Yes, indeed, the cold weather is upon us. The old Meat 'n Potato Man can feel it in his joints, and on his frost-nipped fingers. What better time to search out cuisine that will warm the belly and stick with a person through the long, cold nights ahead.

This month, Meat 'n Potato Man traveled the area looking for out-of-the-way, and perhaps lesser-known, venues offering Italian fare. What I found was encouraging and perhaps I can entice you to try a sampling of what these establishments have to offer.

I started out this months search at an early dinner at the Tappa

Keg Inn near the zoo in Duluth. This bar/restaurant boasts Italian and

American dishes on their signs.

In the small but comfortable dining room I was promptly greeted with a menu and a beverage request. I scanned the menu and noted a rather limited Italian selection. If the feeble mind of the old Meat 'n Potato Man can recollect correctly, there were five offers of Italian fare, one with a couple of options. Daring as ever, I ordered the Chicken Italinia. This is a grilled chicken breast with melted provolone cheese on a bed of spaghetti.

Let me digress a bit. I remember my grade school cafeteria spaghetti -- with big, fat, overcooked noodles ... mush. I don't remember ever ordering spaghetti at a restaurant. To this day, when the future ex-Mrs. Meat 'n Potato Man serves a spaghetti dinner at home, it is made with vermicelli rather than regular noodles.

When my meal was served at the Tappa Keg Inn, imagine my trepidation when those same big fat noodles were served to me. To my surprise and delight, the spaghetti noodles were perfectly cooked, al dente. The sauce served on the chicken and noodles was very good, as was the chicken. The service was better than average. Ten dollars and 62 cents got me out the door with a happy, warmed belly.

The next stop was to the Land the Favre Forgot. I lost my mind and asked the future ex-Mrs. Meat 'n Potato Man to join me (Dutch treat) on a leisurely Saturday night dining experience.

We arrived at the Round Up North restaurant in Brule, Wis., just a bit before closing time. Our gracious waitress seated us and told us not to worry about the time. Beverages and menus were brought to the table along with a breadbasket containing delicious, warm Italian rolls. We were told to ask for more rolls whenever we wanted them.

Owners Joe and Linda Scaccia have prepared an extensive menu of homemade Italian food. I ordered the Half Spaghetti/Half Ravioli dinner and, with no independent imagination, What's Her Name ordered the other half. When the meal was served we wondered what we would do with the mountains of food brought to the table.

I dug into the fat noodles with a moment of concern that quickly vanished into the bliss of properly prepared pasta. Because we were in public, and mainly because the future ex- stopped me, I was prohibited from licking the plate. But I sure wanted to. Our table dishes were cleared and the server brought each of us a biscotti and sorbet. What a great and unexpected touch to end a marvelous meal. We each got out of the place for about $15.

The final stop for Meat 'n Potato Man, on his quest for superb Italian eats, was the Elbo Room on Superior's Tower Avenue. This stop included dinner guests, the lovely and gracious Sandy and her grumpy old husband, Bill. Oh, and What's Her Name came along, too.

The dining room at the Elbo Room is the most comfortable and well appointed of the three establishments visited. The menu featured extensive Italian offerings along with seafood and steaks. I ordered an Italian Sampler that included spaghetti, ravioli, sausage, gnocchi and probably some other stuff, covered in a spicy Italian sauce.

By this time I had overcome my childhood fear of mushy spaghetti and dug right in. My tablemates asked why the beaming smile crossed my face. It may be a first, but the old Meat 'n Potato Man could not finish the generous portions served. To top off the night, grumpy old Bill picked up the tab.

Having eaten enough pasta to run a marathon, I will suggest to you, dear reader, that each of these establishments will serve you a great meal at a good value. I was not disappointed by any of the three.

Having said that, you may run into The Meat 'n Potato Man at what I hope are many return trips to Round Up North.

The Meat 'n Potato Man can be contacted at