There are many great places to have breakfast in Duluth, but only a handful fall into the true breakfast diner category. Barrett Chase and Paul Lundgren set out to compare them all and report their findings on Perfect Duluth Day, so readers can admire their astute observations and compliment them publicly, without the briefest passing thought of contradicting any of the information presented.
When beginning any endeavor — particularly one as consequential as breakfast, which is the most important meal of the day — it’s essential to establish a lengthy list of arbitrary rules. We won’t detail all of them here, but will simply list those pertinent to our selection process.
- The restaurant must be located in Duluth and locally owned.
- The restaurant must have both booth and counter seating.
- The restaurant must serve coffee for $1.50 or less
The first rule kept us from driving all over Superior and becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of our task. The second rule is the actual definition of what a “diner” is. The third rule eliminates places that are … how shall we put this? … “fancy.”
For example: While Takk for Maten, Chester Creek Café and Duluth Grill offer exceptional breakfasts, those places are kind of different operations from Jim’s Hamburgers and Mike’s Western Café.
We anticipated our research would confirm what we’ve always known, that the Sunshine Café is the best. We carried a number of biases into this project, because we live near the Sunshine in West Duluth, know the owners Young and Steve Clement and find them to be awesome, and we agree with the sign out front, which proudly states “best omelets.”
But breakfast is about more than great omelets served with a smile. It’s about being surrounded by old men, pounding down the Arco and seeing lots of photos of children affixed to the walls in collages.
So while we maintain that the Sunshine is still our favorite, we also acknowledge the achievements of its competition, which in some areas actually surpass its greatness.
The Old Man Factor
Let’s face it: breakfast is a man’s meal. It’s about steak and eggs, baby. And a little bacon on the side. It’s literally a sausage party. But most younger men are too busy with their jobs and family obligations to regularly feast on the greasy goodness that is a diner breakfast. That’s what makes it a pastime of old men.
Still, if we were to go to a Perkins Family Restaurant for breakfast we might find ourselves seated next to a nuclear family from Edina, in town for a soccer tournament or something. That’s why we go to diners.
Among the diners we visited, one stood out above the others as an old-man haven: Mike’s Western Café. During our visit, we were the only customers who weren’t old men, and we’re not shy to admit we’re a mere two decades from joining their ranks.
Although Coney Island, Jim’s Hamburgers and Randy’s didn’t manage to perfectly eliminate women and children, the old men still held a strong majority.
We were surprised that the Sunshine Café performed poorly in this category, but we must note that the Sunshine does bring in a lot of old women, which is the next best thing to old men. Maybe it’s the Sunshine’s bright pink exterior that draws in the ladies.
Uncle Loui’s Café in the Hillside tends to have its share of college students, which we frown on, but it’s still better than places with families and their crybaby children who can’t sit still.
Cheap Cups of Mud
We regret to report that you can’t get a cup of coffee for a quarter anymore. It generally costs $1.15 for Arco or whatever brew Sysco Foods is kicking out. For some reason Jim’s Hamburgers is charging considerably more than the competition, at the high-end price of $1.50. (For reference, it’ll top $2 for a cup of Alakef at the fancy joints we skipped.)
Other than the Jim’s Hamburger’s anomaly, there was no significant difference in coffee prices. Uncle Loui’s had the cheapest, at $1.05, but it was also the place it was most likely your cup could go dry before a refill came around.
Show Us Your Grandkids
Uncle Loui’s is the undisputed champion of having photos of children on the walls. While we dislike children in person, we love them in photograph form, because they are adorable and silent.
Coney Island and Randy’s performed the poorest in this category. Perhaps Coney Island’s owner frowns on children in general; there’s a sign in the back of the place that reads: “No teenagers allowed.” Sure, it’s just a novelty sign, but we like to pretend it’s a rule that is strictly enforced.
It might surprise some of you that Coney Island serves breakfast at all, since it’s primarily known for coney dogs. But the breakfasts are much better than the coney dogs, and a banner is flown in front of the joint each morning to remind you of that.
As far as food quality and décor go, well, who really wants to read about that? Flapjacks are flapjacks and wallpaper is wallpaper. Nonetheless, there’s still a lot more we’ve got to say about our breakfast adventures — and more breakfast adventures to be had — so look forward to our next report, which we’ll probably get around to sharing by next winter.
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