James Norton says the current restaurant situation up north is "out of control."
The new food editor at The Growler magazine recently went on a tour of some of the many new restaurants popping up in the Twin Ports of Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis.
"It's a little unfair to ask me to try to keep track of all of it," he said. "It's not just that there's so many new spots opening up in Duluth and Superior; the overall quality is so high, it's a lot to take in."
He did, however, have an idea of where to start.
The deli's menu revolves around hot and cold sandwiches, salads and soups. Norton and his group had a reuben that was "good as anything I tried when I was living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan."
It wasn't piled as high, with a balance between the pastrami and the rest of the ingredients.
"But the meat was so flavorful and rich, and the rye bread was so legitimately full-flavored, which you don't always see, that the sandwich was a real treat," he said.
And Love Creamery is doing some really tasty ice cream, including affogatos made with Duluth Coffee Company coffee, Norton added.
The two eateries are part of the burgeoning scene in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, which includes the OMC Smokehouse, Frost River outfitters, Duluth's Best Bread and the new Bent Paddle Brewing taproom, Norton said.
For those looking for a menu with some range, head to Martha's Daughter outside of Canal Park on Superior Street.
"You can order a Coney Island hot dog, you can get ma po tofu, why not some ramen, or a seaweed salad, for starters," Norton said. "And I've had dozens of spins on fried chicken and waffles but I can confidently say the Martha's Daughter version is one of my lifetime top two or three."
And that's just the Duluth restaurants. Here's what's happening in Wisconsin:
"Sclavi's is a newly rebooted red sauce Italian-American joint and it has such a warm, fun, unpretentious vibe that my family and I felt immediately welcome," he said.
Pak's Green Corner also got a nod from Norton. The Thai restaurant was catapulted into a strange world of fame and intrigue a few years ago when it was featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" with Guy Fieri, and then promptly shut down.
"It re-opened and it's doing Thai fusion that I think is most noteworthy for how subtle it is — the flavors are deep and complex, but not too overwhelming ... which is a clever compromise between no-holds-barred Thai cuisine and the dreaded Midwestern palate," Norton said.