Duluth’s Dive Duo: Don’t Judge the Quality of the Food by the Décor

Co-workers seek out great food in quirky ambiance.
By June Breneman

Victor Krause and Steven Kossett are co-workers who, over their past 20-some years of working together, have a long tradition of co-lunching once a month. They started by seeking out someplace close to work that would be quick. Nothing special.

But about eight years ago, they decided to make a special effort to go someplace different each month with a focus on little-known, hole-in-the-wall joints.

“We got tired of same old, same old,” says Victor. “So we started looking for alternatives and were really surprised by all the great food in places you could easily drive right by.”

The dining duo’s number one take-away: don’t judge the quality of the food by the décor. In fact, they now think outdated, worn-out and mismatched furnishings mean the owner’s focus is on the food, where it should be. With the list of local eateries they’ve visited topping 75, Victor adds “And I’ve come up with 30 more we still need to get to.”

MITCH’S BAR AND GRILL, 2115 W. Superior Street, is one of the hits this pair stumbled upon. The non-descript exterior and dark bar atmosphere says “Come and drink beer with your buddies!” It doesn’t leave a clue that the cook makes a taco soup “that’s out of this world,” according to Victor. “It’s like eating a taco, but it’s soup! And the prices are very reasonable. We’re going back there, for sure.”

At THE ROUNDUP, 415 E. 4th Street, the men chatted with the owner who told them he’d been in business there for 30 years. “And I’d never been there
or heard of it,” says Steven.

Of course, they had to test the restaurant’s claim to making the best burgers in town. The duo felt they had become “burger aficionados” on their monthly excursions.

“There’s something about the seasoning that sets the Roundup burger apart,” Victor notes. “And the cook fries them so the edges are crispy. They really are good.”

But Victor’s real dive test food is the Reuben Sandwich. If it’s on the menu he orders it because, as he says, “If they’re cutting corners on this simple sandwich – plain wheat bread or wimpy deli meat – where else are they cutting corners?” He ordered the Reuben at the SUNSHINE CAFÉ, 5721 Grand Avenue, and deemed it worthy – with real corned beef and great rye bread. He plans to return some Saturday morning for their famous omelets.

The two almost didn’t go into the THE DERAILED BAR AND GRILL, 502 Third Avenue in Proctor. The siding was torn off in preparation for new siding. Inside, the dark atmosphere belied the friendly service. “It’s the kind of joint where the bartender pours the regulars their drinks before they sit down,” said Victor.

And the burgers didn’t disappoint. Victor ordered their specialty burger piled high with two patties, bacon, onion rings and more. “I figured the other half would be my dinner that night,” he laughs.

Meanwhile, Steven decided a couple of years ago he needed to clean up his eating habits and cut out red meat. But he won’t give up his monthly lunch excursions with Victor, and certainly not burgers.

“But you know what really makes a great burger is that well-seasoned griddle, all that grease from years and years of burgers,” said Steven. “It’s a real treat and I look forward to it.”

More of the Dive Duos favorites:

• Big Daddy’s Burgers, 2828 Piedmont Avenue, “Huge portions, many different burger options, fresh cut potato fries.”
• Randy’s Café, 2129 W. Superior Street, “Good old home cooking.”
• Country Corner, 9498 U.S. Highway 2, Brookston, “Great snowmobile stop, well-seasoned griddle.”
• Anchor Bar and Grill, 415 Tower Avenue, Superior, “Well-known but still surprisingly great burgers.”
• Breeze Inn, 5168 Jean Duluth Road, “Not a dive, but their burgers are excellent.”