Taste of Duluth-Superior from Duluth~Superior Magazine

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Despite torrential rains, 175 hardy souls descended on the first-ever Taste of Duluth-Superior Wednesday evening to sample dozens of wines and fresh-made culinary delights from four of the Northland’s top restaurants.

In Ferguson Enterprises’ kitchen and bath showroom on Airpark Boulevard, they tasted  yellowfin tuna tartare, hoisin baby back ribs, roasted and fresh beet salad and loin of rabbit with prosciutto and honey fennel glaze. They tasted glasses of Italy’s Astoria Lounge Prosecco and Toad Hollow’s classic Russian River pinot noir.

And they toasted the evening’s chefs - Sean Lewis, Scott Graden, Bob Bennett and Tom Linderholm - as well as its host, Duluth-Superior Magazine, and its beneficiary, the American Heart Association.

For more of this article click here » or check out the video on Duluth Dish TV.

On their car, Duluth musicians really cook

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One cold winter not too long ago, Jason Wussow needed a ride to Taos, N.M., to visit his girlfriend. He needed to do it cheap, and he needed to eat well. The eating well part was mandatory.

So he teamed up with his friend and musical collaborator, Dan Dresser, to help him drive. They played some gigs to pay their way, and they cooked all of their hot meals on the manifold of their car.

The proof of their excellent adventure  is in their 18-minute short film, “Cooking on the Car,” culled from 6 hours of raw video shot in February of 2008 and released this spring. In July, it premiered at Wrenshall, Minn.’s Free

Range Film Festival.

Wussow runs Beaner’s Central Coffee Concert Coffeehouse in West Duluth, and his restaurant’s carefully crafted menu, from blueberry scones to red pepper hummus, speaks to his love of food. He’s not the kind of guy who’d fast food it all the way to New Mexico.

Despite the fact that two musicians were involved, their journey was not “all about the music.” It was all about the car, or more specifically, the manifold, and what they could cook on it.

Dresser convinced Wussow that they had to acquire a certain 1987 to 1991 vintage Toyota, for its ideal cooking attributes, which they bought and fixed up just for the trip. “For doing what we wanted to do, it was totally important,” Dresser says. “You could do baked potatoes or heat up cans on any car,” Dresser continues before Wussow interrupts.

Venison quiche, the first of many meals, cooked on the manifold of Dresser's 1989 Camry.

Venison quiche, the first of many meals, cooked on the manifold of Dresser's 1989 Camry.

“I’d heard about canned beans and hobo stew and ‘Manifold Destiny’ all that,” Wussow says, naming a book on the subject of car cooking. “Dan told me if we found this certain car, the engine holds a bread panjust perfect so it doesn’t spill.”

“It’s got an alumnimum heat shield so it holds the pan about a half inch off the manifold so it doesn’t burn,” Dresser says of the 2-liter marvel.

Dresser scoured the classifieds and used car dealerships for a month. Finally, for $900, they bought two totaled 1989 Toyota Camrys at a car boneyard  somewhere near the shores of Lake Superior. They raided one for parts and the other they dubbed Ellen, named after the woman whose name was on some receipts in the glove compartment. It was a Saturday in Febuary, five days before departure.

Dresser, a former body shop mechanic, scrambled to get Ellen ready in time, using a tree limb and chain at one point to bend part of the body back in line. The test drive happened Wednesday night at 11 p.m., mere hours  before their Thursday morning departure. “It drove perfectly,” Dresser says. Never mind the dings and two-tone door/body styling, it got an average of 35 mpg on the trip and had a kickin’ new stereo besides.

They wisely drove up Duluth’s steep hillside before placing their first dish in its foil-covered bread pan atop the manifold shield. “We didn’t want it to spill going uphill,” Wussow explains. About two hours — make that 90 miles later,  despite sub-zero wind chills, their noses told them their venison quiche was done. And it was good.  Surprisingly good. “I can’t believe how perfectly it was browned,” Dresser says in the film.

In Aberdeen, S.D., they bought provisions at Natural Abundance, a whole foods store, and later performed at The Red Rooster coffeehouse.  They used a similar approach to

Sara Softich, Jason Wussow and Dan Dresser, musicians and rustic gourmands, share a meal of mahi-mahi, broccoli and new potatoes in Taos, N.M.

Sara Softich, Jason Wussow and Dan Dresser, musicians and rustic gourmands, share a meal of mahi-mahi, broccoli and new potatoes in Taos, N.M.

cook their way through Hot Springs, S.D., Boulder, Colo., and Alamosa, Colo., where a blizzard waylaid them. The delay was frustrating, but it set the stage for their triumphant finish: mahi-mahi in Taos with Wussow’s girlfriend, Sara Softich, a musician who had some gigs in town.

One word of advice: don’t make “cowboy coffee” on the car engine, even though dumping grounds in a pot and boiling seems so right when you’re traveling the West. “It was bad,” Wussow admits. “I’m a coffee snob and I should have known better.” His suggestion: get the water boiling in a separate pot and use a French press for brewing.

They’d like to turn their recipes and knowledge into a cookbook to go with their video. They have a website — www.cookingonthecar.com — which is under construction. And they’re talking about another trip (note the sly “Episode 1” on their DVD’s cover.) They’re toying with ideas of combining music and food and car cooking, maybe even bringing other musicians in on the act. Picture this: player-chefs car-cook their way to a great big gig in a central location and share the food, love and music in a sort of “traveling fun show,” as Wussow puts it.

For now, they’re glad they brought the camera, which doesn’t blink. “The best stuff, you don’t even remember,” Wussow says.

Venison Quiche

Below is recipe for Wussow and Dresser’s first dish, taken from their short film, “Cooking on the Car.” Cooking distance: 90 miles, give or take 30, depending on wind-chill factor.

6 eggs

1/2 pound ground venison
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic
Canola or other high temperature cooking oil
salt and pepper to taste
Aluminum foil
Oil pan to prevent sticking. Mix ingredients. Pour into large loaf pan, cover with two layers of aluminum foil.  When it smells done — 40 to 60 miles — lift foil to check. Caution: watch for burns, a burst of steam will escap.

Ah, summer in Duluth, time for breakfast

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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.
www.deltadiner.com

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

Cooking turns little wild animals into good (enough) children

tom-wilkowske3Ah, summer vacation. Only two days in and I’m going bonkers. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. But I can’t get any writing done, much less thinking.

One great strategy to keep those little rascals busy is to let them cook.

I use the term “cook” in the broadest sense. I have to; I have three kids.

For Nina, 5, cooking is spreading peanut butter and jelly on a tortilla and making her very own PBJ burrito. For Isaac, 10, cooking is figuring out the logistics of cooking a “real” package of ramen. No “for dummies” microwaveable ramen in a cup for him, no sir. It’s all about figuring out how much water to use, what size pan, what to do in what order, how do you tell its done — all foundational skills for any cook. For Sophie, 14, the vegetarian, it’s learning she can follow a recipe and make a good pasta in cream sauce from scratch — way better than the “Pasta Sides” in a bag she used to like (and later nicknamed “Pesticides”).

A few years ago, my family discovered Mollie Katzen’s book, “Pretend Soup,” a collection of easy, kid-tasty, kid-friendly recipes. More than that, it introduces kids to the joy of making their own food. It teaches them skills and invests them in the outcome, making them much more likely to try new foods. It broadens their world.

The point is, it has to start somewhere. It starts in a messy place where mistakes are made, eggshells are left in the dough and flour is sifted over every surface of the kitchen. For me it started with my mom letting me stir oatmeal, and later, scramble eggs.

I has led to me winning a job as a food writer and a role cooking most of my family’s meals all these years, along with kudos from church potluck ladies and dinner party guests. chocolate-chip-cookie2

Cooking focuses the mind. It is something to do with our time on this Earth. It is a journey that imposes structure on the chaos of the universe and summer vacation. And it has a payoff: something to eat at the end.

Upstairs now, the journey includes cookie batter spattering on the kitchen walls (add more flour), some shouts, someone falling down giggling and someone else vowing to make his very own batch of cookies, no sharing a batch, no sir.

Then, cookie time. Silence, munching and in a few minutes, the giggling starts again.

Duluth food columnist finds new home at Duluth Dish

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Don’t forget to eat. That’s what my mother-in-law told my wife, then a teenager, just before she was left home alone overnight for the first time.

Ha! the teen thought. As if anyone could forget to eat. But a mother knows how busy things can get. She knows we sometimes get distracted and forget to take care of ourselves. She knows that no matter where we’re from, where we are or where we’re going, we all need to eat, even though we forget to sometimes.

Born in southern Minnesota, I came of age in Minneapolis, married in St. Paul, honeymooned in Europe and started a family in Duluth. Usually, I didn’t forget to eat.

From a young age, I learned to garden and fish. I learned to raise livestock at the family farm in Morristown. In Waseca, I worked the corn pack at Birdseye and the dough machine at The Pizza Parlor. Some of it was fun, much of it was hard work, but it all sustained me and let me eat.

What I’ve eaten

Eat what? Similac formula, Gerber’s baby food, old school Velveeta mac and cheese, Cap’n Crunch, dirt-flecked garden carrots and rhubarb stalks from the back yard, Cannon River panfish, beef and pork from our family farm,small-tandoori gobs of blanched sweet corn, Bridgeman’s patty melts, Mama D’s spaghetti,  tomatoes and cukes I grew behind my Phillips neighborhood duplex, paella in northern Spain, tapas in Madrid, tandoori in Paris, my own made-from-scratch tofu, crock pot wild game, Mississippi River walleye, Bluff Country brown trout, St. Louis County venison, the peanut butter and cheese sandwich I made last week and Grandma Marx’s filled coffee cake I made on Wednesday. That and more.

From 1999 to 2001, I wrote stories for the Duluth News Tribune’s Taste and Home and Garden sections. Chefs and home cooks shared their creative passions with me. So did gardeners, who raved about their heirloom garlic, their berries and their hard-won northern tomatoes.

And from 2004 to 2008, I wrote a weekly dining column, “A Table for Two.” Nribs-smallot a review per se, it was a one-shot visit to a restaurant, with a guest who wrote to me and nominated a favorite menu item. I dined with close to 200 guests, whose ages ranged from 9 to 89. We feasted on bar burgers, 1-pound lobster tail, Thai tofu curry, burritos, onion rings, ribs, omelets, jerk chicken and gaucho steak, Lake Superior whitefish, old school Velveeta mac and cheese and one fabulous 79-cent raised glazed doughnut at the T. Patten Cafe in Orr.

I interviewed my guests, got their reaction to the meal before us and reported their opinion under one heading. And under my heading, “Tom’s Take,” I wrote mine. I disagreed with my guests a few times over execution and matters of personal taste, but mostly I was an easy critic, unless the food was off, overhyped or both.

Food comforts

Then on Dec. 4, I got some news. It was a family day, the seventh anniversary of our son Asher’s stillbirth. As we’d done each year since that date, we went to the Superior National Forest to cut our Chriashers-bonbonsstmas tree. We’d brought snacks and hot chocolate and cider. On the way home, we’d stopped for Lemon Angel Pie at the Rustic Inn, up on the North Shore near Two Harbors. There, we felt compelled to buy some candy we’d never heard of before: Asher’s Chocolates, made in Pennsylvania since 1892.

Within minutes of arriving home on that beautiful day, the phone rang. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” my editor said. “They’re cancelling your column. I’m really sorry.” Management had downsized the Wave, the weekly arts & entertainment section where my column ran. We discussed one more column I had in the works, and a farewell column, which was later vetoed by management. “I understand,” I told her at the time. “I sort of wondered if this was coming.”

tomatoI’m not so sure I did understand. I felt more like Greg Brown in his song “Canned Goods:” “With the snow and the economy and everything/I think I’ll just go down there and eat until spring.” As a freelance writer, I couldn’t hide in Grandma’s cellar and eat, even though at times I wanted to. Over the next few months I scrambled for new work, even as I lost another writing client, which represented nearly all of my income. I became depressed and found it difficult to work. Despite other serious symptoms, though, I was always able to remember to eat, helped no doubt by my naturally high metabolism. “It takes a lot to turn off my appetite,” I told my doctor.

A renewal

Then, this spring, doing online research for another food story, I found something new popping up in my search results: DuluthDish.com. Articles like “Minnesota Steak and Why You Should Eat Intentionally” caught my eye. So did the short stories and the listings, featuring some of my favorite restaurants and food purveyors.small-blueberries

So I’m happy to be joining Duluth Dish, where I’ll write about restaurants, food and food people from our region and beyond. I’ll write about wild blueberries, wild rice and wild trout. I’ll tweet meals from restaurants and kitchen experiments from home. I’ll post odd quips, videos, photos and essays. I’ll draw on a background of nearly 200 “Table for Two” reviews, all the food I’ve ever eaten and most of all, my taste buds.

But it’s not all about me. It’s about you, too.

I’d love to see us build a community here and get some spirited discussions going up and down the food chain: from who has the best French fries to what Duluth needs next in its culinary evolution, from cheap eats to expensive treats — and why anyone would want to make their own tofu. I’ll do what I can to help things along.

Sign up, post comments, email, tweet, and get your own blog going here. Use Duluth Dish to connect with people who share your passion for food.

And please, no matter what else you do, don’t forget to eat.