Fresh/local/seasonal is fine, nose-to-tail cooking is delightful, and no one can argue with the Bacon Everywhere movement. But sometimes, it’s good to leave the trends to the trendsetters. Not every diner is looking for a meal of locally-grown heritage micro greens with half an ounce of free-range pork kidneys. Sometimes, you just want a beer and a burger. And for that, there’s 7 West Taphouse. Rick Lampton, who co-owns Grizzly’s locations in Duluth, Hermantown, and Superior, Wis., opened 7 West with a partner towards the end of 2012. He says the idea was to keep it simple. “It’s a simple concept,” Lampton says. “We’re specializing. It’s not a full menu, which really increases your times and your operational efficiency.”
The bright red and yellow menus fit on just one double-sided page and have all the items a restaurant really needs—13 burgers and a handful of other things. While the craft beer selection is unparalleled in town, the menu definitely invites comparisons to Superior’s venerable Anchor Bar. Prices start at $3.50 for the Plain Jane (just a burger and a bun) and don’t rise much as toppings are added. From the sautéed garlic mushrooms and smoked cheddar on the Old Smokey ($4.50) to the jalapeño beer cheese and sautéed beer onions on the Taphouse Burger ($5.50 with double the beef), this is hearty food for a reasonable price.
The fresh-cut fries and chips are available in flavors like Cajun, Parmesan, and (of course) salt and vinegar. The fries are firm-fleshed and meaty, not airy or overly fluffy (the two cardinal sins of good fries). The burgers have light, soft, fresh-tasting buns, which provide a perfect foil for the seared patties. The true secret to those lies in the cooking technique—just two minutes on a special burger press. “You cut about five to six minutes of your cooking time doing that,” Lampton says. “It doesn’t change the taste of it at all.”
The restaurant has a comfortable, modern feel. Exposed brick walls, stainless steel exhaust vents, and the chrome taps showcase the industrial-warehouse aesthetic, and paintings on canvas without frames provide an artsy vibe. But from the high-top chairs to the neon beer signs, from the flat screen TVs to the special paper towel holders made from bar taps, the overarching vibe is clearly “upper end bar.” That’s OK with Lampton, who says he was aiming for a relaxed atmosphere. “You promote it as a taphouse,” Lampton says.
“We want to keep it casual.”
The beer list makes a few strong claims:
“40 tap beers. All the time.” Which ensures a good variety.
“All American.” A celebration of our own beer culture (though it does make finding a good Kölsch less likely).
And while “all specialty” is debatable when it shares a page with “Miller Lite,” there is a good selection of craft beer and microbrews here. Real beer geeks will want to take note of the Duluth brews. Dubrue Pub Ale is a very light American lager with a flavor profile like the big macrobrews. And Lake Superior Oatmeal Stout is a bit heartier, with a creamy head and a surprisingly dry, biscuit-like finish. Venturing slightly further than Duluth but still staying close to home, you’ll find Surly, South Shore, Summit and other regional brews. Then there are the bigger national players like Michigan’s Bell’s or Colorado’s O’Dell. All in all, it’s a big list. The good news is that the restaurant offers tasting flights, where patrons can sample five ounces each of four different brews and get a good sense of what’s on tap.
Perhaps it’s the shirts that give the best sense of the place’s philosophy. In between cutting fries, slapping burgers on the grill, and standing around hoping someone else will wipe up the spill on table 11 (don’t deny it, dear readers), the servers also double as walking billboards. The official 7 West Taphouse shirts (for sale if you like them) have fun sayings on the back about the world of beer. “Fermentation makes the world go around,” one said. Another said, “Beer is good food.” But in light of the 40 taps, the guy with the curly hair’s shirt probably summed it up best: “A fine craft beer may be judged with one sip. But it’s best to be sure.”