Thursday, June 27, 2013

Duluth and Superior - the non-Running Portion

Last weekend we headed north - way north. Holly was participating in Grandma's Marathon that takes place along Duluth, MN's shoreline of Lake Superior. In today's post we will cover the businesses we visited over the weekend. We will have more on the race in an upcoming post.

We never realized how far north we were going. Dave was surprised to see we were farther north than Ottawa and that businesses in Thunder Bay were advertising in Duluth. The temperature dropped about 30 degrees from the start of our drive until we reached our destination. The weather report wasn't looking too promising so we were sorta prepared for damp, foggy conditions.

We planned a lunch stop in Eau Claire, Wisconsin at the Northwoods Brewpub. The decor was straight-up Wisconsin log cabin theme: canoes, bear rugs, green and red plaid, etc. We each ordered a pint ($3.25 for 20oz), got a couple free samples of other flavors and ordered sandwiches.  Northwoods offered around 8-10 of their own beers on tap. Out of the 4 we tried we only liked one. Our sandwiches were not that good either. So next time we go this way we will take a pass on this place.

We can't stress enough that this was a boring drive. We had no cellular data availability between The Dells and Eau Claire. Lots of trees - which were pretty, but that's about it. We hit some rain on the way up and that added to the blahs of sitting in the car for so long.

When we pulled into Superior, WI (the location of our hotel) we met the thickest fog we had seen in a long time. We knew Lake Superior was just to our right, but we could not see it.

Living close to Wisconsin gives us a familiarity with some of the exports from the state - beer, bratwurst and other sausages, and cheese. This trip we learned about a new touristy item - wild rice. Almost every gas station and road-side cheese store was advertising wild rice. Apparently it's as normal up here as cheese.

We quickly checked into our hotel and headed over to Duluth for the race expo. Still no visibility as we crossed over the bridge. It wasn't until race day that we were able to see downtown Duluth. There appeared to be a few good walkable blocks of nice bars and restaurants. Unfortunately we booked too late and ended up in Superior (and that was unfortunate for more than one reason).

After the expo we drove towards our planned dinner location and noticed a microbrewery on the way. We stopped at Bent Paddle Brewing Company and enjoyed a pint in their really nice taproom. They had two flagship beers - a Black Ale and an IPA plus a few seasonal rotations. We are happy to report dark beers outnumbered the IPAs!! We tried the Black Ale and the Calibration Dark on nitro. Both were very good and we wish we could buy these beers at home. Prices were decent too - $3 for 10oz, $4 for 16oz, and $5 for 20oz. They did not have a kitchen but we guess folks could bring in their own food.
Our final stop of the evening was Clyde's Iron Works. This restaurant was in the same old industrial district where Bent Paddle was and it looked like the area was going through a slow revitalization. Clyde's used to be home to a steel refinery and manufacturing site of heavy machinery used in logging and construction. Today they hosts events, concerts, and have a nice casual restaurant. You can even play bocce and big chess inside. Dave tried their signature label beer - Clyde's Lager and it was pretty good. His pork sandwich was good while Holly's spaghetti and meatballs were average.

The next morning was race day. After trekking back to our Superior hotel (keep in mind that is not a description of our lodging) and changing we went back to Duluth for some lunch and post-race celebration.

Race events and concerts were scheduled to go on all night and that kept the area around Canal Park pretty busy. Our instinct was to go a few blocks north to Fitger's Brewhouse for lunch. Short-story, Fitger's is located in a large building that was originally a brewery built in the 1870's. The brewery closed in the early 1970's. Now the building is a small shopping center housing several stores and restaurants. Fitger's had several of their own beers on tap along with a few guest breweries. We had a really good lunch that included sausage corn chowder, burgers, fries, and onion rings. All the food was top-notch and the beer was good, not great.

We trekked back to the Canal Park area. This seemed to be the central entertainment district of town. We visited Canal Park Brewing which was quite a contrast to Fitger's old-time feel. This place was a modern space with a mix of wood, concrete, and steel. We were here for drinks but were drooling over the food that passed by. We were also lucky to take in some live music while enjoying our drinks. Dave started out with a large porter while Holly went with the nut brown. After that Dave tried a sampler of four other beers. All were pretty decent and well-representative of their styles. Their beer menu was essentially a stack of large flash cards on the table with some nice photography and good product descriptions.
We were hoping the fog would have cleared by the time we finished our beers so we could take in a little bit of the lake and Canal Park. It didn't. So we headed back to Superior to hit our dinner spot: The Thirsty Pagan. The main reason we chose The Thirsty Pagan for dinner was the fact it was a microbrewery. Surprise! The inside had a ton of character. Antique regional beer signs and posters all over the walls. There was a performer singing and playing guitar in the main bar room. They offered 10 of their own beers plus a full bar. We each ordered drinks and a pizza to go. We really enjoyed this place.
We went back to the hotel, put the pie in our room and walked across the street to Hammond's Steak House for a cocktail. What we found out was Hammond's was on the second floor with a different entrance than the one we went through. We ended up in a bar attached to a liquor store on the lower level. Perfectly fine place. We met a nice couple who actually turned out to be board members of the marathon. We had a lot of fun talking with them and learning more about the area - and their two days of summer.
The next morning we started the trek back home. We got a recommendation for a good local breakfast place but opted for the Best Western so we could get out of town as soon as possible. We decided we'd find a place to eat in The Wisconsin Dells - which is a big tourist area north of Madison. Holly found Moose Jaw Pizza and Dell's Brewing Company not too far off the highway. This location also opted for Wisconsin-chic with chandeliers resembling antlers and the required mounted deer heads. Dave (whom wasn't driving the next leg) had the 6-point sampler of beer. The beers were pretty good, but all light-bodied. Lunch portions were so big we ended up having a slice of toast with peanut butter for dinner.

From a brewery-enthusiast point-of-view the weekend was a success. We had some decent (bar) food and got to see a new area of the Midwest. Too bad we never saw the number one tourist attraction.

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