LOCAL PAIRINGS: New Scenic Café – A Tucked Away Gem on Scenic 61

The New Scenic Café has been on my “must try” restaurant list for years. How is it possible that I have lived in the Northland for more than three decades without ever making a stop, you must be asking yourself. Simple: I was being kinda judgy! I am delighted to report, however, that I was very wrong.

Mike (my husband, who is also the photographer for the story) and I enjoyed a delicious meal geared towards our more simple tastes. No escargot for us … not that there’s anything wrong with that! Our meal was paired with the perfect varieties of icy cold beer to complement our meal in New Scenic’s classy, yet simple and comfy ambiance.

Please join me for an adventure in the art of pairing delicious food with local beverage–as I eat, er … crow … and other items … at the New Scenic Café!

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New Scenic Café

Located just eight miles out of Duluth on Scenic Highway 61, the New Scenic Café is plunked directly across the highway from Lake Superior. It has been open since 1999. The talented, capable Scott Graden is both the owner and the executive chef.

The exterior of the single-story restaurant is surrounded by tomatoes, herbs, and flowers growing with abandon in a variety of pretty containers. There is a huge fire pit surrounded by Adirondack chairs, the likes of which I recognized from New Scenic’s logo.

Surprisingly, there is a yurt next door to the restaurant. According to our server, Anni Friesen, Graden also owns a yurt-building business, and the yurt is available for private parties.

New Scenic has a variety of local delights for sale inside the restaurant: maple syrup, granola, books, and marmalade. The eatery’s interior is wood-paneled, with tiny vases of wildflowers at each table. Local art hangs from the walls, and while the dining is certainly upscale, you’re surrounded by a rustic, modern day cabin-ish vibe.

Mike and I felt comfortable dressed semi-casually (me in a blouse and jeans; he in a polo shirt and dress pants). The bits and pieces of conversation we unintentionally overheard were snippets about Georgia O’Keeffe art, muscle memory, and details of airplane flights earlier in the day.
Based on this incredibly loose observation, I sensed that we were surrounded by artists, athletes, and frequent fliers. As I mentioned, our server’s name was Anni. A former marketing employee for the Whole Foods Co-op, she is definitely a professional. Very bubbly and helpful, and when she didn’t know the answer, she happily found someone who did.

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What We Ordered

We dined there in July on another muggy, delicious (almost just a memory) summer day. Once again, I was craving something on the lighter side. I opted for the “Heirloom Tomato Sandwich,” paired with Bent Paddle’s Paddle Break Blonde. According to Anni, the Belgian-style Blonde Ale was “light and summery, but could still ‘stand up’ to my sandwich.” Indeed it could. My beer wouldn’t take flak from anybody!

The menu described my sandwich thusly: Fresh mozzarella, basil, garlic chips, shallot, truffle oil, ciabatta. This was definitely a thick, messy sandwich of the knife and fork variety. Featuring several perfectly salted and peppered slices of yellow and red tomatoes, and thick, round circles of mozz, I actually gave one slice of my ciabatta to Mike, so I could clean my plate like a good girl.

The combination of the green basil, yellow and red tomato, and white cheese was a beautiful study in color contrasts, making the food look uber-appealing. The ciabatta (from New French Bakery) was toasted, and the subsequent toasty crunch of the bread paired with the softness of the cheese and juiciness of the tomato was heavenly.

I was expecting garlic chips, as in potato chips, but they were actually tiny chip pieces sprinkled liberally on top of the sandwich. Anni explained that they use something called “elephant garlic,” and the chips are soaked in milk and then deep fried. Intriguing, right?

My sandwich came with a thick chunk of garlicky dill pickle, and two slabs of “Juan Canary melon.” Ever heard of Juan Canary melon? We hadn’t, either. According to Wikipedia, Juan Canary melon has “A distinctively sweet flavor that is slightly tangier than a honeydew melon.” I would concur; it was perfectly ripe, exotic, and very yummy.

Any Bachelor fans out there? For those of you in the know, you’ll be amused to hear that we enjoyed a few off-color “Juan Pablo Canary melon” jokes as we polished off our fruit.

Mike, ever the man’s man, once again chose the burger. Normally, it is served with greens, shallot, tomato, and Gruyere, but he prefers his plain. The burger was thick and generous and served on something called a “Stirato roll,” which was square with toasty edges and a soft center.

The French fries (sorry, frites) were served in a separate metal cylinder lined with brown paper. They were an additional $6, but they were very good fries. They were thin, slightly curved, and seasoned simply with sea salt. Mike’s burger also came with a side of the Juan Canary.

With Anni’s guidance, Mike paired his burger and fries with a Castle Danger Summer Crush, which had notes of summery lemon and malted barley.

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The Verdict – Food

Perhaps one wouldn’t think that a simple tomato sandwich could be a full and satisfying meal, but I would argue to the contrary. Add some fancy accessories like basil and truffle oil, and you have got yourself a fresh-tasting, perfect summer meal. Although I got a tomato sandwich and Mike got a burger and fries, we both left equally full and happy.

The Verdict – Beer

With hints of citrus and Belgian yeast, the Paddle Break Blonde was a delicious complement to my light, summery sandwich. And Mike’s Summer Crush, with lemon flavor and aroma, Sorachi Ace Hops, and malted barley, was an excellent contrast to his hamburger.

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Final thoughts

New Scenic Café was upscale and fancy, but not uncomfortably fancy. Know what I mean? So don’t be intimidated by the menu like I was. The staff is welcoming and friendly, and the atmosphere is casual. The menu also features an extensive wine and beer list; the servers are well-versed in the art of pairing the perfect beverage with your menu choice. While you will pay a bit more (the tomato sandwich was $13; a burger was $15; and frites were an extra $6), you will almost certainly be okay with this because in exchange, you will enjoy delicious cuisine made with homegrown produce and rare ingredients, all expertly prepared.

You will be given the opportunity to “sign the book” after you eat. This is a super fun way to read previous diners’ reviews and recommendations while you let your food settle. Be sure to check out our entry from July 14!

In closing, I would highly recommend New Scenic for a lunch or dinner on your next trip up the North Shore, or for a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary. Don’t let some puny little snails scare you off; there are plenty of opportunities for more casual nourishment, along with fine dining, at New Scenic Café!

Where will we go next? We have no idea! Join us for the next issue of Duluth.com, where we’ll once again give the art of food and beverage pairing the ol’ college try!

Written By Andrea Busche for Duluth.com the Magazine. Photos by Mike Busche.

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