Ah, summer in Duluth, time for breakfast

tom-wilkowske3 Living on the western shores of Lake Superior, Northlanders justify a hearty breakfast with myriad excuses: Cold wind off the lake. Long summer day ahead. Long winter night ahead. It's raining. It's foggy. It's sunny. It's snowing, in May. I've used them all, but the handiest excuse for me is this:  "Dang, I've been fasting for 8 hours. " Here's my breakfast baseline: hot, fresh, fast. Eggs exactly as ordered. Real butter, clean table ware. Strong, fresh coffee. Everything else is ... bacon fat in the pan. I discovered most of these places through my former newspaper column and some I haven't visited in awhile. But most  still appear to be in good hands. There are two obvious omissions from this list -- Pizza Luce and Hell's Kitchen. I've heard about the brie-stuffed French toast and Sunday brunch at the former; I've had the Manohmin Porridge and from-scratch preserves at the latter. But I haven't personally experienced a full breakfast at either place. (Maybe a follow-up article is in order.) That said, here are some of my favorite Northland breakfast restaurants. What are yours?

Vanilla Bean Bakery & Café

812 7th Ave., Two Harbors, MN
(218) 834-3714)
A straightforward-looking café, the Vanilla Bean offers the most decadent omelet I’ve ever tasted. It’s a baked, not crepe-style, and it’s puffy, rich and full of delectable fillings, whether it’s the Mediterranean, the Yucatan or the Green Eggs and Ham (pesto, green onions – you get the idea). Area chef Scott Graden designed much of the menu before he went on to open the New Scenic Café. (The walleye and bread pudding are tops on the lunch and dinner menu.) www.thevanillabean.com

Uncle Louis’ Café

520 E. 4th St., Duluth, MN
(218) 727-4518)
This neighborhood short-order grill in Duluth’s Central Hillside brought my love of Greek culture and eggs together in one dish: the Gyros Omelet. This classic  neighborhood joint, rebuilt in 2007 after a fire, also serves up nutmeg-kissed pancakes with a bewitching flavor profile.

The Delta Diner

14385 Bayfield County Highway H, Delta, Wis.
(715) 372-6666 (MMMM))
This is a 1941 Silk City diner car, refurbished, plunked in the middle of the Town of Delta, 12 miles south of Iron River, Wis., on County Highway HH. The weird urban/rural juxtaposition is as striking as the menu contrasts – straight up omelets, Norwegian pancakes and weekend prime rib and fish fry specials lie next to more unusual items like Memphis barbecue, New Orleans red beans and rice and Hungarian goulash. My son and I always fight for the last of the sautéed pears over ice cream. Wait, that’s not breakfast. Never mind.

Sunshine Cafe

5719 Grand Ave, Duluth, MN 55807-2541
(218) 624-7013
There's nothing faux about the retro feel at the Sunshine Cafe. It's all real. The only thing lacking is layers of grease on the windows, cigarette smoke, and surly wait staff. This tidy, bright, friendly cafe serves up right-sized breakfasts (try the omelets or Swedish pancakes), made-from-scratch hot sandwiches, burgers, pie and hand-breaded walleye. If you're still in need of a lift, check out the wall 'o' inspirational Post-It notes toward the back.

Swamp Sisters Shop

7249 Industrial Rd, Saginaw, MN 55779
(218) 729-0088
Tucked inside a small barn on a historic farmstead in Twig, a few dozen miles outside Duluth, the Swamp Sisters restaurant is only open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April through November. It started as a way to sell some of the bison one of the sisters raises. The bison’s still part of the store, but now, dishes like Bonnie’s Swamp Skillet (with buffalo sausage) and Siggi’s Salsa Salad pull in the senior-centric crowd. You’ll probably share a shabby-chic antique dining room table with another party. And you’ll probably like it. www.swampsisters.com

Duluth Grill

118 S. 27th Ave. W., Duluth MN
(Phone 218-726-1150)
The Duluth Grill has chucked its link to the old Ember’s greasy spoon chain and forged out on its own. It wasn’t much of a stretch; the menu was mostly created by the Hanson family anyway. It’s now a 100-percent small neighborhood restaurant focusing on the fresh ingredients, from-scratch cooking, numerous low-fat and low-cholesterol options and even a substantial vegetarian menu. Yes, they still have burgers and big breakfasts. But you might just be tempted to order ‘em with red flannel hash (with beets, people), or a side of fruit – or have your omelets yolk-free. My son Isaac loves the fish; we all used to love the edamame (soybeans in the pod) before they were pulled from the menu. :-( Still, it’s on my family’s Top 10 list. (Website under construction: www.duluthgrill.com)

Larry’s Café and Coneys

4899 Miller Trunk Highway, No. 100, Duluth, MN
Phone: 218-740-1010
Café owner Larry Davis says he’s going for “a home-cooking-style café like the little corner cafes that used to be around here.” Although he uses a mix for pancakes, he loads them with enough of the plump, tart orbs to turn your teeth purple. Eggs come out fast and the coffee's topped off before it has a chance to cool. For lunch and dinner, Larry serves up real mashed potatoes, gravy and oven-baked meats for hot pork, beef and turkey sandwiches. Speaking of turkey: Every Sunday is a full turkey dinner made with real roasted turkey breast, not turkey roll, for $6.99. For $1 extra, you get a salad. Although he's not Greek, Davis worked for the Regas family for 37 years at Duluth’s Coney Island restaurant before striking out with his own café a few years ago. “I make my own sauce for the gyros, and also for Coneys,” he said. Between the gyros items and the Coneys, “People say mine are the best they’ve had around town,” Davis says.

The Egg Toss

41 Manypenny Ave., Bayfield, WI 54814
(715) 779-5181
Casual class is how I’d describe the Egg Toss. The menu’s sophisticated enough to serve The Crabby Benny -- Eggs Benedict, substituting a crabe cake for the Canadian bacon -- and huevos rancheros with green chile sauce, but down-to-earth enough to have the Fisherman’s Platter, a typical down-home breakfast combo and the restaurant’s most popular entrée. The Egg Toss and Maggie’s, another Bayfield restaurant, share two full-time bakers in the summer and they crank out artisan bread, croissants, cinnamon and caramel rolls and assorted pastries daily. www.eggtoss-bayfield.com
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