Hungry at the NWS

by Robert Lilligard

NWS is an interesting acronym. It reminds me of NWA, which is a pretty hard-edged hip hop group. But what it stands for, Northern Waters Smokehaus, is anything but a hard-edged hip hop kind of restaurant. It’s right up there with the DFSC, which also sounds tough but stands for Duluth Figure Skating Club.

With the NWS, you’re basically looking at flannel shirts and skinny jeans. A beard or some square rimmed glasses would not be out of place. Like the Lake Avenue Restaurant across the hallway, it’s got the handwritten menus and casual-but-upscale vibe. Pop on a nice sweater, honey, and let’s stop in before the DSSO concert. (Again with the acronyms, though in this case DSSO doesn’t sound especially tough.) What makes the NWS interesting and successful is that in addition to that crowd, which is upscale but finite, it also draws the vast teeming bulk of The Tourists. Strictly mathematically speaking, The Tourists are also finite—but they doesn’t seem that way. Particularly during Grandma’s Marathon.

Let’s get back to the restaurant. They serve my favorite salad in the city, really the world. Salads were not exactly on my top ten list growing up. I remember first buckling down to them during high school, when I was performing in a parody theater performance so painfully unfunny that the audience responded to every gag line with frozen silence. In between shows, questioning my life decisions, I stood on a “weigh yourself” machine. It told me I was borderline obese. I interpreted that as a death sentence and the next day I started eating salads at lunch. I’ve yo-yoed a bit since but I stay below that line.

Luxurious! Healthy! There’s a combination I can only ascribe to 1) durian 2) legit sushi (aka no mayo or fried crap) and 3) the NWS Salad.

Spring greens, cucumbers, tomato. Crunchy crumbled Marcona almonds. Smoked salmon, a little less than you’d hope with a $15.75 salad but then again Canal Park rent doesn’t pay itself. Here’s where the NWS really turns it up—abundant fresh cilantro. Pickled sushi ginger. Two little cups of wasabi/sriracha aioli and slick sesame oil. It’s crunchy, creamy, tangy and fresh. It’s crazy. And it’s big—they pack an awful lot of greens into that box. Pro tip: use 1/3 of the total sauce, maybe ½, and let yourself enjoy the vegetables for what they are. Dressing is where the calories lie and I can’t promise this salad would be healthy if you were to use all the dressing.

The Smokehaus, of course, is better known for its sandwiches than its salads. Those are very good too. The gang smokes their own fish and meat, they make their own salami, they do some pickling in house. And they do it well. Have the sandwiches gotten a little smaller over the years? I think so, but please see my comments on the rent in the previous paragraph. You could always make your own sandwich at home.

When I visited recently I also tried a Potato Chip Cookie. It’s a sandwich cookie with a rich date filling, and the sandwich part isn’t two potato chips—the baker crushes chips very finely and incorporates them into the cookie part, making for an intensely rich cookie with a soft crumb. Dang! Now I want another one.

Long story short: worth standing in line for. Some of you might already be there.