OMC Smokehouse (Duluth, MN)

After we returned from Isle Royale, our group picked up our vehicles and luggage and returned to Duluth, MN to shower up and head out for a celebratory dinner. While one of the features of our backpacking trip had actually been good food (especially by backpacking standards), most of us were ready for a proper celebratory dinner at a restaurant: good food, proper table service, and, almost as importantly, some good beer, wine, and cocktails. With that in mind, we headed to downtown Duluth (which, mid-2021, is a mess of construction detours) to west Superior Ave, to OMC Smokehouse.

OMC Smokehouse is quite the hopping place: even on a Tuesday evening the place was packed; we were happy we called ahead to be put on the waitlist. While waiting for our table (a short 10 minute wait), we stopped by their bar for cocktails. Like a lot of restaurants these days, OMC has gotten into the bar scene, with a well-stocked bar, a good wine list, and a rather extensive list of house cocktails featuring local and regional distilleries (including several featuring Øvrevann aquavit from nearby Vikre, or the Sour Cherry from Tattersall down in Minneapolis).

To start my meal, I had to try their “Nordic Summer”: Vikre Øvrevann aquavit, Aperol, and orange liqueur. Here, the nice aged flavor of the aquavit made combined with the orange and bitter fruit flavors of the Aperol to make a nice, pleasing, summer cocktail: crisp, fruity, and herbal.

While we perused the menu, the staff brought by a plate of perfectly-fried pork rinds, which were a nice appetizer to nibble on while sampling the various house-made BBQ sauces and consider our entrees.

When it comes to “barbecue” in northern regions, I’ve got an inherent skepticism; I’ve suffered through entirely too many “authentic Texas” or “authentic Carolina” barbecue dishes that were anything but authentic, usually an overcooked slab of meat with a heavy sauce on it. But a look at the surrounding tables gave me some hope here: the brisket looked quite good, so I ordered it. And in this case, my skepticism was misplaced: this was good brisket. From the fatty end of the brisket, this was a nicely smoked brisket: tender, smoky, a slight smoke ring, and nice lacing between the meat and fat. I could use a bit more smoke, but they’ve got the basic smoking process down pat. For sides, I had picked cole slaw (a good, not-overly dressed rendition), and a surprise star for me, the “peas and pancetta” side. This was basically exactly what it said on the tin: a lightly smoke pancetta, all cubed up, tossed with some softly-cooked fresh peas and cheese, and the combination was quite tasty.

Carol went for another entree: the deep-fried ribs. Yeah, the deep-fried ribs: they take dry-rubbed ribs, smoke them, then dredge them, and deep-fry them. The result was definitely “excessive”, but it actually worked pretty well here: the ribs themselves were smoked nicely, the rub added a nice bit of heat, and the breading actually sealed in the moisture while giving it some crunch. This wouldn’t be my first choice, but it was definitely enjoyable, especially with the house Alabama-style white BBQ sauce. The sides here were mac and cheese (oddly, served as exactly that: noodles tossed in shredded cheese, to me, this misses the smoothness you get from using a bechamel), and a pleasant candied sweet potato bake.

Overall, we had a very enjoyable meal at OMC, and it was a good way to send off all of our hiking colleagues from the last week, who the next morning started returning to their homes by air or vehicle. Ourselves, we then spent an extra day in Duluth before heading off to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.

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