Dining outside in Duluth is often fraught with battling the elements: fierce winds, frigid temps, sun one minute, rain the next. And that's in the "good" months.
But during the pandemic, eating outdoors has never been more important. As we start to travel further away from home — and roll into al fresco dining season — here are five Duluth restaurants with outdoor spaces that offer thoughtful touches or spectacular views.
Last summer, Ursa Minor expanded its outdoor space to include the parking lot. Once winter hit, the regular patio stayed open, using fire pits to keep customers warm. In March, the parking lot space reopened to give diners plenty of room.
"There was only a handful of days we didn't have anyone on the patio through the winter," said Ashley Schwantke, the brewery's administration director. "People would come in snow pants, boots, scarves, layers and blankets. Any day above 45 degrees and sunny the patio fills up for dinner."
Ursa Minor turns out a shortlist of excellent wood-fired pizzas. The kale and ricotta-topped Voyageur is a real treat even for those who aren't vegetarian, and the Wise Yker makes good use of local meats purveyor Yker Acres with its hot sausage and smoked pork loin. But you also come for the beer, and you'll find an always-evolving list made by Ursa brewers on-site. Bear Hop IPA and Constellation Cream Ale are always on tap.
2415 W. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-481-7886, ursaminorbrewing.com
The giant wraparound deck never closed at Sir Ben's over the winter. With the need to eat outside paramount, Sir Ben's owner Josh Stotts installed propane fire pit tables to keep hardy winter diners and beer drinkers warm. He thought that would keep people coming through the fall, but, like Ursa Minor, Sir Ben's has served full tables outside even at 10 degrees.
"People were embracing it," Stotts said. "It definitely caught us by surprise."
Diners wanted to support restaurants safely and earn a badge of honor for taking a meal outdoors in bitter-cold Duluth, he said.
With warmer weather afoot, get ready to wait for tables. The popular patio offers umbrellas, pretty foliage lining the perimeter come summer and Lake Superior breezes or gales, depending on the day. Sir Ben's has a smorgasbord of local and regional beer on tap and offers a long list of soups and sandwiches. Try the pulled pork Tropical Pig or the Sir Pesto with an Earth Rider Brewery Superior Pale Ale.
805 E. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-728-1192, sirbens.com
Nestled into the hills of the Chester Creek neighborhood, At Sara's Table Chester Creek Café is beloved among residents and by those just passing through. Patio dining at the "farm to fork" restaurant is open for the season with expanded outdoor seating at the front of the restaurant. The other attached deck sits on the side of the building, giving diners a perfect swath of a Lake Superior view amid the trees — it's especially nice when the sun sets and casts a glow of pastels over the lake. Brunch is always a hit, but try some dinner entrees with a well-priced bottle of wine. The chicken Thai curry and seared salmon are popular go-tos.
1902 E. 8th St., Duluth, 1-218-724-6811, astccc.net
The Boat Club is a newer tenant in this Fitger's space, which also was once home to the Mediterranean-style Midi and Bennett's on the Lake. The dining room overlooks Lake Superior, but its outdoor seating, which opens Memorial Day weekend, gets you closer and includes umbrella-covered tables. If you want to feel like you're on that cruise you had to cancel this year, ask for a table on the wide platform that juts out into the air, with a staircase leading to the Lakewalk. It's high enough to give you that Leonardo DiCaprio/King of the World feel and is the right place for the Boat Club's Blueberry Mule and a plate of crabcakes.
600 E. Superior St., Duluth, 1-218-727-4880, boatclubrestaurant.com
For the most part, the New Scenic Café has been closed during the pandemic, but a food truck called Scenic 61 has been filling the void during the warmer months (along with a nifty meal-kit operation that owner Scott Graden started last spring). The food truck is really an Airstream trailer parked at the New Scenic lot. That means the restaurant's flower- and garden-filled grounds are an inviting place to picnic. You have your pick of deck dining, and there are enough tables to spread out and get unobstructed views of the lake. Some of the restaurant's menu items are served out of the trailer, like the classic lobster roll, the salmon burger with its unique black brioche bun and the bánh mi. You can also pick up a loaf of cardamom bread to go.
5461 North Shore Drive, Duluth, 1-218-525-6374, scenic-61.com. Check the website for the schedule.
Jana Hollingsworth • 1-218-508-2450