The rule about restaurants with views tends to be that the food is terrible. And for decades, that rule was in force at the rotating restaurant on top of the Radisson in Duluth. But that all recently changed, and now there’s a great restaurant with a view sitting up there: The JJ Astor room. The place is run by chef Ryan Zander, briefly of Trattoria Tosca in Minneapolis—and it’s really good.
I was skeptical as I walked in; it was, after all, still a restaurant mostly known for its fabulous view. Chef Zander changed my mind quickly, though. The appetizer of tiny lamb chops was well-seared and well-paired with a sour and zesty basil-yogurt sauce; the tiny cauliflower fritters, another starter, were delicate as bubbles. The rabbit ragu on pappardelle struck the perfect notes of creamy and meaty. The short ribs were tender and roared with deeply concentrated flavor. But try the lowly hamburger, too: The beef is tender, meaty, smoky, and big-tasting, the potato roll is sweet and rich, and its toppings of sweet, crisp refrigerator pickles and mild Muenster cheese help the burger achieve a very unique, interesting profile. It almost tastes like something Austrian, made of veal. (Think about it.)
There’s no question in my mind that JJ Astor is the best restaurant in Duluth—and I’ve eaten in them all. And as you sit in your cozy booth not quite believing you’re spinning in the air above Duluth, you’ll get the shockingly pretty view: the dramatic ridge to one side, the lift bridge to another, and Lake Superior laid out like an icy table that stretches beyond the limits of human imagination.