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It freaks me out a little bit to think about how fast new restaurants drop by the wayside. I’ve listed them all previously but the list keeps growing and I don’t like it. The flip side is that the places that stick around really do stick around. The New Scenic Cafe hit 20 years, the Duluth Grill is something like 18, the Lake Avenue Restaurant has been around for a long time too. It seems like once you hit a certain point, you know what you’re doing. It might not be easy. It might not be fun. But you’ve got the knack.
The Red Mug has been part of my entire independent adult life. I didn’t move out of my parents’ house until I got married at 23 (#NoExcuses #Millennial) and as soon as I did I became a regular. I’ve worked there for hours and hours. I’ve sealed client deals and gotten into deep conversations. I’ve tried to escape my chatty toddlers and fallen right into the clutches of my chatty friend John. It’s a second home. It’s like Cheers, though instead of everyone knowing my name it’s just Suzy and Brecken who know it. I’m not famous yet.
What do I like about the Red Mug? Most things. I like the red mugs. (Get it?) I like the to-go cups even more, both because to-go cups always keep drinks warmer and because they have a very cool look courtesy of Tin Cup Design. Aesthetically, it’s a cozy place. Soft chairs, art on the walls, a sort of overstuffed knick-knack type feel. It’s busy but warm. For the nine months a year of “not summer”, it’s the perfect escape.
Let’s talk about the food and beverages because that’s also sort of important. (I did two small projects for the Mug years ago, so if you want to write off everything I say as hopelessly biased go ahead.) The Red Mug has gone up and down in its food production. The plan a few years ago was to expand in a big way. Upstairs, they built a big old kitchen. You can create “no-gluten” menu items as the Duluth Grill used to, you can bake items “which have no gluten in them” as we do with macarons at Duluth’s Best Bread, but in order to have “gluten free” items there’s a very high legal standard against cross-contamination that essentially requires a separate baking space. Red Mug used to have a space like that and sold their officially gluten-free bread at various places around town. They were opening a little store upstairs for items like fancy oils and vinegars.
That plan fell through. But, as I mentioned in the intro, these older places have a way of rolling with the punches. The Red Mug is still putting out good stuff, it’s just putting out lower quantities of it.
Let’s talk about the waffle bar. Sourdough waffles were a revelation to me, with a mild tang that really transforms a simple dish. I view it similar to the difference between grass fed ground beef and regular ground beef. Once you taste the slight gaminess of grass fed, regular just tastes bland. Naturally you’re going to pile the waffles with Nutella or jam or (homemade!) granola or fruit, but leave a little corner plain so you can taste what I’m talking about.
The waffle bar is Sunday mornings only, but the rest of the week has other compensations. I’m partial to the brownies, which have a thick, thick layer of icing. The homemade Mounds bars are also huge and decadent. I’ll literally cut them in half and bring half home in a to-go bag. The remainder of the menu is a pretty standard mix of salads, soups, and sandwiches—though I did encounter a provolone grilled cheese with salami and pickles, a flavor combination I always sort of thought my wife invented.
Those of us who work from home need a place to get out and escape our children. The Red Mug has always been that place for me. Here’s to hoping it sticks around forever.