It always seemed that, for much of my childhood, trying to find decent eats in Duluth was a chore. During my family’s trips to my grandparents’ house or my brothers’ hockey tournaments, I’d find myself eating, to wildly varying degrees of success, at places like Grandma’s Bar & Grill, Red Lobster, the thoroughly mediocre Pickwick, and that rotating restaurant on top of the Radisson.
Since then the town has clearly stepped up its game. Quality options now range from finer establishments like Nokomis, to the cozy charm of At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Café, and better locales for the college set like Pizza Luce and Burrito Union.
And then there’s Fitger’s. The beloved brewpub has been slowly expanding its empire and its newest arm has received a justifiably warm welcome.
Open since New Year’s Eve, Tycoons Alehouse and Eatery sits only a few blocks down Superior Street from the brewery. It’s housed in a massive old building, constructed at the turn of the century to be the city council chambers and jail. They’ve done a spectacular job with the space, keeping an air of old-fashioned elegance along with the modern touches (check out the bank vault-turned-TV lounge in the back).
Their main menu is very nearly a carbon copy of that found at Fitger’s, and features little outside of ordinary-sounding pub grub — some standard appetizers, a few salads, and a set of entrees almost entirely comprising sandwiches.
But one shouldn’t expect to see endive gratins or sous-vide lamb at a bar in downtown Duluth. What they serve fits their ethos, harking back to the days of Duluth’s peak of prosperity. It’s workman-like, everyday fare, and what we’ve tasted so far is quite decent.
The main draw of Tycoons is its offering of Fitger’s brews and ciders. We quite like the well-balanced Starfire Pale Ale as well as the Farmhouse Special Reserve -– a Belgian-style ale brewed with orange peel, which feels like a better Blue Moon mixed with the body and alcohol of Chimay.
Another much lauded local product is found all over Tycoons’ menu – the smoked fish from the incomparable Northern Waters Smokehaus. A good bet for a great Duluth-centric happy hour would be a couple brews and the Lake Superior Smoked Fish Plate ($12), which features Lake Trout and Whitefish from Northern Waters, with a standard herb cream cheese, capers, hard-boiled egg slices, and wine crackers. Also worth a look are their tasty mussels ($12), served in both French and Italian styles.
Tycoons is currently debuting a “Market Menu” of rotating entrée specials with an eye on incorporating local ingredients. The initial menu looks promising, including barbecue ribs braised in Fitger’s Apricot Wheat Beer, Red Lake walleye, and herb-crusted half chickens.
Adding to Tycoons’ intrigue is what will become of the “rathskellar” – the beautiful arch-filled former jail space in the basement. It could simply be opened up for more dining or private parties. But there are rumors about it becoming a membership bar with higher-end beers; others allude to a more speakeasy-style cocktail hangout. Tycoons is keeping somewhat tight-lipped on the subject, but look for whatever it will be to open up around March.
Overall, Tycoons is a good fit for downtown Duluth. The atmosphere is both upscale and laid back, the food is serviceable, the beer is great, and the stage up front ensures a good crowd on weekends (Minneapolis favorites The 4onthefloor packed the house last Friday). It’s not a gastronomic revelation, but it’s exactly the kind of establishment Duluth needs more of.
Eric Faust contributed to this story.
Tycoons Alehouse and Eatery
132 E Superior Street
Duluth, MN 55802