“F*ck it, whatever.”
My car was in between the lines, barely. One tire was perched on a snow turtle and my car sat comically uneven, like something Snoop Dogg would have driven around in his early rap videos, but it was between the lines. In downtown Duluth during the winter time, this is what parking is like. To boot, the credit card slot was too small on my parking meter.
Now, I had to go inside the restaurant and barter for something called a “quarter.” I hadn’t brought any pig hooves or freshly-churned butter to trade, but thankfully they just gave me one and tacked it onto my bill.
I was at 7 West Taphouse, just off the busiest intersection of downtown Duluth. The road that connects the hillside to Canal Park, and the road that connects the West Duluth to the Richie Rich east side, meet mere inches from 7 West Taphouse. It’s the perfect spot for the perfect concept: at 7 West, you can have east side standards and west side portions. You can have hillside prices and lakeside modernity.
It’s the best of both both worlds. All you have to do is get into that parking spot.
The Basics: 7 West has been open in Downtown Duluth since 2012, and since then has expanded to St. Cloud and Superior, Wisc. According to the Superior Telegram, The owner of 7 West also own three Grizzly’s restaurants in the Twin Ports. You can find 7 West on the web here.
I came in just after they opened with, as Bill Simmons might say, Apex Throat Cold. I unloaded myself on a bar seat close to the front door, right underneath a depiction of a bell getting set to body a keg. I coughed through my introduction to a nice young lady behind the bar. She was paying homage to Carrie Fisher with miniature Princess Leia hair buns and a T-shirt with the Star Wars opening crawl on the front. I wish I could say I was that well coordinated, but nope – just coughing a lot.
Somehow, the words “Jalapeno bacon poppers” got out.
After laboring to get a good angle on these, it hit me: these are jalapeño peppers, stuffed with deep-fried cheese, wrapped in bacon. Every angle is a flattering one. Shadowy bird’s eye, flattering. Out-of-focus extreme close-up, flattering. Bathroom selfie with my hairy ass visible in the mirror behind me, flattering. Too flattering to ever make exist, in fact.
The poppers come with something called “taphouse sauce,” which is hard to describe beyond “special.” I mean that in its old school definition, back when special was a good thing. You’ve got the pepper crunch, the deep fried crunch, the bacon crunch, the ooze, the candy, the bam, kabam. At $5, it’s a top-tier appetizer by all metrics. When I inevitably coughed half my bites into my napkin, I was tempted to eat them again.
Enjoy that picture because it took me 121 tries (I really wish I was kidding).
Let’s about about this cheeseburger, the 7 Western.
The cheeseburger is the magical amount of size, intensity, char, done-ness, but without any overthinking or frills. It’s easy to forget how sexy an oozy blob of cheddar can be, or bacon flapping over the edge of a patty. The 7 Western features two patties, and the obligatory onion ring – which, while I’m at it, I should point out that the Blue Door’s burgers can be done “Cowboy Style” with two onion rings and extra cheese.
If any cowboys happen to read this, can you please tell me when onion rings become your official food? I coulda swore it was baked beans.
No matter. The 7 Western is wonderful. It’s exactly what you need after everything you went through to get here. So good was it, I asked my bartender for another “quarter” so I could refill my meter and have one more beer. I slipped while she handed it to me, though, precipitating this clumsy exchange with our fingers playing piano on each other and a quarter bouncing around in between. I might have proposed to her on accident in Morse code, but it didn’t seem like she caught it. She probably just wanted me to take the f*cking quarter already.