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The land of the frozen locavores

August 24, 2011 |  6:00 am

DuluthFun fact: In Duluth, Minnesota, the average HIGH temperature is near or below freezing for five months of the year. I'm not pointing that out just to be mean, but to emphasize how remarkable the Duluth Grill is. It's one thing to go all locavore when you're in California; it's another thing entirely when you're on the shore of Lake Superior, which freezes solid in the winter.

But that's the goal of owners Jaima and Tom Hanson and their family and kitchen crew. On the back of every menu there's a long list of where many of their ingredients come from: the milk, cream and butter ("in returnable bottles") from Dahl's Sunrise Dairy in Babbitt, whitefish from Lake Superior Fish Company, grass-fed beef from Mark Thell, maple syrup harvested locally by the Rogotzke family ... Furthermore, they offer health coverage to all employees working more than 16 hours a week and the fryer oil goes into Arnie Vanio's diesel Mercedes.

Granted, this isn't Chez Panisse. It's in a rundown part of town, just off the freeway. The menu leans much more toward burgers and the like (though the whitefish is excellent). There are only two items on the menu that cost more than $15 and there is zero attitude. In fact, the place started as a Highway Host truck stop and the long counters still remain. In it's own way, though, Duluth Grill may even be more important, demonstrating that this kind of idealism isn't just for urban sophisticates willing to pay $25 for appetizers.

And then there's the rhubarb crisp, spiked with cranberries and topped with a big spoonful of vanilla ice cream.

--Russ Parsons

Photo credit: Duluth Grill waitress Moriah Mattevi by Russ Parsons.