Tasty meats, cool treats join Craft District

Duluth’s burgeoning Lincoln Park Craft District has business owners setting their sights on being another jewel in the crown of Duluth destination tourism. What had long been a bleak succession of empty storefronts and dusty buildings now is booming as the Lincoln Park neighborhood opens its doors to a potpourri of new businesses. 

According to the Lincoln Park Business website (lincolnpark.com), “Our Lincoln Park neighborhood has deep roots and great pride in getting things done. We are makers of beer, sewers of textiles, fixers of engines, hand crafters, teachers, artisans and builders. We not only know how to plant the seeds – we also know how to prepare the meal and bake the bread.”

Credit Chris Benson, owner of Frost River, for starting this Lincoln Park Renaissance by opening his canvas/leather bag and “all things-outdoors” store and also locating the company’s manufacturing side onsite. When Benson bought the Frost River building at 1910 W. Superior St., he also purchased the entire complex of the 1902-1908 W. Superior St. buildings for future development.

 Benson was looking for another business to help kick start the neighborhood’s appeal. One of his first calls was to Tom, Jaima and Louis Hanson, owners of the Duluth Grill. They purchased the building across the street from Frost River for their OMC (Oink Moo Cluck) barbecue restaurant.

Even though OMC was barely a year old, the Hansons jumped in with a second new restaurant, Corktown Deli and Brews, at 1906 W. Superior St. Nicole Wilde also came in with her Love Creamery, an ice cream shop, at 1908 W. Superior. 

The recently opened Corktown Deli and Brews and Love Creamery are drawing in both local and tourist diners and are bringing even more to the table of what the Lincoln Park Craft District has to offer.

Pastrami and more at Corktown 

When the Hansons and their long-time employee and manager, Jeff Petcoff, were going to open the OMC barbecue-style restaurant, they did their homework, traveling to places like Texas, Missouri and South Carolina, stopping at many restaurants for some serious taste testing, training and advice. 

For Corktown Deli, they went to the hub of the deli world in New York City for ideas and taste-testing. “We wanted to find out what we liked and what we didn’t like,” said Petcoff. 

Having worked at the Duluth Grill for 17 years, he is a real success story, moving from dishwasher to busser to server, eventually becoming general manager of the Duluth Grill and now manager for Corktown Deli.

 According to Petcoff, it is the aim of Corktown Deli to offer high-quality, fresh and delicious sandwiches featuring top-quality meats such as their brined, then smoked, pastrami and ham, smoked salmon, roasted turkey, porchetta and more. 

They also feature unique garden salads and prepared salads, spreads and from- scratch soups. Their bar includes twelve local taps and a selection of wines.

Favorites from their sandwich lists include the cold “Corktown Club” with smoked turkey, bacon, white cheddar, tomato, dressed greens, seasonal berry mayo on toasted sourdough, and their hot “Butcher on the Rye” with homemade pastrami, Swiss and mustard, on toasted rye. 

Further, Corktown features daily specials and a kids’ menu. Customers can also purchase meat and cheese by the pound and an array of prepared salads, such as sweet chili peanut potato salad and bacon blue cheese slaw, by the pint or quart. 

Their takeout boxed lunches include sandwiches, chips, a pickle and a cookie. Patrons can also add soups and salads. 

For an appetizer or a lighter fare lunch or dinner. Corktown has “Schmears,” flavored cream cheese, served with a mini-loaf of crusty bread and sliced cucumbers. “Schmear” choices include smoked salmon, curry cashew, Italian cheese, pickled ramp cream cheese, liver pâté and other daily selections.  

Corktown currently employs 30 people, some transitioning from jobs at Duluth Grill. Petcoff says they will be adding more employees in the future.

Loving that ice cream

Nicole Wilde loves ice cream. So it was only natural that she would want to make her own and even come up with her own unique flavors.

In 2010, she attended the Penn State Ice Cream University executive course sponsored by Ben and Jerry’s. Their aim is to teach people to be professionals in the ice cream business, learning how to go from “cow to cone.” Wilde was inspired to follow her own ice cream dreams.

At first, Wilde shared commercial kitchen space in Superior, launching the business in 2015. With the purchase of a small portable cart, Love Creamery was born. Wilde started small, selling the ice cream at farmers’ markets, community events and for private parties.

As of June, she was quite at home in her own ice cream shop. Chris Benson has been a mentor and even opened up an interior wall doorway for people shopping at Frost River to go right into Love Creamery.

Wilde makes very small batches with great ingredients to maintain quality control. She said, “Our philosophy is to purchase local first, organic second and always purchase from businesses that have sustainability in their mission.” 

Love Creamery’s honey, maple syrup and fruit come from local farms, and other ingredients not available locally come from sustainable businesses outside the region. The cream, milk, and eggs come from a local dairy.

While she does make tried and true ice cream flavors such as vanilla and chocolate, Wilde gets exotic and unique with creations such as salted caramel, honey lavender, white chocolate raspberry, cardamon pepper and sassy nanny goat cheese with roasted cherries. Her non-dairy sorbet flavors include raspberry mint, strawberry basil and blueberry bomb

Wilde lives on a farm north of Two Harbors where she grows strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, peppermint, lavender, basil and chamomile. She includes some of her own produce in her ice cream and sorbet flavors.

Wilde’s all natural products do not have a long shelf life, so she makes small batches, having the ice cream be always fresh. She also makes vegan and gluten-free products and fresh waffle cones that are dairy and gluten free. She even encourages patrons to submit ideas for flavors. 

“That has been lots of fun. People get excited about the idea of creating their own ice cream flavor.”

OMC across the street has taken dessert off the menu for now. For their patrons wanting something sweet after their hot and zesty barbecue fare, they send customers to Love Creamery for a cool treat.

Love Creamery also opens early for those wanting coffee and light pastries from Duluth Best Bread and Positively Third Street. Their summer hours are 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.

“I have a great staff,” Wilde added. She employs 10 people, five of them full-time.

“We have become a neighborhood of our own, with a Main Street ambiance. The business owners really care about each other, and everyone tries to help each other succeed,” she said.

With her frozen concoction niche in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Wilde reminds people that  “Everybody needs a little Love.”

Food and drinks boom

The Lincoln Park Craft district is becoming a food and beverage mecca and a fun new neighborhood to explore. 

“All the businesses have similar philosophies, and everyone brings a shared passion and an energy to their businesses,” said Wilde.

Bent Paddle Brewing crafts their beer in a building behind Frost River. They recently opened a tasting room in a renovated building close by their craft brewery. Next up for the Lincoln Park neighborhood are Duluth Cider, Wild State Cider and Ursa Minor Brewing.

Benson says a pizza shop with both outdoor and indoor seating may be taking the corner storefront as the next food establishment coming into the neighborhood. Toppers has said they intend to establish a presence there.

Petcoff is excited about the new businesses and the environment of the Craft District. 

“I am loving the Lincoln Park ‘experience’ with more going on every day,” he said. 

“We are the geographic center of Duluth. We have been opening people’s eyes that this is a convenient spot to come to. We are only 19 blocks to Lake Avenue. The welcome mat is down for more new businesses to become part of the Lincoln Park Craft District,” said Benson.