For me, the second best thing about dining out is cracking open a menu and eagerly contemplating the culinary possibilities (the best thing is, obviously, eating one of said possibilities). However, being a mostly-vegetarian can make it a bit tricky to find restaurants with bountiful choices. Luckily, Vegguide.org and my friend Karen came through for me when I was looking for a restaurant in Duluth for a nice Saturday dinner: the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe.
The Zeitgeist Arts Cafe is perhaps the only restaurant I've ever been to where you smell hot buttered popcorn when you walk in the door--it shares space with movie and performing arts theaters. The restaurant itself consists of a street-level bar area and a second-story main seating area lofted over the bar. The decor is modern and understated, with dim lighting and Minnesota-inspired art adorning the walls.
Lovely as the surroundings are, the real highlight for this mostly-vegetarian is the menu. Vegetarian options included a grilled mushroom sandwich, bean burger, four different types of rice or noodle bowls, mac and cheese, and arugula pesto gnocchi. After much internal debate, I settled on the Shire Rice Bowl: carrots, shiitake mushrooms, red peppers, Brussels sprouts, shallots, and cashews atop brown rice, with hoisin barbecue sauce on the side. I ordered my bowl with tofu; it can also be left plain or ordered with chicken, shrimp, or scallops.
Serving the sauce on the side was definitely a wise move, as the sauce was quite spicy. Since I like spicy food, I did use most of the sauce, but apply cautiously if you like your food on the milder side. The sauce highlighted the sweetness of the peppers and carrots and accentuated the tofu, but the real highlight of the dish was the delightful contrast in textures--crunchy cashews and crisp Brussels sprouts against chewy rice and sauteed peppers and mushrooms, and grilled tofu with a slightly charred crust and meltingly smooth interior.
Mike was initially hesitant about eating at a restaurant I found on "some vegetarian website," but the menu offers just as many wonderful options for omnivores as it does for vegetarians: several sandwiches and burgers, seafood entrees including clams linguini and pan-seared trout, roasted chicken, steak, and a duck pot pie. Additionally, as mentioned above, the rice and noodle bowls can be ordered with chicken, shrimp, or scallops.
Mike's New York Strip steak was proof that the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe is just as appealing to meat-lovers as veggie-lovers: weighing in at 14 ounces, the steak was cut into two pieces, each of which would have been a perfectly respectable entree on its own. The steaks were perched on a mound of horseradish mashed potatoes, with a tanginess that complemented the steak without overpowering it. The Brussels sprouts and mushrooms were well-prepared classic sides, while the Stilton cheese topping the steak was an unexpected pungent note that elevated the meal beyond a typical steak dinner.
I'm looking forward to revisiting the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe and trying some of the other vegetarian options on the menu, while Mike is happy to have discovered a vegetarian-friendly restaurant with an amazing steak dinner. Whatever your dietary preferences, whether you live in Duluth or are just passing through, the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe should be on your culinary radar for its thoughtful and well-executed cuisine.
Zeitgeist Arts Cafe
222 E. Superior Street
Duluth, MN 55804