What started out as a trip to the revamped Tycoon’s Alehouse (now the Blind Pig) turned into lunch at Zeitgeist Arts Café, 222 East Superior Street, after no one at Blind Pig acknowledged our presence after five minutes in the largely empty bar. This proved to be a most fortunate occurrence.
We started with the Northern Waters Smoked Salmon, served with Cambozola cheese (sometimes referred to as blue brie, a combination of French soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola), grapes, and garlic crostini. Northern Waters creates the Twin Port’s finest smoked salmon and Zeitgeist Chef Matthew Lyons is humble and wise to include it on his menu.
We paired the salmon with Ginger Ssam—Bibb lettuce, pickled shiitakes, carrots, bean sprouts, and ginger scallion slaw, served with peanut sauce. I normally find peanut sauce overwhelming, but Zeitgeist’s is subtle, letting the other ingredients come delicately to the palate.
For our main course, we shared their version of a salade niçoise, featuring yellowfin tuna with fingerling potatoes, hard-boiled egg, grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, red onions, haricots verts (slender green beans), and spring greens, served with Dijon vinaigrette—abundant with flavor and overflowing with goodies that mesh wonderfully together. There is some argument among niçoise traditionalists about whether cooked vegetables have any business in this salad, but we sided with Zeitgeist on the addition.
Between the food and our attentive server, we left sated and smiling and vowing to return soon. I haven’t even gotten to the cleanest bathrooms in Duluth nor the cool artsy vibe of the whole complex, which includes the Zinema 2 and Teatro Zuccone theaters.
We returned during their Thursday evening happy hour (also available Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 6 p.m.) and the joint was jumping. Zeitgeist’s modest happy hour consists of $1 off all tap beer, wine, and rail liquor. They also offer $3 cones of fries, $6 pretzels, and $8 coconut curry rice bowls. A table was available shortly after our arrival, but we held out for one of the more intriguing street window tables and bellied up to the bar for Whiskey Manhattans, a classic cocktail made with bitters and sweet vermouth. Zeitgeist offers a broad selection of whiskies, and cocktails are half-price on Monday nights.
With jocular happy hour camaraderie still pervading the atmosphere, our table was available and we took our leave for dinner. To our delight, the waitress from lunch the week before soon greeted us with glasses of water and her perennial smile, despite being hobbled by a boot cast.
We once again went for the Smoked Salmon, but this time followed it with the Grilled Romaine Salad—lightly charred hearts of romaine, grape tomatoes, and bacon, topped with bleu cheese dressing. The charred, yet still crisp, greens matched up well with the bleu cheese, creating one of those iconic fusions of flavor that seems to happen by accident. The grape tomatoes accentuate the feuding flavors and cleanse the palate for the next bite.
That sounds so pretentious...it was really good, ok? And it set the stage for our entrée—pan-seared scallops, served on risotto with Champagne-Dijon cream sauce and grilled asparagus. If this is how the new chef is training his staff, we will return again to explore the menu further.
Rarely have we enjoyed a meal out as much as we enjoyed our dinner at the Zeitgeist. It was a bit expensive—quite a bit expensive, actually—but worth it for a special night out. Though not extensive, their menu covers a lot of ground and what they do, they do well—a recipe for success in my book.