PDD Awards Posts

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.

Perfect Album of 2013: Ryan Van Slooten’s Victory March

With at least 50 albums released by Duluth-area musicians in 2013 — including Low, Retribution Gospel Choir, Trampled by Turtles and Charlie Parr — Ryan Van Slooten’s third solo work had to be considered a long shot in a poll to choose the best local album of the year.

Well, Van Slooten can begin his Victory March; the upset is complete.

Ryan Van Slooten - Best Album

Perfect Pizza Restaurant: Thirsty Pagan

For half a century, Sammy’s Pizza dominated the local Italian pie scene with its trademark thin crust and tasty sauce. Pizza Lucé came along in 2001 and shook things up with unusual toppings and a funky vibe. These days, however, Thirsty Pagan Brewing has won over pizza connoisseurs in the Twin Ports with its deep-dish pies, loaded with Wisconsin cheese. The TPB was the clear winner in PDD’s best pizza restaurant poll.

Perfect Burger Restaurant: Anchor Bar

PDDPerfectBurgerRestaurantAwardLogoThere is no shortage of great burger joints in the Duluth area, but the undisputed king of them all for the past three decades has been the Anchor Bar. Among the other dozen nominees in Perfect Duluth Day’s poll, only the Fitger’s Brewhouse pulled a significant chunk of the vote. When the two went head to head, the Anchor took 61 percent, and the Brewhouse took 39.

Perfect Asian Restaurant: Hanabi Japanese Cuisine

Duluth was a late adopter to sushi. Although sumptuous vinegared rice rolls showed up as a special menu item at a few places around town in prior decades, it wasn’t until 2006 that Zen House opened on the city’s border, technically in Hermantown, and became the first consistent, daily sushi source. Zen House added a second location in Downtown Duluth in 2009, but Hanabi Japanese Cuisine opened at the start of 2010, immediately becoming Duluth’s sushi king. It’s also the best Asian restaurant in town, having garnered 36.6 percent of the vote in Perfect Duluth Day’s poll.

Perfect Vegetarian Menu: Duluth Grill

Duluth doesn’t have an exclusively vegetarian restaurant, but there are a number of places that go out of their way to cater to the non-carniverous. Among them, At Sara’s Table / Chester Creek Café and Duluth Grill stood out in Perfect Duluth Day’s polling, and in the head-to-head matchup Duluth Grill came out on top with 64.2 percent of the vote. It is Duluth’s best restaurant among vegetarians.

Perfect Mexican Restaurant: Mexico Lindo

PDDPerfectMexicanRestaurantAwardLogoDuluthians complain about their Mexican restaurants almost as much as they complain about the weather. The cuisinal affective disorder is prevalent enough that Perfect Duluth Day was compelled to include a “none are worthy” option in its poll to determine the best Mexican restaurant. When the voting was complete, however, one enterprise was worthy: Mexico Lindo.

Perfect Italian Restaurant: Va Bene Caffé

Mary Kay and Jim Berarducci run a tiny Italian restaurant overlooking a massive lake. The combination of cozy atmosphere, magnificent view and delicious cuisine is no accident; “va bene” is Italian for “it goes well.” Readers of Perfect Duluth Day agree it does, indeed, go well. In a poll they chose Va Bene Caffé as Duluth’s best Italian restaurant.

Mary Kay Berarducci - Va Bene

The menu includes antipasta appetizers, pizza, panini, gnocchi, pasta, fish, steak, soups and salads. Many items, such as the sauces, dressings and breads, are made from scratch with imported Italian products.

Perfect Lunch Restaurant: Northern Waters Smokehaus

When it comes to lunch in Duluth, the sandwich is king. Not one pizza place, burger joint or Asian restaurant managed to crack the top four in Perfect Duluth Day’s poll to determine the best lunch restaurants. Furthermore, the place with the best sandwiches in town, Northern Waters Smokehaus, smoked the competition. A solid majority of 55.4 percent of voters agreed Northern Waters is the best mid-day meal around.

Clearly the deliciousness is no secret — there’s almost always a noon-hour line at Northern Waters.


Perfect Restaurant: New Scenic Café

You have to leave Duluth to get to its best restaurant. The New Scenic Café is located about three miles beyond the city’s northeastern border, in Duluth Township — roughly a 20-minute drive from the center of the Zenith City. It’s a drive Duluthians and tourists alike have been happy to take repeatedly during the 14 years since chef Scott Graden and his aunt Rita Bergstedt opened their contemporary American restaurant.

Above: New Scenic Owner Scott Graden

The location on the scenic North Shore Drive is a big part of the allure, but what’s so new about this 14-year-old café? The menu, that’s what. It’s always new, changing with the seasons. Today one might try the seared duck breast or ratatouille lasagna, while six months ago the lamb meatloaf was the temptation of the moment.

Sure, it’s the kind of place ham-and-eggers will make fun of, scoffing at the prices and snickering at the notion of an “heirloom” tomato, but it’s hard to be the best restaurant in the area without a hint of snootiness. At least it’s a North Shore brand of foodie snootiness, where your flannel shirt and/or socks with sandals will fit in just fine.

Props must go out to the runners up in this poll, because the voting was close. New Scenic edged out Zeitgeist Arts Café by two percentage points, and Zeitgeist edged out Duluth Grill by three percentage points. A bit behind the top three, but still pulling nearly 15 percent of the vote, was Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar.

PDD Awards Index

Perfect New Restaurant: Pak’s Green Corner

West Duluth had never seen the likes of schnitzel or poutine, much less a pad thai burrito, until Pak Williams converted the former China Station restaurant into Pak’s Green Corner in summer 2012. The friendly and funky little Asian-fusion joint — located across the avenue from a long-shuttered auto lube — was the clear-cut winner of Perfect Duluth Day’s Best New Restaurant poll.


Above: Pak Williams with the fancy Perfect New Restaurant plaque, flanked by cook Hieng Wilaiphan (left) and waitress Vicki Boynton (right).

Pak’s got off to a rocky start following its opening day, when word of the new restaurant leaked out and a positive recommendation on PDD led to a full-house showing up for lunch on day two. With one server out sick and no one around with a strong command of how the cash register or credit-card machine worked, it was a rough day to say the least.

Now, with a full year of working out the kinks behind it, Pak’s Green Corner can claim the title of Duluth’s Perfect New Restaurant, having captured 51.9 percent of the vote. Honorable mentions go out to Tycoons Alehouse and Eatery (second place, 32.5 percent) and 7 West Tap House (third place, 15.6 percent).

PDD Awards Index

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