivery workers or the restaurant workers.

At the same time people are willing to pay high prices at the Whole Foods Co-op.  How does this work?  What is the difference? Also - what could we as a grass roots community do to make change?

It's great that Downtown Duluth had the Prix Fixe idea, but all those customers did not come out of the air.  They came from somewhere else.  I feel that a lot of our "business development" ideas are focused on selling the same stuff to the same people -- not on creating wealth.

How do we create wealth for our community?  In this day and age the old idea of just grabbing it out of the environment and exploiting it sort of still works on the range but not really, not completely.  And it doesn't work at all in Duluth.  

I am just sure that we need to develop, nurture and bank our intellectual capital in creative ways and you guys talk about stuff like Google and the cloud.  The Google idea was great but it was such a long shot -- we could've just bought lottery tickets.  And the cloud -- well, you know, it's just a cloud.

So seriously, let's put some thought into where we should try to go.
My .02 and thanks.

Meghann

about 10 years ago

Ha! El Nino hangover.  That's exactly why I don't drink that beer.  Starfire Ale doesn't do it as much for me.  I miss the Brewhouse.  Maybe they can open a branch in Minot ND?

Jesus

about 10 years ago

Me and my roommate get gnarly hangovers from the Brewhouse, too.  Maybe I'll just drink their root beer.

dawn

about 10 years ago

The Brewhouse/Red Star/Burrito Union as Wal-mart type empire? That's a stretch at best, and a damaging and unfair juxtaposition at worst. 

I truly love the Burrito Union. I got used to great burritos on every corner when I was living in San Francisco. I'm glad to have a relatively authentic and tasty option here in Duluth!

bluenewt

about 10 years ago

I used to think the food at the Burrito Union was  disappointing (how hard can it be to make a good burrito?), but I think they've improved recently. They've changed a bunch of the recipes, and what I've had the last couple of times I've been there has been much better.

I also think the beer at Carmody is improving as they get more experience brewing. They had a black pepper ale that was really nice recently.

digit3

about 10 years ago

Dawn, you must have been to some bad burrito joints in San Fran if you find the Burrito Union sates your taste buds! 

Comparing Rod and Tim's enterprise to Wal-Mart is a real stretch. I will agree that they underpay their key (non-hourly) personnel, have no real benefits (unless you consider getting shtoinked by an owner a perk) and are lucky to have Dave Hoops on board.

Claire

about 10 years ago

I have to agree with Digit3. The worst hole-in-the-wall taqueria in San Fran has better-tasting food than Burrito Union. I like Burritor Union OK -- it's fine for what it is, and I like the vibe there. I like their fish tacos and usually order them; not so much their burritos. In terms of delicious and authentic, I think Mexico Lindo surpasses Burrito Union.

rykwon

about 10 years ago

Calling the brewers "underlings" is an insult to the brew crew. Those guys work their fucking asses off every day, they produce a ton of beer with a bare minimum of employees. The "underlings" do most of the work.

Burrito Union is not a Mexican restaurant and it was never designed to be. It's a decent burrito joint backed by good beer, a nice vibe and great employees. I miss those cats a lot. It's a good staff that really knows how to treat people.

Swan

about 10 years ago

Act global, drink local. I have nothing but love for the Brewhouse. I like their food, love their beer and appreciate all the diverse music they have supported over the last decade. Charlie Parr, Trampled by Turtles, Haley Bonar and many, many others were giving a stage at the Brewhouse many times very early on in their careers. Their kitchen has been using Twig Bakery and Minnesota wild rice since day one, and I believe they buy local produce when possible and when in season. The spent grains leftover from beer brewing go as feed to a local rancher and I understand his grain-fed beef is sold back to Fitger's.

As I have often said, you do not know what you have until it is gone. I live 4 hours from Duluth, miss Fitger's Brewhouse beer terribly and always bring back several growlers after each visit to share with friends. As Duluthians, you are damn lucky and and should be proud of the beer brewed in your hometown. Home delivery? Nalgene growlers? C'mon, that is simply cool.

Dave Hoops, is an excellent and dedicated brewer, a consummate professional, respected globally by fellow brewers and beer lovers and is the largest craft brewer by volume in the Midwest. He has trained, taught and fostered many excellent brewers, some of whom have left the nest and gone on to New Belgium and other breweries. His assistants are getting a world class degree in brewing and being paid to do so. His brother Mike, the first brewer at the Brewhouse, is producing wonderful beer at Town Hall in Minneapolis. His Massala Mama APA is is one of the best rated beers in the world and rightly so. You lucky bastards get to enjoy more 100 different beers each year and yes, of course some may not always be to your liking, taste is subjective. 

For those who drink El Nino IPA and suffer the morning after, do the math:

US pint glass 20 fl. oz. 7% Alcohol by Volume (ABV)

Three pints of El Nino IPA, (60 oz ) is the equivalent of five x 12 oz bottles of beer. The ABV (7%) is nearly twice the average bottle of beer (3.5 -4 %), so you have just drank the equivalent of 10 bottles of beer and yet you wonder why you have a headache the next day?  Use sparingly. Their IPA should have a warning label on it and I have learned long ago to drink water while consuming big ABV beers and generally feel fine the next morning.

As for the wage issue, if you do not like your job or rate of pay, quit, do not take the job or find a better paying job.  Fitger's, like many other service industries, hires people knowing these positions are a rung on their employees' career paths, a job while in college, their first job out of high school, etc. They have developed many excellent loyal employees who have earned college degrees and worked the way up the ranks, who are now senior staff and management and their pay, and benefits, have increased accordingly. 

I understand there is other beer being brewed in town and am looking forward to tasting it. A little competition is healthy, but like every new restaurant in Duluth (frequently reviewed on PDD) everyone flocks to it the first year then it dies off and frequently goes under. Fitger's Brewhouse enjoys an excellent rating on both Beer Advocate and Rate Beer forums by thousands of beer tasters from around the globe who respect, know and love beer.

When in town, I  eat breakfast or lunch at BU and never thought it was bad and will eat there again. The atmosphere and location is great and the owners took a risk to create a neighborhood hang-out. The old Co-op could have been just another empty building in Duluth. I have never had decent Mexican food outside of Mexico, California or Texas, so to me the point is moot.

If the Brewhouse were not in town, what would you be drinking, eating and listening to? 

Thanks Brewhouse for all that you do and see you next time I am in town, hopefully drinking a Homegrown Hempen Ale, eating a wild rice burger and listening to some local music. Cheers.

dawn

about 10 years ago

Well, there's no accounting for taste, I suppose, 'cause I love me a Two-fisted Empire Builder. Mmmmmm.

Miles A. Broad

about 10 years ago

@ Swan -- Thirsty Pagan and Fractals are my first choice, but you bring in some good relativistic points. 

The Fitger's brewers aren't shabby in the least, and much closer. Good beer can always be aged longer, strong beer without rehydration will cause jag. Competitors are most welcome, but I'll always have dreams of trying to drink myself out of an El Nino whirlpool on any given Sunday. 

Digit 3, that was downright funny, and from what I've heard potentially true, but to each his own in the home of the brave. If you don't have a sleazy martini lounge right across from your brewpub for fratty types to frequent, how are you going to pick up the easy ones?  

Me, I don't have the stomach for it, or the Burrito Union. Sloppareetos, they're not terrible, steamed string meat and all, but it did irk me a little when they raised the already high prices, yet lowered the portions and made the poor waitstaff explain the twist.   Made me miss Mexico, the Southwest, and feel even sorrier for those U.S. drug-war laden victims. 

The union balcony is nice though. Someday when I don't have to beat back the college kids with a stick, I'll break piggy, go up there, turn on and cut loose. 

Competition would be nice, but the stakes of starting a new place are high in this town. Half of it is teetotaler, and since the BUFRS folks have had the strangle hold on the tourist bills for many years now, which I think is what hearkens the WalMart comparisons, leaves some wanting/wishing more.  It's the smallest bar I've ever seen in a brew pub, which means fighting over stools, and the never-ending wait list for standard pub food, local sources aside, can also kiss my resultant fat roll. 

Wait, Haley Bonar got her start there? I take back everything I've said as she's rocked my gourd to the ground and back!   It's all relative, but it's all right, because it's all good.

Claire

about 10 years ago

The Brewhouse's fish tacos are really good.  Not authentic, but I do love them. They're excellent with the El Nino.

Swan

about 10 years ago

I did not mind my Ps and Qs. A standard U.S. pint glass is 16 ounces, not 20 oz. Therefore, 3 pints of El Nino IPA is 48 oz., equivalent to 4 x 12 oz. beers, yet twice as strong, so drinking three IPAs equals 8 standard 12 oz. bottles of beer.

Jesus

about 10 years ago

Brewhouse needs a wet hop beer this spring or OS that more of a gall harvest deal.

Miles A. Broad

about 10 years ago

Jesus, you may not need any more hops for now, perhaps a good book and a glass of water will do. Your Sunday hangover appears to be overwhelming your inner linguist, but it's all good, as I'm not going to hold you to the strict standards the PDD authority abides by.  Maybe just go hunker in the bunker till this thing blows over, and leave the drinking to the pros.

in.dog.neato

about 10 years ago

@ swan: Since I have to settle for quality over quantity, I'll take an El Nino over a Buttwiper or even a Summit any day of the week.

I just have to watch my beer/water ratio. If I get 'em mixed up, I have a little discomfort the next morning.

Hoops' work is the standard by which I personally hold all other micro-crafted brews to. It's the gold standard in my opinion, and I'm always looking forward to what he's going to do next.

rj

about 10 years ago

I turned 21 when the Brewhouse opened and moved to NYC when I was 24. I go back every time I'm in town. I bring back growlers to my beer geek friends. It's all good stuff. Nothing is perfect, but don't take it for granted Duluth. I remember when that space was a touristy toy store.

digit3

about 10 years ago

Calling the brewers "underlings" is an insult to the brew crew. Those guys work their fucking asses off every day, they produce a ton of beer with a bare minimum of employees. The "underlings" do most of the work.
An underling is somebody of lower rank. It wasn't meant as a dig on the junior brewers to Hoops. I think that both Frank and Brian have great talent and I don't dispute the fact that the entire crew busts their butts daily for long hours to make the beers we so much enjoy.

digit3

about 10 years ago

@ Swan

One more thing: I believe that the Brewhouse used to use European Bakery's buns for their burgers but then went via Sysco to a major production bakery in the Twin Cities. Euro has since closed. So much for supporting the local economy.

rhetor!

about 10 years ago

Swan,

You say:
"As for the wage issue, if you do not like your job or rate of pay, quit, do not take the job or find a better paying job."

That's what the employees can do, to be sure.  As a customer, I can also refuse to patronize a place that manages to charge $10 for a hamburger and $5 for a glass of beer but cannot offer its employees benefits.   This, too, is the market at work.

"They have developed many excellent loyal employees who have earned college degrees and worked the way up the ranks, who are now senior staff and management and their pay, and benefits, have increased accordingly."

I would regret if earning a college degree were a requirement to enjoy benefits like "sick time."  I would regret if only senior management have the luxury of personal days to care for ill children.  The service sector does not need to be structured in this way.  

I have no window onto these issues as you describe them;  every one of my friends has passed through the Brewhouse and left when they realized that these benefits were important to them.  Senior management is invisible to me.  

As the Brewhouse invests in its 4th location, I hope, also, that they will continue to expand investment in their staff.  They attract some of the best staff in the city -- everyone wants to work at the Brewhouse, and so they get the cream.  They should be treated as such.  That is just as important to me as quality of beer or local sourcing of ingredients.

That said, the quality of food at the Prix Fixe was amazing, and the local sourcing of meat is important to me, too.  May the Brewhouse, and its employees, grow and prosper.

Andrew O

about 10 years ago

My 2 cents:  I have had some of the worst service of my life at the Brewhouse on several occasions.  One waitress took my order, bumped into a friend, and she talked that person for 40 minutes.  When she finally returned with my beer it was wrong and so we left.  

I love the Brewhouse's beer, fries, and the place itself.  As an employer it is probably like the rest of Duluth where you are expected to work for poverty... "Hey, the cost of living is lower here!"  BS, we pay more for gas and maybe our house WAS cheaper, but right now you can buy a 3 bedroom in Maple Grove for $150K.  The difference is that any job near Maple Grove would pay you twice what you make up here.

I did get sick after a sampler a few times, but whiskey beer and IPA probably don't mix well.  The long wait at times are frustrating, but the bartenders are the best there.  What jobs are left in America besides in the service industry?  We don't build anything anymore, these people deserve better wages and healthcare options.  

Burrito Union is what really let me down though.  I loved when they opened and you could order Subway/Chipotle style.  They even added cilantro to their rice.  Then they became all Soviet style about letting you order like that and eat there (losing many a beer dollar).  When I asked if I could do it that way the staff said you cannot order like that and eat there, no exceptions!  This was not a single incident either.  The part that I don't like is that steamed/slimey chicken.  I was a Chipotle nut, and I still buy one and bring an extra home, but Lil Angie's has fajitas that make me forget about the fact that there is no Chipotle here.  The sweet taste in their sauce is amazing.  

I like Burrito Union for a bar, but I agree the food is not that great.  We are lucky to have these places up here and hopefully the new one coming downtown is good too.

Timk

about 10 years ago

I'm trying to see how Charlie Parr, TBT and Haley B. represents musical diversity.

carla

about 10 years ago

No such thing as bad publicity.

Jesus

about 10 years ago

My buddy in Portland, Oregon, misses the apricot wheat and tug boat stout. You think I could mail him a growler with dry ice?

The Nelsons are great guys and gentleman. When Brewhouse growlers were 9 bucks I used to fill the cooler full of growler -- like 6 of them -- and when you complement Nelson about the Black-eyed Snakes he might give you a free growler when you buy 6. Thanks again, sir, and please move the table out in front of Mr. Parr so people can dance and not be smooshed together in a traffic jam like  hipster robots.

dino

about 10 years ago

I wonder if Rhetoricguy's finely-honed sense of justice extends to his own place of employment and its appalling two-tier system. Adjunct instructors at colleges and universities are routinely paid minimum wage and less (they get a lump sum but have to keep working until all the papers are graded) and given no benefits. They are required to teach more classes than tenured and tenure-track professors but earn far less money. This is to free those professors up to attend meetings with each other and to write important articles explicating heuristic epistemology in Disney movies. 

Unlike a lot of schools, UMD does give its adjuncts benefits -- IF they are full time. A lot of them aren't. And adjuncts have no job security, unlike tenured folks, who would basically have to run naked through the halls to get fired and even then would probably just be made department head.

Empire would be a far better word for the university than for a small group of locally-owned restaurants.

jessige

about 10 years ago

Kindly note that this is not just a UMD problem, but a higher education problem.

But we digress.

I'm with Dawn.  Empire Builder is the only way to go.

Jesus

about 10 years ago

Tim, I would love to see you play a show at the Brewhouse. Maybe you can put some dubstep beats over Charlie's tunes.

rhetor!

about 10 years ago

Dino, yes, my sense of the value of labor does carry to my own employer, and it is why I am happy to work at a unionized institution which pays adjuncts better, on average, than our colleagues in other states and systems.  

Adjuncts at UMD are eligible to receive benefits for teaching 18 credits a year (15-16 is full time for tenure-line faculty).  This access to benefits seems to me fairly equitable.

An adjunct with an MA will typically teach 21 credits [three more than the minimum for benefits] for $32K;  an adjunct with a PhD will teach 18 credits for $40K.  An entry-level faculty member with a PhD will start at roughly $50K for 15 credits.  The steps in the system seem to me to be fairly equitable -- far more equitable than you suggest, and account for increasing training (two years for an MA vs. 7 for a PhD) and additional responsibilities (teaching-and-service for adjuncts;  teaching, research and service for faculty).  As to the merits of the research, well, for every paper on hermeneutics and Disney, there are inventions like the Honeycrisp.  University research can make a variety of contributions.

Could we be better?  Yes.  Do we do alright, relative to what another poster notes is a broad problem with all of higher education?  I think so.  At UW-River Falls, where I taught for three years, 8 classes a year netted an adjunct $24K.  Slowly, across the board, all of us in higher ed are trying to make improvements, and unions are part of that movement.

Are you interested in becoming an adjunct instructor in Writing at UMD?
See http://www.higheredjobs.com/details.cfm?JobCode=175512174

--David

davids

about 10 years ago

I'm glad David responded to Dino.

I teach at UMD as well, and am currently in a tenure track line. I taught at UMD for several years on a one or two courses per year basis, then on a 2-year adjunct contract, and eventually competed for and got a tenure track line. 

In my experience, UMD does much better than other institutions where I have worked (2 private colleges) in terms of treating its faculty (both adjunct and regular) as productive and respected partners in the educational work done in this institution. 

Yes, could be better, but as David suggests, it's a lot better than it could be and is at many, many institutions, and that is at least partially to the credit of an effective faculty union.

B-man

about 10 years ago

Burrito Union service sucks unless you know one of the staff.  I have seen it many times over, people walk in, no greeting, they get in line to order food, get yelled at because you cant order food for dine in yourself (WTF?)get seated wait 10 minutes for someone to come over and take the order another 10-5 minutes to get a beer and a burrito.

If it takes 25 minutes to get a beer and a burrito, it had better be the absolute best food I have ever eaten.  It is not.  F that place as a restaurant, as a bar it is OK.

Jamie

about 10 years ago

My criteria for a great burrito:

1. it's big
2. it's cheap
3. it's a burrito

former employee

about 10 years ago

I used to work at the Brewhouse. I miss all of my coworkers and still love to return for the great beer. Dave, Frank, Brian, Bjorn, Jason, Bob all of the brewers are doing such an awesome job and I miss poking fun of them on a daily basis.  Like every company, there are things about the Brewhouse that work and things that could definitely be improved upon. With that said, I wanted to set a few things straight and throw in my opinion. The food there that is local is most of the meats (fish, Angus). All of the other food was from Sysco. Recently, they have gotten some of the produce from a cheaper source as all food costs have been going up. The quality of the food has suffered but the wad in your wallet hasn't. 

As for the employees, I would have stayed at the Brewhouse if I had received enough hours/money to support my living situation. That doesn't include extra-curriculars but more necessities such as rent, loans, dog food, etc. There are some "lifers" there but there is also a big turn-around rate as students come and go. It is one of the best gigs in the service industry in Duluth especially in the summer. Those that have been there for years and have shown loyalty to the company should be rewarded with benefits and raises. Yes, some of the managers have worked their way up through the ranks and now enjoy better wages/benefits but this is rare (in fact, mobility at all there is rare). Also a college degree has nothing to do with this; it's all about experience. Personally, I plan on putting my 4+ years of college to work. Nothing wrong with the service industry and it has treated me well, but I haven't invested so much time and money into school just to work my way up the ranks at a local restaurant...though free beer is always a good incentive.

Miles A. Broad

about 10 years ago

This is getting deep.

Jesus

about 10 years ago

Camp. Fire stories....

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