Twin Ports food fans gained some favorable new restaurant options in 2022 — from high-end dining to downhome comfort food, tacos and the return of an old classic.
Southern comfort food is now available in Superior, thanks to Mama T’s Smokin’ Eats. Owner Tanya Lowney travels to the South two to three times a year with her family. “I love the South,” she explained. “I love their food and hospitality and wanted to bring that here to Superior because there’s nothing like that here.”
Mama T’s is a family-run establishment. “When people come here we want them to feel like family,” she said. Lowney said she’s teaching her son and daughter all her tricks. She also praised her staff, which is mainly made up of family or close family friends.
Speaking of keeping it in the family, no advertising has been needed for the Original Louis’ Café, an old favorite that offers Greek and American food for breakfast and lunch. Louis’ was closed for 20 years but reopened in mid-December in a new Superior location.
Facebook and word of mouth have kept the business busy, according to Annessa Milinkovich, who is operating and managing the restaurant along with boyfriend Pablo Tony Munoz.
Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood gained a family-owned brewpub last summer. Owners Sarah and Seth Maxim purchased Lake Superior Brewing in 2020 after the longtime production brewery closed its doors suddenly in 2019.
The restaurant opened before the brewery itself was ready. Sarah said that has “been a blessing in disguise” due to limited kitchen staff and challenges with hiring that have required her and husband Seth to be “very hands-on.”
Though the husband-and-wife team commonly works 18-hour days, it’s a labor of love. Sarah pointed out the unique value small businesses bring to communities. “In this day and age so many big corporate restaurants have big money backers,” she said. “As prices increase, quality is decreasing in a lot of cases. We are real people who enjoy real food who will continue making, creating and serving good food.”
In addition to the array of new restaurants, profiled below, there were a number of changes in the past year that resulted in some sort-of-new variations of established enterprises. Among the moves were Blacklist Brewing’s 250-foot move in Downtown Duluth, Famous Dave’s move from Canal Park to Hermantown, Jamrock Cultural Restaurant’s move from Superior to Downtown Duluth (opening date is Jan. 1), Bucktales Cantina & Grill’s 12-mile move from the Town of Superior to the North End of Superior, and Updawg food truck’s brick and mortar debut at Average Joe’s Pub in Superior.
It was also a year of second locations. Vitta Pizza added a spot on Central Entrance, Ride or Die Pizza added one in Cloquet, Duluth’s Best Bread added one in Downtown Duluth, and the Social House is adding one in Canal Park in 2023.
505 W. Superior St., Duluth
The Apostle Supper Club opened in March in the swanky 360-degree rotating space above the Radisson Hotel Duluth, which formerly housed JJ Astor Restaurant and Lounge.
New owner Brian Ingram is a chef and restaurateur. He’s also the proprietor of an Apostle Supper Club in St. Paul as well as the Gnome Craft Pub and Hope Breakfast Bar. Ingram’s Purpose Driven Restaurants give three percent of sales back to the community through Give Hope, an associated nonprofit.
Supply shortages and staffing have been challenges but Ingram said overall the Duluth business has been “really well received.” The recently released Merry Kiss Cam movie features a first-date scene from the renovated restaurant, with its breathtaking views of the harbor and showcases its vintage “Palm Springs-style” décor with lots of greenery and colorful accents.
According to Ingram, customers have appreciated the Apostle’s unique menu offerings such as chicken-fried lobster as well as its classic supper-club cocktails like grasshoppers and Brandy Alexanders.
On a related note, the former Bowery Brothers pub on the ground floor of the Radisson was recently rebranded as a Tiki bar. The False Eye Doll Lounge’s opening coincided with the supper club’s. It offers Polynesian-inspired cocktails and simple menu items in keeping with its theme, such as Kahlua pulled-pork sandwiches and spam tacos. Ingram said there are plans to expand the patio in the spring.
505 E. 4th St., Duluth
Asian Kitchen opened in October in the longtime Huie’s Chopsticks Inn location in Duluth. The restaurant advertises itself as a mix of Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Its menu features a wide range of choices, from avocado rolls and udon noodle dishes to chow mein, sesame chicken and even a popular Thai dish, pad thai.
329 Canal Park Drive, Duluth
Aaron Maloney and Alex Giuliani opened Chacho’s Taqueria in April in a tiny building in Canal Park across the parking lot from Caribou Coffee. The diminutive taco shop in the tourist district has been serving up hard-to-come-by items for Minnesota like tamales and trendy birria tacos but it closed Dec. 18 for the season.
Chacho’s website promises a return to business in mid-April 2023. A Facebook post read: “Well the moment has finally come, season end for Chachos! The amount of support we have received has blown us away. … Now time to take some time off! We will be back with new menu items and flavors next season.”
1810 W. Superior St., Duluth
After finding success in Grand Marais, Kate and Jeremy Keeble saw an opportunity to add a Hungry Hippies Tacos location in Duluth. The Lincoln Park taco shop opened in May and has been received well.
“We had no idea how it would go,” Kate said, laughing. “It ended up being really great.”
Keeble said Duluth feels like a “sweet little neighborhood café” since it’s a more steady business with regulars.
Kate describes their tacos as a “multicultural Midwestern take on what goes on a tortilla.” The restaurant offers fry bread or corn tortilla tacos with a variety of smoked meats and side options of tortilla chips or tater tots.
The Duluth location isn’t driven by heavy tourist demand, which gives the owners an opportunity to “do more creative things” and “play around in the kitchen.”
The shop is offering a special taco every couple of months, like the Damn Yam, which features roasted yams, hot honey, chipotle sour cream and goat cheese. Patrons can also expect inventive soups and salads.
“It’s a fun place to play with food. We’re testing the boundaries of what we put in a taco and testing the boundaries of a quick-service restaurant,” said Kate, noting that fast food “doesn’t have to be sub par.”
6428 Tower Ave., Superior
Mama T’s Smokin’ Eats started serving up Southern comfort food at the end of August in the former Hacienda Bar & Grill space in Superior. Owner Tanya Lowney said “everything has been going amazing,” and noted that the business has already had repeat customers from all over the state.
The business is currently open Wednesday through Sunday with the exception of special events like football games. Lowney is hoping to acquire additional staffing to expand business hours.
Customers can expect smoked meats as well as Southern comfort food like shrimp po’ boys, hush puppies and fried green tomatoes with homemade remoulade. The restaurant offers specials each week. Recent examples include Oinkin’ Pig Wings (described as “like ribs but better”) in maple barbecue sauce served with spiced pineapple slaw, cornbread and sweet potato waffle fries. Sweet potato pie with maple whip cream was on offer for dessert.
Starting in the new year, the eatery will host a Southern breakfast buffet each weekend with items like homemade cathead (so-called for their size) biscuits; sausage and cream gravy; and chicken-fried steak.
The business sources food locally as much as possible, including ground beef from Superior Meats, which is just down the street. “Everything we do at the restaurant is homemade, with the exception of buns and cheese,” Lowney said.
The Lowneys enjoy collaborating with breweries and have plans for special events. Their Mama T’s Pilsner, made by 3 Sheeps Brewing, is always on tap. They intend to build an outdoor pavilion with a small stage to host music and events in the warmer months. A special beer from Castle Danger Brewery is planned for a “Lowneypalooza” pig roast and crawfish boil event next summer.
6098 WI-35, Superior
Piglet’s Grill & Cantina opened in October in the former Bucktales Cantina and Grill location near Pattison State Park. The new eatery has an island vibe, complete with surfboards, beachy decor and tropical drinks.
Manager Mikayla Whipple explained the theme as “a vacation for when you can’t go on vacation.” The bar serves up drinks like rum punch, piña coladas, mojitos and margaritas.
Customers are responding well to the food. “People have been loving the burgers and the freshness of them,” Whipple said, adding that people have been partial to the brisket platter and the High Tide Burger, which is served with a housemade coffee and Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce. Key lime pie is a dessert feature.
The business has been busy and is getting a lot of repeat customers, according to Whipple. “It’s been like a roller coaster,” said manager Mikayla Whipple. “We won’t really know how good we’re doing for a couple of months once the honeymoon phase is over.”
5324 E. Superior St., Duluth
Lake Superior Brewing eased into business with a soft opening in the last weekend in July. Owners Sarah and Seth Maxim purchased Lake Superior Brewing in 2020 after the longtime production brewery closed its doors suddenly in 2019.
Six months in, the eatery has its start menu and food consistency down and customers have been giving positive feedback, according to Sarah. She described the food as “comfort food for people who don’t want to be fluffy” and said they offer a “balance of approachable but elevated food options.”
Customer favorites include burgers and New York brick-oven pizzas. LSB also makes its own pita and baked bread and serves small appetizer plates like hummus and baba ganoush.
Sarah said one of the brewpub’s unique offerings that has been a huge hit is oysters. They can be ordered on the half shell or Rockefeller style.
Though space in the parking lot is limited, the restaurant seats 125 people inside and 100 on the patio when al fresco dining is possible. “Even though it looks busy we always have room,” said Sarah, noting that 15 minutes is probably the longest wait for seating. They’ve also taken steps to streamline the ordering process by starting people at the bar with drink orders before they’re seated. Online ordering is also an option via Lake Superior Brewing’s website.
The Maxims hope to have the brewery up and running by the beginning of next year. Seth brewed for years at Dubh Linn Irish Pub, his father and brother’s brewpub. He intends to bring back Lake Superior Brewing favorites like the Kayak Kölsch, Special Ale and Sir Duluth Oatmeal Stout and a “mashup of old and new” brews.
220 W. Superior St., Duluth
Cody Packingham opened Cousin Chuy’s in January 2021 and was serving its bar fare out of Average Joe’s Pub in Superior. He opened Loaf and Ladle in February 2022 in the former Toasty’s Sandwich Shop space in Duluth, eventually closing Cousin Chuy’s.
The downtown takeaway lunch spot has been serving up sandwiches, salads, burgers and mac and cheese. According to the Loaf & Ladle Facebook page, the business is under new ownership as of Dec, 1. New owner, Alex Palmgren, didn’t care to comment for this article about any potential changes. The business’ website is “under construction.”
4602 Grand Ave., Duluth
The former GB Schneider & Co restaurant was transformed into a Mexican restaurant last summer. Margarita’s opened in the beginning of August. Owner Lorena Velez is also the proprietor of Mexico Lindo, which is located in the popular Fitger’s building
Margarita’s shares Mexico Lindo’s menu. Velez said customers tend to gravitate toward the chimichangas and the Lindo’s Special, which features steak, chicken and shrimp cooked with onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes and smothered in cheese sauce.
Velez has been pleased with the community’s response to the restaurant. “The customers have been primarily local Duluthians and we just love it,” said Velez. “We’re excited to be closer to our community.”
4927 E. Second St., Superior, WI
The Original Louis’ Café opened Dec. 17 in the old KD’s Family Restaurant and Breakwater Restaurant location in Superior near Gronk’s.
The Letsos family, who were Greek immigrants, opened the original café in the 1940s. Paul Letsos, Munoz’s grandfather, operated the last existing version of the restaurant in Superior. There were two locations for a while, one in Duluth and one in Superior.
Milinkovich said the family has been wanting to reopen the restaurant for a while. She and Munoz are in their mid-20s and decided they wanted to take on the business. “We wanted to bring the family restaurant back for ourselves and for the community,” she said.
The menu is similar to the old café with some new additions. Popular items include the Greek classic omelet, country fried steak, and the gyro souvlaki, according to Milinkovich, who noted that the café’s pita is “outstanding” as is its fresh, housemade tzatziki sauce.
Miliknovich has been serving at the café every day. She said there have been “no complaints about the food!”
1102 Tower Ave., Superior
The Wissota Chophouse chain, based in Chippewa Falls, added a location in Superior in February inside the Cobblestone Hotel & Suites. The fine dining restaurant features steaks, chops, seafood and shareable sides like mushroom risotto and Nueske’s bacon truffle macaroni and cheese. In addition, a wide variety of craft cocktails, wine and 20 draft beers from Wisconsin are available.
Other Notable Newbies in the Region
11392 S. Second St. E., Solon Springs
Brunches café opened in the former KD’s Family Restaurant location in Solon Springs this past April. Foodies will appreciate that the restaurant has fun daily specials. Recent offerings include brisket eggs Benedict, crab cake Benedict and eggnog bread pudding.
5831 S. Maple St., Brule
The Crafty Rooster opened at the end of May at the old Round Up North location. It features craft beer and bar fare. The menu has an interesting array of egg rolls that are made in house, including a play on the popper with bacon, cream cheese and jalapeno. The Crafty Rooster has a Friday fish fry and serves up home-cooked Sunday dinners
3000 Golf Course Road, Ashland
The Local Bar & Grille is located at the Chequamegon Bay Golf Course in Ashland. In addition to bar fare like burgers and flatbreads, the Local serves entrees like steak, Swedish meatballs and salmon with butternut squash risotto. It also features an all-you-can-eat fish fry on Fridays, prime rib on Saturdays and brunch on the weekends.
602 First Ave., Two Harbors
The Harbor Rail Pub opened in early 2022. It serves unique pizzas, local draft beer and specialty cocktails. The historic building that most recently housed McQuade’s Pub and Grill also is a gathering space that hosts regular music and also hosts events.
For details on eating and drinking establishments that closed this past year, read the companion piece to this story, “Miller Hill Mall Perkins leads list of 2022 restaurant closings.”
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