The Big View
Ah, Duluth... So much easier to say than, say Keegewaquampe (though in truth, the Chippewa kind of had first dibs on naming rights).
Mum and I met up in Minneapolis and pushed north to take in the promised delights of the Lake Superior region. And delight there was.
We were only there overnight, so I won't be revealing any state secrets here, but I will say that if only famed Kentucky Representative J. Proctor Knott had been able to join our foray, his bitter (though humorous) rant on The Untold Delights of Duluth might have contained more odes to pie and fewer snide remarks about the natives and the bison.
But we'll get to the pie soon enough...
First Stop: Pine City. Every road trip needs a coffee break, and you could do worse than to stop by Java Joe's Bistro in Pine City (take the town's second northbound exit unless you're amped to take the ten-minute town tour).
With a charming moose head on the wall, homey decor and a fine baker at work in the kitchen, Joe's is welcoming for the road-weary traveler. I recommend splitting one of their enormous muffins over your java.
From Joe's you can cruise along historic Highway 61 (if you're a Bob Dylan junkie) or get back on 35N and make for the lake.
Mom and I splurged for this trip and stayed at Fitger's Inn, an 1880s brewery that was renovated into a hotel with an attached complex of shops, restaurants and an operating microbrewery.
It was a fascinating place to stay, with heaps of historic detail as well as Fitger's very modern microbrew pub built right into the experience.
Immediate access from our room to Duluth's lakeside boardwalk made for both a charming twilight stroll as well as a gorgeous morning jog the following day.
Just down the way from Fitger's you'll find Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Lake, a sweet little pub with an exceedingly friendly staff who served us tasty soups and high-piled sandwiches (don't miss their spicy honey mustard).
As you can see in the photo evidence above, I got the bacon-avocado sandwich and chicken wild rice soup with a seasonal Leinkugel's, and ate it under the canopy of a gorgeous spring day... a pairing I'd recommend without reservation.
When visiting Duluth, you really can't miss a lakeside drive to see the lovely, lonely lighthouses, Gooseberry Falls State Park and, of course there must be a stopover at Betty's Pies when you're done hiking "those vast and fertile pine barrens."
Betty's serves other stuff, of course. You can get a full meal there if you want to. But clearly, you'd do well to save space for dessert. The place isn't called Betty's Meatloaf.
And yes... you do want it a la mode. The ice cream is real and it's real good. Mom and I sampled the Bumbleberry (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries) and the Great Lakes pie (a combo of apple, blueberry, rhubarb, strawberry and raspberry), and both were superb.
When dinnertime rolled around, Duluth offered up a cornucopia of interesting options (check Chowhound for the frontrunners), but we opted to stay on Superior Street and entrusted ourselves to the historic Pickwick Restaurant.
I was dying for a plate of simply cooked trout and tender-crisp vegetables alongside a quality beer, and the Pickwick provided. Mom chose a barbecued shrimp dish, which was far too sweet and gooey for me, (though I admit that might have be someone's ideal preparation). They do seem to offer a wide variety of American classics, and the beers are good.
While swooning over the tangy fruit and pastry crust of Betty's Pies, I realized that it'd been forever since I'd eaten a slice of pie that wasn't my own or the work of someone I knew personally. And there's one big reason for this: canned fillers.
It's a darn shame, but most places make pies with gelatinous canned pie filler. Why? It's cheap, easy and few people complain.
In fact, if restaurants charged what Betty's charges for its slices of pie (get ready to shell out six bucks a slice) people would complain.
But the truth is... when it comes to pie, you get what you pay for. So if you love pie, find a trustworthy baker and pay well, or make your own. Betty's inspired me with their multi-fruit combinations, so here's a pie inspired by their delicious Bumbleberry Crunch, a combo that happens to be in season at the moment
Quadberry Crumble Pie (Makes one pie)
1 9-inch single-crust pie shell
4 cups (1 quart) fresh berries (any combo of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and sliced strawberries)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon zest (optional)
Crumble Topping (see below for recipe)
Vanilla ice cream, for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. In large bowl, blend together the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest (if using).
3. Add the berries to the bowl and toss gently to coat.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and sprinkle evenly with the Crumble Topping.
5. Gently place the pie on a baking sheet, and bake for about 45-50 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown color and the juices are thickened and bubbling.
6. Move the baked pie to a wire rack to cool for several hours. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.
3 Tbsp flour
4 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1 dash salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup pecans, walnuts or pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut in 1/2" pieces
1. In a mixing bowl, blend together flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, oats and nuts.
2. Cut the butter into the mixture with a fork until the blend resembles a uniform gravel. Sprinkle atop the pie filling and bake as directed above.
Love pictures? Who doesn't? You can see the full Duluth Photo Set here.
Meanwhile, Happy Trails!
Java Joe's Bistro
1300 Northridge Ct NW
Pine City, MN
600 East Superior St
Duluth, MN 55802
Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Lake
805 E Superior St
Duluth, MN 55802
1633 Highway 61
Two Harbors, MN 55616
508 E Superior St.
Duluth, MN 55802
Gooseberry Falls State Park
3206 Highway 61
Two Harbors, MN 55616