Downtown Duluth is often overlooked by tourists — Canal Park is the focus of most visits. The quaint shops of the DeWitt Seitz building and the allure of the aerial lift bridge are among the attractions that keep Little Angies, Thai Krathong, Hell’s Kitchen, and Lake Avenue Cafe busy. The feel of downtown Duluth has drastically changed for the worse with the recent addition of the Norshor Gentleman’s Club which is down the street from the Fond-du-Luth Casino and the Last Place on Earth. On the flip side: The Zeitgeist Arts Cafe opened their doors a few weeks ago, joining Restaurant 301 in an attempt to bring fine dining and artisan food to downtown Duluth.
Funded by the A.H. Zeppa Family Foundation, the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe is one of three Zeitgeist Arts projects that seek “to create socially responsible and environmentally sustainable enterprises that support and celebrate the arts.” The other two projects are Teatro Zuccone, a 120-seat theater, and Zinema 2, Duluth’s only independent movie theater. They join the cafe in a complex that overlooks Superior Street in downtown Duluth.
The flashy orange topped bar features a cocktail menu that blends classic and custom cocktails. The Sidecar ($7.50), Old Fashioned ($7.50), Sazerac ($7), and Pisco Sour ($8) are reminders of the balance and sophistication of the earliest cocktails. The Pisco Sour uses Don Cesar Pisco, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters, and egg white. If you can get over the thought of raw egg shaken over ice there is a depth in the drink that can be appreciated and enjoyed. Upon first taste, the drink is cold, which allows for the taste of the egg to come through, but as it warms the sweetness of the pisco and the tartness of the lime assert themselves.
The Air Mail ($6) is one of the cafe’s most popular custom cocktails. 10 Cane Rum, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and champagne are stirred over ice and served in a wine glass. The cocktail is sweet and sour with the lime juice balancing the rum and sparkling wine.
Appetizers and entrees can be hit or miss. There isn’t a head chef, so the origins of the menu and features are unknown. The smoked Gouda-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon ($6) are the best bet — they’re not only better than the entrees but also more reasonably priced. The bacon is salty, the dates are sweet, and the cheese is warm and creamy. The slow-grilled pork tenderloin ($18) is served with caramelized onions, mashed potatoes, and the day’s vegetable feature. It could be better described as “medium rare pork with mashed potatoes and leftover red peppers.”
The mac and cheese with jumbo shrimp feature ($15) is made with three types of cheese in an attempt to romanticize it, but the dish tasted dry. The noodles lack the creamy cheesy texture that makes homemade mac and cheese a culinary comfort zone. The jumbo shrimp does little to save the dish from being overpriced mac without enough cheese.
With Pizza Luce and Kippis Tapas Bar down the street you would be better off getting dinner somewhere else and ending the night with a cocktail at the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe. The food isn’t worth the price, but the cocktail menu has both the depth and the creativity to merit a visit.
BEST BET: Smoked Gouda-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon are a perfectly balanced choice.
222 E Superior St
Duluth, MN 55802
OWNER: A.H. Zeppa Family Foundation (Michael Olsen, Operations Manager)
ENTREE RANGE: $9-$18