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PDD Awards Posts

Perfect South Shore-area Restaurant: Delta Diner

The Delta Diner, a one-of-a-kind eatery located 25 miles inland from Lake Superior in the midst of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, has captured the Perfect South Shore-area Restaurant title with 54 percent of the vote.

Since opening in 2003, the restored 1940’s diner has become a culinary destination. It’s not uncommon for people to drive for hours to eat there, traveling from as far as Madison, Milwaukee or the Twin Cities. And customers are willing to wait up to two hours for a meal during busy times.

With Delta Diner, owners Todd Bucher and his wife Nina have created a “vibe” that keeps people coming back. “Restaurants are a very personal thing,” he says. “What wins people over besides our food is the authentic diner experience.”

Perfect Bakery: Duluth’s Best Bread

pddperfectbakeryawardlogoThe business with the audacity to call itself Duluth’s Best Bread clearly is living up to its name. Not only does it have the best bread, it’s Duluth’s best general bakery according to Perfect Duluth Day’s poll. It took the title of Perfect Bakery with 38 percent of the vote among the final four.

The relative newcomer celebrated its one-year anniversary in September. Brothers Michael and Robert Lillegard, a trained mathematician and a writer, respectively, founded the nontraditional bakery.

Duluth’s Best Bread has limited storefront hours and a subscription service. It features a small menu of products carefully perfected by Michael, such as sourdough bread, croissants, cinnamon rolls and pretzels.

Perfect Drinking Establishment: Sir Benedict’s Tavern

PDD-Drinking-Establishment2016Area boozers and barflies have reached a general consensus: Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake is the perfect Duluth drinking establishment. The English-themed pub located at 805 E. Superior St. netted 34.5 percent of the vote in Perfect Duluth Day’s poll.

Sir Ben’s is a bit of an institution. It opened as a pub in 1978 (before that the building was a service station) with a focus on sandwiches and beer. The favored watering hole has long attracted a range of fans, from college students to musicians and business people.

Owners Josh and Kaila Stotts took over the tavern in April 2015. Josh was surprised to learn about the PDD poll. When asked what patrons appreciate about the bar, he said. “We try to offer a welcoming ambiance — a place where people can relax and feel really comfortable.”

Josh Stotts,owner of Sir Ben's

Josh Stotts

Perfect North Shore Restaurant: Gunflint Tavern

PDD-North-Shore-Restaurant-AwardLogoOne conclusion can be easily drawn from the results of Perfect Duluth Day’s poll to name the best restaurant on Lake Superior’s North Shore: Grand Marais is the place to be. The top three restaurants are located there, including the perfect one, Gunflint Tavern.

Owner Jeff Gecas says it hasn’t always been easy. He and his wife Susan are “Deadheads” who decided to create the business “almost selfishly” in 1998 because there wasn’t anywhere to watch live music and drink microbrews on draft in Grand Marais. “We never had Bud or Miller Lite. We didn’t allow smoking. People said ‘They’ll never make it,'” Gecas remembers. “We’re now in our 19th year.”

Upending convention, the Tavern now offers music 260 nights a year and brews its own beer. With its eclectic menu, craft beer and live music several nights of the week, it has become a North Shore institution and a favorite among locals and tourists alike.

In an outpost like Grand Marais, one might be surprised to find bangers and mash, chicken mole and an Asian noodle bowl under the same roof. Casual fare like burgers and pizzas are available at the Gunflint Tavern too, as are finer dining options such as walleye, steak and mushroom ravioli.

Perfect New Restaurant: Northern Waters Restaurant

PDDPerfectNewRestaurant2016It’s no surprise Northern Waters Restaurant crushed Perfect Duluth Day’s best new restaurant poll. The eagerly anticipated eatery just opened in February, but has swiftly won the admiration and bellies of Twin Ports residents, as evidenced by garnering 67 percent of the vote.

Manager Greg Conley with staff at Northern Waters

Manager Greg Conley with staff at Northern Waters

Perfect Indoor Concert Venue: Red Herring Lounge

PDDPerfectIndoorConcertVenueLogoWhen it comes to picking the best indoor concert venue, there are a lot of things to consider — seating, acoustics, general vibe, etc. There might be plenty of room for argument on just about any criteria, but in one facet Duluth has a clear winner. It would be tough to dispute that any local concert hall, club or coffee house has consistently brought more high-caliber talent to its stage in the past two years than the Red Herring Lounge. Among the top four in PDD’s poll, the Herring pulled out a clean win with 35 percent of the vote.

Perfect Play or Musical of 2015: Renegade’s Eastland

PDDPerfectPlay-MusicalLogo2015Renegade Theater Company has earned its second consecutive Perfect Play or Musical plaque, this time for a dramatic musical that marked the centennial of the tragic sinking of the SS Eastland. The 1915 shipwreck resulted in the death of 844 passengers, the largest loss of life from a single shipwreck on the Great Lakes.

Titled Eastland: A New Musical, the play was partially inspired by Jay Bonansinga’s 2004 historical novel The Sinking of the Eastland: America’s Forgotten Tragedy. The show debuted in 2012 at the Lookingglass Theater in Chicago. Renegade’s staging in August 2015 was just the second professional production of the haunting musical written by Andrew White, with a folk, blues and ragtime score by Ben Sussman and Andre Pluess.

Perfect Album of 2015: Low’s Ones and Sixes

PDDPerfectAlbumAwardLogo2015The latest evidence of the ubiquity of Alan Sparhawk: Not only did his band Low gain the most votes in PDD’s poll to determine the best local album of 2015 for its release Ones and Sixes, Sparhawk also produced the Social Disaster album Dark Side of the Roller Rink, which finished a close second in the voting.

But that’s kind of what we expect from the icon of Duluth’s music scene.

For Low’s 11th studio album — its fourth on the Seattle-based Sub Pop Records label — the band teamed with producer BJ Burton and recorded at April Base Studios in Eau Claire. As usual, Sparhawk handles the guitar work and shares vocals with his wife, drummer Mimi Parker. It’s their third album with bassist Steve Garrington.

Ones and Sixes is perhaps the band’s most spiritual-sounding music yet, though not in a denominational sort of way. The songs are filled with soul and strain. Like every Low album, critics have labeled it a departure, while at the same time noting it’s unmistakably Low. Perhaps therein lies the soul and strain. When music critics have a tough time putting a finger on it, it’s usually a great thing that’s happening in the headphones.

Perfect Outdoor Concert Venue: Bayfront Festival Park

PDDPerfectOutdoorConcertVenueLogoDuluthians aren’t shy about loving Bayfront Park. Asked in PDD’s poll to name the best outdoor concert venue, 71.5 percent gave their nod to the 10-acre harbor-side multi-purpose park that has hosted Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Trampled by Turtles, Wilco, the Monkees, the Doobie Brothers, Willie Nelson, Steve Martin, nearly three decades of Bayfront Blues Festivals and a long list of others.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune also named Bayfront the state’s “Best Outdoor Music Venue” in 2014, noting: “It has the Aerial Lift Bridge, hilly city skyline and occasional passing ore boat for a backdrop, the cool breeze off Lake Superior for natural air-conditioning and a huge grassy lawn for stretching out. … Coolest of all: Families can bring kids under 12 to shows for free, as is dictated by the city.”

Perfect Play or Musical of 2014: Renegade’s Red

PDDPerfectPlay-MusicalLogo2014It was close, and it has to be considered an upset. Renegade Theater Company’s two-character biographical play, Red, staged in the roughly 100-seat Teatro Zuccone theater, was the winner in Perfect Duluth Day’s poll to name the best play or musical of 2014. It edged out the Duluth Playhouse’s centennial-marking, big-budget musical production of Les Misérables, which was staged in the 2,200-seat Symphony Hall at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

Best Play of 2015 - Red - Renegade Theater Company

Renegade Comedy Theater - Red - 2014

Perfect Album of 2014: Red Mountain’s Scowl Lightly

PDDPerfectAlbumAwardLogo2014It was actually a late-2013 release, but Red Mountain’s debut album Scowl Lightly captured the most attention in 2014 among voters in Perfect Duluth Day’s poll to name the top local album of the year. Issued on vinyl and compact disc by Duluth’s Chaperone Records, Scowl Lightly brought band leader Anton Jimenez-Kloeckl’s evolving musical project out of the shadows of the weirdo-experimental scene to top billing at local festivals — with enough performance antics to proudly retain the weirdo label. In a review for the independent music website Wordkrapht, Ellen Vaagen writes that Scowl Lightly is “a baroque pop gem spattered with claps, bells, trumpet, and saxophone floating on a clear stream of fancy-free fun” and the band’s live performances “are a fantasia of dancing, face paint, feathers, masks, and flamboyant sequin costumes that encourage crowds to let their freak flags fly.”

Members of Red Mountain accept the PDD Award for Perfect Album of 2014 at the Red Herring Lounge. (Photo by Steve Ash)

Members of Red Mountain accept the PDD Award for Perfect Album of 2014 at the Red Herring Lounge. (Photo by Steve Ash)

Red Mountain 2013 band photo Red Mountain - Scowl Lightly LP cover Anton Jimenez-Kloeckl 2014

Perfect New Restaurant: The Spirit Room

PDD-New-Restaurant-Award-Logo-2014Sometimes less is more.

The Spirit Room, a 1,000-square-foot drinking establishment with a tapas menu featuring just a dozen items, came out on top in Perfect Duluth Day’s poll to name the area’s best new restaurant. Tavern on the Hill, a full-menu eatery with literally 10 times the square footage of the Spirit Room, placed a distant second.

Spirit Room - Lindsey Graskey and Curtis LaBreche

Perfect Brewery: Bent Paddle Brewing

PDDPerfectBreweryAwardLogoSince launching in May 2013, Bent Paddle Brewing has quickly become a dominant force in the region. The company seems to have everything right, from perfect beer to perfect packaging to perfect branding and distribution. From a 10,600-square-foot warehouse in Duluth’s Friendly West End, Bent Paddle already produces twice as many barrels of beer as any other local company — making it the most macro of the area’s microbreweries and brewpubs.

Bent Paddle Brewing - Perfect Brewery

In the final round of Perfect Duluth Day’s poll, Bent Paddle went head-to-head with Fitger’s Brewhouse, a 19-year-old jauggernaut brewpub that supplies beer to five restaurants and a beer store owned by parent company Just Take Action. While the two companies have quite different operations and histories, both are well-known beyond Duluth for producing an array of outstanding craft brews. The nod to Bent Paddle, which amassed 60 percent of the vote, is perhaps due to its reach. Though the company is still fairly new, it’s beer is available in a majority of bar, restaurant and liquor stores in the Duluth market — and the territory has already begun to expand into the Twin Cities metro area.

Perfect Coffee Shop: Beaner’s Central

PDDPerfectCoffeeShopAwardLogoA rash of new coffee joints have opened up in Duluth in recent years, but an old favorite was the clear winner in Perfect Duluth Day’s poll to name the best coffee shop. Beaner’s Central Concert Coffeehouse has been as much known for its live music and friendly vibe over the past 15 years as it has for the Alakef-roasted java blends served there daily. Not to mention the baked goods, soups, sandwiches, pizzas, random experimental breakfasts, beers, wines, art exhibitions, basement recording studio and whatever else the affable and eccentric owner and founder Jason Wussow decides to offer next. It’s no wonder Beaner’s dominated with 50 percent of the vote in the three-way race for Duluth’s coffee-shop crown.

Beaner's Central Concert Coffeehouse Jason Wussow - Beaner's Central Concert Coffeehouse Beaners Exterior 2013

Jefferson People’s House, which opened just three months before our poll, gave a strong second place performance with 28 percent of the vote. The not-quite-two-year-old Duluth Coffee Co. cafe and roasterie also performed well, pulling in 22 percent of the vote.

PDD Awards Index

Perfect Play or Musical of 2013: Duluth Playhouse Children’s Theatre’s Cats

It was a big year for Duluth theater in 2013, with eight productions receiving a significant number of votes for the honor of best play or musical. In the end, the Duluth Playhouse Children’s Theatre production of Cats emerged as the favorite.