Northern Wilds Magazine
The Duluth Grill has become a brunch icon in the Duluth area, offering breakfast sandwiches, omelets, a variety of eggs benedict, and more, and many of their menu items are vegetarian and gluten-free. | SUBMITTED
North Shore Dish

Rise & Dine: Breakfast Bliss

The origins of the Western breakfast have been difficult for me to track down. Some sources say that farm workers often ate their first real meal mid-day and did not have much in the way of breakfast. Other sources suggest that breakfast was often leftover dinner (or supper, depending on your generation). Cereal as we know it was popularized in the late 1800s to create a convenient and “healthy” breakfast option for hospital patients. Perhaps breakfast as we know it was popularized by the food industry in the 1920s. The saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is the result of a marketing strategy initiated by none other than the nephew of Sigmund Freud.

Regardless of the origin of modern “breakfast foods,” it’s true that most of us eat breakfast. Some of us even eat breakfast for dinner. Favorites around my house include sourdough waffles, toad in a basket, an egg bake, or breakfast burritos, but sometimes it pays to try something new, and each of these restaurants is iconic in their own way. This month, we’re exploring Duluth Grill in Duluth, Britton’s Café in Ely, and Niva’s Restaurant in Thunder Bay.

Duluth Grill, Duluth

The Duluth Grill has become a brunch icon in the Duluth area. Tucked among the bustling businesses between I-35 and Michigan Street in the burgeoning Lincoln Park Craft District, the Duluth Grill is an oasis, both inside and out. You’d never guess that cars and semis are cruising along at 60 mph just a stone throw from the outdoor seating area, complete with a fire ring and plenty of seating, or around the side with a large mural painted by local artist Adam Swanson.

The inside of the Duluth Grill is a testament to its history. Originally opened in 1971 as a Highway Host, Duluth Grill took on its current form in 2008 when Tom and Jaima Hanson broke ties with Embers after creating the Duluth Grill Embers in 2001, allowing them to shift their focus to what was important to them—the ability to offer vegetarian and gluten-free menu items and to source from local suppliers. And that is where the Duluth Grill’s passion remains. The walls are adorned with paintings and prints from local artists, and the coffee is served in mugs made by Duluth Pottery, which are also available for purchase.

Only open for breakfast and lunch, the menu at Duluth Grill is flavorful and fun. They serve a variety of eggs benedict, including lamb, served with a slice of grilled tomato, lamb, and egg on an English muffin, topped with hollandaise and tzatziki sauces. They offer breakfast sandwiches and omelets, like the smoked salmon or meat lover’s omelet. And while a traditional American breakfast often includes either eggs or meat, and often both, the Duluth Grill has conscientiously created several vegan options, like their Rancheros: hashbrowns topped with black beans, fried tortilla strips, grilled corn, pico de gallo, guacamole, mojo, and house-made “eggs” with nutritional yeast.

Only open for breakfast and lunch, the menu at Duluth Grill is flavorful and fun. | SUBMITTED

The Duluth Grill also has catering available, as well as rental of their space for events during the dinner hours.

Britton’s Café, Ely

When researching for this article, it came to my attention that Britton’s Café is legendary breakfast fare.

Britton’s patrons have come to expect large, made from scratch portions of their favorite breakfast foods. Britton’s Café serves traditional breakfast dishes like biscuits and gravy, eggs benedict, and bacon and eggs. They serve omelets like a traditional Denver omelet, a bacon and avocado omelet, and a chicken fried steak omelet with country gravy. There are vegetarian options like the asparagus cheese omelet with hollandaise sauce, and veggie stuffed hashbrowns with two eggs and toast. Britton’s is known for their stuffed hashbrowns, which also come with the option of ground ham and cheese. Their pancakes are as large as the plate. If you’re lucky, you may catch the blueberry bread French toast special!

Be sure to bring cash or check if you make the trip to Britton’s Café, as they do not take credit cards, but a trip to Britton’s is worth the preparation if you want a hearty, homestyle breakfast. They open early in the summer to accommodate paddlers who want to hit the water early, but be prepared for a wait if you’re arriving during peak hours.

Niva’s Restaurant, Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay has the largest Finnish population outside of Finland. In the late 1800s many Finns traveled to the Northland, fleeing famine, poverty, and political unrest, and settled in a landscape that felt similar to home. Further immigration continued during World War II. Today, Thunder Bay has a thriving Finnish community, so it should be no surprise to find an eatery with a Finnish flair. Niva’s Restaurant is a family restaurant that strives to make all their patrons feel at home in their large dining room with a brick archway and Greek-style pillars.

For the most part, Niva’s serves a menu of traditional diner breakfast and lunch. Their Morning Burger is your choice of ham or bacon, egg, and cheese served on a toasted English muffin, and they offer several omelet choices, like the Spanish omelet with ham, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and cheese. Where Niva’s takes a turn for the unique is in their pancakes. Rather than fluffy pancakes traditionally found in diners, Niva’s offers Finnish pancakes. These pancakes are more crepe-like. Thin and moist, they are served with fruit or maple syrup. The Big Finn meal includes three Finnish pancakes, two eggs, your choice of breakfast meat, and either home fries or toast. It’s a hearty meal whether you’re a Big Finn or not.

If you want to try another traditional Finnish menu item, stop in during lunch for their Mojakka meal. It’s a Finnish soup served with bread and dessert. Alternatively, they offer hot and cold sandwiches, burger platters, and deep-fried cod.

Perhaps more important than the origin of breakfast is the manner in which we participate. Sometimes efficiency is important, and other times the experience itself is important. The Duluth Grill, Britton’s Café, and Niva’s Restaurant all work to provide both of these things, but I think they lean toward the experience. Good food, warm environments, and food that fills your belly and teases your taste buds. Cheers, to breakfast!

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