TAKE 5 - A Reader's Guide to Northland Eateries
You chose them, Northlanders. So, here they are. Living North Magazine's Facebook friends were asked which local "Mom & Pop" restaurant held the most appeal. After more than 3,500 votes, the scores were tallied and five local restaurants came out on top. If you haven't already visited these delicious diners, stop by, grab a menu and try the signature dish. Tell them Living North sent you and be sure to let us know what you think at www.facebook.com/living.north.
No. #1 with 516 votes
WHAT TO TRY: TRY THE SAMMY'S SPECIAL WITH A SIDE OF BREADSTICKS AND OLIVE SALAD
When thinking of Mom & Pop restaurants, Sammy's Pizza wouldn't necessarily top the list. But with almost double the votes of the number two placeholder, you Northlanders have spoken.
Upon closer inspection, the restaurant chain that originated in Hibbing does begin to fit the Mom & Pop criteria. Each of the chain's 17
locations is owned by a member of the Perrella family, and all locations
use the same secret recipes developed by Grandma and Grandpa Perrella
more than 50 years ago.
"We very much have chosen not to play the game with the chains of who can make the cheapest pizza," said Jim Acheson, owner of Sammy's Pizza Lakeside in Duluth. "We've done everything in our power to stay consistent over the years and do things exactly the way they were done in the 50s."
That begins with a dough, made fresh daily, and hand-tossed to create a thin crust. At the Lakeside location, Acheson's son, John, is often seen tossing dough in the air. Sammy's secret sauce blankets the crust and
is topped with ingredients of choice, including slices of mozzarella cheese
purchased through a Burnett, Wis., dairy business. The finished product
bears no preservatives or chemicals.
One thing is certain, the customers keep coming. According to Acheson,
his location sends out more than 700 pizza in a typical week.
Although Acheson attributes his success to his loyal local customers,
people from out of the area are just as fanatic about their love of Sammy's
Mark Ensign of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, wrote, "When I'm back in
Duluth I always include a family dinner at Sammy's Pizza." People located
everywhere from the Twin Cities to New York all wrote in to share their
love of Sammy's.
"We've won many best pizza awards," says Acheson, "but it's
particularly exciting to have won a best local restaurant competition
because that means people see us as more than a pizza shop."
While pizza does dominate sales, the restaurant chain has made it a
point to include other offerings. Items such as subs, pasta and roasted
chicken are all available for those who may want slightly less, ahem,
415 Sunnyside Drive, Cloquet
No. #2 with 291 votes
WHAT TO TRY: GO FOR THE FISH SANDWICH WITH A SIDE OF ONION RINGS, FOLLOWED BY A FRESH BLACKBERRY SHAKE
Gordy's Hi-Hat is no stranger to publicity. Earlier this year it was featured on an episode of the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives."
Restaurant owner Dan Lundquist was glad to be a part of the show and has
no beef with its host, Guy Fieri.
"You see him on TV and you think he's quirky but really he's this super-nice, hardworking family guy," he says.
So what makes this 51-year-old diner a place hamburger-loving customers
just can't resist?
Lundquist says it's all about the consistency.
"If you were here 10 years ago, you're still going to get the same burger."
The trick, Lundquist says, doesn't come from fancy spices or 30-day cures; it comes from the quality of care that goes into making each sandwich or burger just right.
"I always hate when people come in and expect you to be this huge, gourmet,
expensive experience," says Lundquist. "We do fast, fresh food."
Gordy's is known for its fish sandwich: light flaky pollock piled with lettuce and smeared with a dollop of mayonnaise, on a freshly toasted bun. "It's not puffy or greasy," Lundquist says, explaining that he refuses to use frozen fish patties.
Instead, each piece of pollock is hand-cut and hand-battered every day by one of the restaurant's 75 employees.
Lundquist inherited the diner from his father, Gordy.
"Growing up in this business, I swore I'd never come back," said Lundquist,
who tried other careers for a time. But the allure of becoming a restaurateur finally won out. "I always said I'd never be like my dad, but I kind of am -- except my dad has more hair."
Gordy's Hi-Hat is clearly a family-run business with at least one Lundquist
family member present at all times. The customers have become a sort of
extended family; first-name basis quickly becomes the norm and their photos
adorn the wall.
Lisa McDonell of Duluth has been a customer for nearly 25 years and highly
recommends the fish sandwich.
"The service is A-plus," says McDonell. "No matter how busy they are it never takes long, and they always wait on you with a smile."
118 S. 27th Ave. W.
No. 3 with 253 votes
WHAT TO TRY: GLUTEN-FREE THAI CHICKEN PIZZA, FOLLOWED BY HOMEMADE RHUBARB SORBET
The owners of Duluth Grill have made it their mission to create a finished
product worthy of both those who worry about what goes into their food and
those who worry about how it tastes.
"We wake up every single day and worry about our customer experience,"
said Tom Hanson, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Jaima. "I always tell my cooks that they might serve 400 meals today, but a customer only eats one."
No matter which of the over 100 menu options a diner may choose, one thing
is for sure - a lot of care went into its creation.
All of the meat used in the various dishes is purchased from local farmers.
Each ingredient in every dish is sourced and most are purchased from local
companies or artisans. Many condiments, such as ketchup and caramel sauce,
are made fresh right in the Duluth Grill kitchen. The Hansons' home has more than 4,000 square feet and the restaurant is surrounded by 175 square feet of garden space where the Hansons and their staff grow vegetables and herbs which are incorporated into menu items. The gluten-free Thai chicken pizza, for instance, features a house-made spicy peanut butter sauce and is sprinkled with garden-fresh cilantro.
The restaurant has gone through a major evolution in the 10 years it has been opened. Originally an Embers, the Hanson's dissolved that partnership and struck out in their own direction. They began by adding vegetarian entrees and have now expanded to include gluten-free meals.
"As a vegetarian family, we love their flexitarian menu," says Jessie Melander of Superior. "And there are enough hearty truck-stop diner style options on the rest of the menu to satisfy even the most carnivorous of our friends and relatives. It's one of the few places the whole group can always agree on."
Customers aren't the only people the Hansons care about pleasing. The
restauranteurs say they donated more than $20,000 to local charities last year in an effort to give back to the community they call home. The staff of Duluth Grill also reap the benefits of the Hansons' continued success. Each employee working more than 16 hours per week is offered health, vision and dental insurance - something nearly unheard of in the small business world.
Of his generosity, Hanson simply says, "We're just typical people. We're
trying to make a living and support our community."
Dixie Bar & Grill
2505 Hwy 2, Two Harbors
No. 4 with 247 votes
WHAT TO TRY: THE FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHT ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT FISH FRY, ACCOMPANIED WITH (WHAT ELSE?) A HEAPING PLATE OF FRENCH FRIES
If you want to be served a plate of fresh pollock with crispy, crunchy
batter, look no farther than the Dixie Bar and Grill.
But you have to find it first.
Once on Highway 2, the average travelers may find themselves wondering if they are on a wild goose chase. Surrounded by woodland with intermittent bursts of prairie, the possibility that a restaurant exists on this wild stretch of road seems unlikely.
"Most people call us from the hill," says Deanna Larson, who owns the
Dixie with her husband,Scott. "I just tell them to keep on driving."
Though considerably off the beaten path, the low-key restaurant is
well worth the trek, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when the
all-you-can-eat fish fry is in full swing. Customers come from all over to
partake of plates mounded with hand-breaded fish and French fries.
"The fish fry is awesome," says Jeannine Hatfield of Two Harbors. "I've
had their burgers here, too. They're thick and juicy and have that real
burger taste, not that artificial stuff like McDonald's."
The Dixie has 15 burgers on the menu, with a new burger as the
special each Thursday. Customers are welcome to pitch their ideas for the
But the fish fry is what keeps customers coming back. The recipe
hasn't been changed for nearly 30 years, even though the Dixie has had
many different owners. The Larsons took over five years ago and added
a bottle shop and gas pumps, drawing in many more local customers.
"We have an extensive loyal customer base," says Scott. "It's not
uncommon to see the same people in here three or four times in one
The owners attribute the restaurant's success to the loyalty of locals,
though tourist season never hurts. Snowmobilers and ATV club members
make up a large portion of their customer base.
The Larsons weren't too surprised to learn they'd won a place in the
Top Five. "We're a real Mom and Pop shop," says Scott. "Mom and Pop
are here 90 percent of the time."
"We sure act like Mom and Pop to all our dang employees," adds
Mom and Pop? Well... almost.
"Working here is like having twelve wives but not all the benefits,"
Scott says with a laugh. The waitstaff is comprised of women - none of
who had a problem telling Scott to change into a Dixie Bar and Grill
sweatshirt for the Living North photo shoot.
413 Tower Avenue, Superior
No. 5 with 233 votes
WHAT TO TRY: GO FOR THE CASHEW BURGER AND A MUG OF WISCONSIN-BREWED BEER
The sign on the wall reads "Sorry, we're open." The place is usually
packed, noisy and dim, and the wait staff are a no-nonsense lot. It is this
type of attitude that has stuck as the Anchor Bar's image leading customer
Paul Smith of Cloquet to name it "the ultimate dive bar."
When questioned about the joint's seeming indifference to customer service, owner Adam Anderson smiles and says, "I think it's just the
reputation people have that's set in their minds. We're a lot better. We're
slowly getting away from that."
Many customers actually like the unpretentious feel offered in the shadowy bar and grill.
"It's kind of like my house," says Deidra Hill of Foxboro, Wis. "You go
into other restaurants and it's so bright and shiny."
Hill says the Anchor has the best burgers around and she patronizes
the place every chance she gets because she knows she can get a a cheap
Burger prices start at just $2.75 and a heaping mound of fries can be
added for only $1.25. Just because the food is affordable, doesn't mean the
Anchor skimps on quality. Anderson says the 120-plus pounds of ground
beef used daily to make burgers comes from Superior Meats and the buns
are delivered fresh from Twig Bakery.
Anderson's father opened the restaurant in 1977. When his father
passed away in 2008, Anderson was working as a chef at a country club
down in the Twin Cities. Though he's a culinary school graduate, he
didn't try change the menu or the atmosphere.
"We focus on one thing and that's making a good burger," says