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Park Cafe dining review, Duluth



Tick … tick … tick.

I glance at my watch and then glance around the room to see others glancing at their watches. Everyone is wondering “Where is the food?” I feel as if I’m at a dinner party – a party where an overambitious host has trouble getting the meal on the table. But I’m not at a dinner party. I’m at Park Cafe in Duluth.

Review by Jenny Turknett

Review by Jenny Turknett

Set in the historic Knox House in downtown Duluth, you feel as if you’re in someone’s home – warm and comfortable. And just as at a dinner party, the experience at Park Cafe is unpredictable.

Our appetizer, a trio tasting of dips ($11), could have been made by the home-party host. The spinach-artichoke dip, thick and mayonnaise-y, boasts large pieces of onion and lacks both artichokes and seasoning. The Vidalia onion bake, topped with bread crumbs, contains undercooked onions and reminds you of the thin, chunky casserole Aunt Sally brings to every gathering. The beer-cheddar fondue tastes only of cheese – no beer flavor. Served with the dips, the herby-fried pita chips crunch perfectly but sink to the depths of your stomach – far too heavy for three cream-based dips.

For the baked goat cheese appetizer ($10), the kitchen keeps it simple with more success. A log of warmed goat cheese sits beneath “tomato fondue.” A misnomer, the fondue consists of Roma tomatoes studded with basil and garlic. After picking through charred slices, we find the grilled bread topped with soft, warm cheese and slightly sweet tomato constitutes a satisfyingly sweet and savory bite.

With the Wednesday night wine tasting ($10 with entree), we have three of four tastings while we wait for our main course. Here we are at that dinner party – sipping too much wine with too little in our bellies, making polite conversation while we wait … and wait. An hour and 45 minutes after placing our order, we receive entrees.

Glazed pork tenderloin (photo by Becky Stein)

Glazed pork tenderloin (photo by Becky Stein)

Similarly, on a separate lunch visit, our friendly server avoids eye contact as the time between courses stretches over an hour. Diners at the next table – little ones in tow – are hip-bouncing antsy children by the time lunch arrives. The chef later tells me that he kept a slow pace to ensure a quality product. Sadly, our entrees do not merit the wait.

The risotto ($20) mixed with braised beef, spinach and goat cheese reveals that the host of this party forgot to season the food in the rush to get it on the table. Upon reheating the following day, the risotto is improved exponentially with the addition of salt and pepper – bringing out the rich flavor of the beef. Likewise, the bland shepherd’s pie ($17) lacks seasoning, congeals on the edges, and contains a mixture of over- and undercooked vegetables thanks to their inconsistency in size.

Fortunately, one dish saves the party – the beautifully plated barbecue glazed pork tenderloin ($19). Perfectly cooked pork, seasoned with spicy cracked pepper, sits atop roasted sweet-potato mash and sports a tangy-sweet barbecue sauce.

Set aside some time, leave the kids at home and grab a snack. Then you’ll be set to enjoy a few glasses of wine and lots of conversation before the host gets dinner on the table at Park Cafe.

3579 W. Lawrenceville St., Duluth, 770-476-2989
1stars5Food: Upscale Southern
Service: Well intentioned but lacks polish
Best dishes: Barbecue glazed pork tenderloin, baked goat cheese appetizer
Vegetarian selections: Appetizers and salads
Price range: $$-$$$
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Hours: 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; closed Sundays-Mondays.
Children: Permitted but wait times between courses may be prohibitive
Parking: Row of spaces on street
Reservations: Suggested
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes

35 comments Add your comment

[...] Restaurants : Park Cafe dining review, Duluth [...]


January 14th, 2011
9:22 am

Well I certainly don’t have time for a dinner like that. If I’m paying a sitter, I don’t mind if the food is properly paced, as it should be in a nicer dining experience, but 1.5 hrs. is ridiculous. We’ve had some recent experiences like that at other restaurants while we were with our kids and I can’t say we’re going back to those places. I have visited the Park Cafe on several occasions as I used to have evening meetings in the area. I rarely ordered entrees as the baked goat cheese was always a large, delicious and satisfying appetizer. I’ve tried the crab bisque. It is OK, but I’ve had better around town (and always better closer to the beach). The chicken salad at lunch is tasty, but nothing for which I would rush back. Again, better at other places. I will say that the owners were very accomodating of our group. Since the restaurant officially closes at 9 on weeknights, it would offer to stay open for us if we called ahead. I really want to like Park Cafe more than I do, yet with no more meetings that way, I haven’t gone out of my way to go there.

[...] Children Corner : Park Cafe dining review, Duluth [...]

Auntie Alli

January 14th, 2011
11:28 am

I have found this place to be hit or miss brunch, lunch or dinner. For a planned bridal luncheon they did a great job – of course everything was selected in advance. I do enjoy their shrimp and grits.

Leigh Ann

January 14th, 2011
12:15 pm

We have been regulars at the Park Cafe for several years and find this review to be totally unfair and not accurate of any experience I have ever had. My husband and I eat here at least once or twice a month. I will challenge you to find another restaurant in the area who offers anything to the caliber of Park Cafe. In fact, my husband and I think the quality here has steadily improved over the years. I know Park Cafe has many loyal customers. I will definitely spread the word that this review is not indicative of any experience we or anyone I know has ever had there.


January 14th, 2011
12:26 pm

@Leigh Ann – Good to hear it isn’t always like that. You certainly can’t overlook or excuse a two hour wait for food, but perhaps she caught them on a bad week. And it does have the advantage of not having much in the immediate area to compete with – though perhaps that has led to some complacency. But if they want to be known as a place to drive to from other areas of town, they’ll need to step it up a bit..

Anna R

January 14th, 2011
12:38 pm

My husband and I have been going to the Park Cafe for a few years now. I totally disagree with this review. We especially look forward to the Wine Tasting on Wednesday Nights. The food is AMAZING!!
My husband proposed to me at the Park Cafe and they made it a wonderful experience. Their trio of dips is one of my favorites! I always have to get the dips or the fried green tomatoes!! Just thinking about their food makes me want to go now!! Everyone always makes our visit a pleasure. We make a point to go there once or twice a month. We always invite new people to join us and they become fans as well.
We will continue to go to the Park Cafe because of the great atmosphere and food!

Lon K

January 14th, 2011
12:52 pm

Once I saw the headline and before I even read the name of the restaurant in Duluth I knew it was this place. We had the same experience several years ago and have never gone back. Food was poor and the wait was not worth it.
Listen the the expert!


January 14th, 2011
12:58 pm

I completely disagree with this review. We have been going to the Park Cafe for years, they are always very pleasant and the food is worth the wait. Any good restaurant will have a longer wait as the chef’s prepare your entree fresh.. If you need fast food go to McDonald’s.i believe there is one a few miles down the road…


January 14th, 2011
1:07 pm

The experiences had by Ms Turknett at Park Cafe are a complete aberration in this neighborhood bistro’s tradition of excellent cuisine and service. Nestled on a corner in downtown Duluth, Park Cafe is a rare gem. I’ve eaten at Park Cafe numerous times, and find the atmosphere, food, and service to be unmatched by similarly categorized bistros in the Atlanta area. The menu selections offer seasonal delights as well as traditional entrees. To say this establishment is worth dining at would be a gross understatement. Try the Park Cafe for yourself, so you may not only shirk Ms Turknett’s publicly magnified opinion, but also to find the culinary treasures and dining experience to be had by this wonderful restaurant!


January 14th, 2011
1:47 pm

I’ve never written in to…but after seeing this review, I knew I had to act. My husband and I live in Atlanta and have made the trip to Duluth several times for the pleasure of dining at the Park Cafe. The one thing the reviewer got right was the ambience…the restaurant is warm and friendly…and patrons are treated like family. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a bad meal there and have never had to wait unusually long for food. I’ve always found the food to be fresh, imaginative and delicious…and they have a great, moderately priced wine list.

Please make the trip and decide for yourself!


January 14th, 2011
2:54 pm

Based on the feedback above, it seems like a 1 star review is appropriate for this place…a worthy addition but hit and miss. @Mike: waiting almost 2 hours for entrees isn’t a sign of a good restaurant, its a sign of an unorganized kitchen.


January 14th, 2011
3:56 pm

been there done that, didnt get the t-shirt. For such a pretty restaurant, the service and food was lacking. Not going back there again.


January 14th, 2011
3:56 pm

I would have left after the food had not appeared after 45 minutes. You obviously have way, way more patience than me.

Claire Boyd

January 14th, 2011
4:05 pm

Wow, I don’t know if I should first begin with the “expert’s” lack of ability to review a poor experience tactfully or with my absolute defense of what both a fabulous dining EXPERIENCE and FOOD QUALITY exists at the park cafe! My husband and I LOVE getting out of the house and enjoying a nice dinner. We were frequenters of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group until our hearts and mouths landed at The Park Cafe. So….if you want to put your babysitter money to good use {we have 3 children 3 and under, so trust me…we KNOW}, the Park Cafe is the place to do it. I kid you not….we celebrate our anniversary, birthdays, dates with other couples EVERYthing at the Park Cafe. That may seem crazy, but there is always something different to order that is CONSISTENTLY delivered with perfection. In spite of it’s perfection, if for some reason you happen to not be satisfied and/or have “orderer’s remorse” and change your mind, they have been known to do whatever it takes to satisfy your longing. And, if you want to deviate from the standard menu there will always be several specials to choose from that are different each day and not a regular feature. Everything is cooked fresh to order….even desserts, YUM! I guess I have really taken this critical review to heart because these folks are like family to my husband and me we are there so much!!!

And, so….perhaps Jenny Turknett did happen upon the Park Cafe with a poorly perceived introduction. It happens. But I can guarantee you one thing….the chef, servers and even us “regulars” will continually offer a level of dignity and respect to the Park Cafe even an inaccurate and poorly articulated review can’t waiver. The Park Cafe’s loyalty to customer appeal and satisfaction is so top notch!

I can assure you none of the folks there would devalue Jenny’s hard work they way she has theirs. And thus, opinions of people like her’s are invalid. Case in point….I’m eating at the Park Cafe tonight. Cheers to Jenny! ….and all you other losers with poor taste.

[...] Mike Sula wrote an interesting post today Here’s a quick excerpt I completely disagree with this review. We have been going to the Park Cafe for years, they are always very pleasant and the food is worth the wait. Any good restaurant will have a longer wait as the chef’s prepare your entree fresh. … [...]

[...] original post here: The AJC reviews Park Cafe, Duluth | Food and More with John Kessler Uncategorized always-very, baked-goat, barbecue, chef, entree, glazed-pork, longer-wait, [...]

[...] original post here: The AJC reviews Park Cafe, Duluth | Food and More with John Kessler Uncategorized always-very, baked-goat, barbecue, chef, entree, glazed-pork, longer-wait, [...]


January 14th, 2011
6:55 pm

Hey Claire,…”and all you other losers with poor taste” What the??? I have had a similar experience with this restaurant. Did anyone ever tell you that using a lot of capitals is like yelling? Oh yeah, your grammar stinks too. Have a nice day.


January 14th, 2011
8:01 pm

@Erik Has anyone ever told you that excessive punctuation is also interpreted as yelling? Also, ‘Have a nice day’? Really? Oh yeah, typically quotation marks (when used correctly) start a phrase with the curvature facing the opposite way that it does at the end of a phrase. The aforementioned should only be considered if you’re into grammar that doesn’t stink. Park Cafe is delicious, and delightful.


January 14th, 2011
8:08 pm

@Mike – have you ever waited almost 2 hours for an entree and not complained? I can’t imagine such a thing. The manager should have been all over this and paid for the meal, offered free wine – something! There is a normal waiting period for freshly prepared food, but this went far beyond that. Since the AJC reviewers do multiple visits before publishing a starred review, this wasn’t an isolated incident. Maybe it was a bad couple of weeks when she visited, but if this happened even once to me, I wouldn’t return to see if things got better.

I love the charm of the place and even spoke with a server there who grew up in the house across the street. Charming for the neighborhood, yes, worth a drive to eat there, no.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steven Josovitz, Atlanta Events. Atlanta Events said: Food: @AJCFoodandMore: Park Cafe dining review, Duluth [...]


January 15th, 2011
8:13 am

I thought an AJC one star rating to be not such a bad thing– “A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but the food is hit and miss.” Had lunch there a month or so ago–service was slow and the food so-so–not near “perfection.” Planned to try a dessert but couldn’t stay longer. Probably won’t try dinner or lunch again but if I did, I’d get the Pork Tenderloin. One star for my lunch and for others at my table that day sounds about right.

Taste is individual and service varies–it’s good information to read about the likes and dislikes of food and/or service experienced (from both reviewers who goes multiple times and all the customers). AJC reviews brings attention to places I didn’t know anything about.


January 15th, 2011
9:54 am

I have been dining at the Parc Cafe for years. I have never had a bad meal. The service has always been wonderful. When you dine at Parc Cafe you go for the fact that it is a smaller restaraunt and they will not rush you out.
The food is excellent. The Fried Pita appetizer is one of my favorite foods in the world. Every dish is prepared with just the right amount of seasoning. The abliity to take ordinary food and make it unusual and extrodinary is an art which they have perfected.
I always take friends and relatives to the Parc Cafe from out of town and everyone raves about it.
This is a wonderful restaraunt with a great staff. Do not let one review convince you not to go, try it, it is wonderful.

Jenny Turknett

January 15th, 2011
10:10 am

Thanks for all the comments. Yes, this is a recommended restaurant because it earned one star. If you see the star rating guide above, the one star indicates that it is a worthy addition to the neighborhood but the food can be hit or miss. The review doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it – it means go into it knowing what to expect. Choose the right dishes and don’t necessarily expect it to be quick. The conclusion of the review says to try it, with a few caveats.


January 15th, 2011
1:15 pm

I am so sad about this review! My mom just called to tell me about it
because she knows how much I love this place and I had to comment.

This was her experience but it is definitely not any experience I have ever had. After her comments I looked up several of the review sites to see if anyone else had the same concern…Google Park Café and look at all the on-line reviews and they have ALL good reviews from Open Table, Yelp, City Search, etc.

I’d like to offer a different perspective on why I think this review is unfair: I own a small boutique and things are really tough out there right now for anyone who is trying to keep their business alive. Even if she had a bad experience I don’t think it is right to make this cute little mom and pop restaurant look like such a disaster, especially, when by all other accounts that I can find, has a good reputation.

And I have to disagree with her about the food. My folks live near there so I drive up from Midtown quite often to meet them for dinner and I think it’s worth the drive. Whenever we go to the Park Café we are treated like family!!! I hope any press is good press for this little restaurant. Don’t worry, Park Café, we love you!!

Theirn Scott

January 15th, 2011
11:30 pm

I know for a fact that Ms. Turknett’s experience is atypical for this restaurant. Any business can have a bad day, heck the AJC has been having a bad decade. It is unfortunate that one bad experience is extrapolated to be representative. Were that so, I and most “regulars” would probably not be “regulars”. Personally, I’m very tolerant of consistently bad newspapers…not so much with restaurants.

My wife and I have been going to Park Cafe for several years and we typically dine there at least twice a month. But I’ve also had business lunches and dinners there with clients and colleagues. My only complaint is I can’t get a cocktail. The food has been consistently good and the service excellent.

Ms. Turknett makes a point in her 10:10 am comment on Jan. 15 that the one star rating indicates the Park Cafe to be “a worthy addition” but the snarky style seems to belie that. But I’ll reserve judgement, perhaps when she wrote this she was having a bad day.

Give Park Cafe a try. I think you’ll find it very worthy or more than 1 star.


January 16th, 2011
8:21 am

Certainly understand the issue with the service, but we have eaten there numerous times and the food has always been excellent. Appears that you dissatisfaction with the service clouded your view of the food as all other reviews rate the food quite high which is the opinion of many that we know frequent the Park Cafe. The review does not change our opinion or our experiences which are quite different from your visit. Try again.


January 16th, 2011
8:56 am

It boils down to this – on at least two occasions, the reviewer experienced incredibly delayed service. Once is a bad day – two is a pattern. For those of you willing to excuse such horrible service because “the food has always been excellent” … well, even the reviewer’s best-liked dishes sound rather pedestrian, so maybe it’s a taste-level thing.

You can keep it. Not worth the drive (as indicated by the rating).


January 16th, 2011
10:27 am

As a particularly regular diner at the Park Cafe, I need to share some of my experiences which are quite different from the reviewer’s. The service at lunchtime has always been respectful of the idea that I have to get back to work. Dinner is leisurely but not an odyssey. This is where I come to enjoy my food, not rush through it and that is how the service is paced.

As for the food itself, I have eaten almost everything on the menu at some point in time as I have been eating here almost weekly for several years. We have our favorites like the crab cakes and the tilapia – and my personal favorite, the lamb! The steaks are delicious, too. I am a big fan of the roasted root vegetables and the spinach salad with strawberries.

I have been there with my husband, as well as with a crowd of 20 (with a reservation but no advanced ordering) and the experience has been enjoyable. We bring out of town and out of county visitors here regularly and they are always impressed.

My suggestion – pay the Park Cafe a visit and form your own opinion. I am confident that it will differ from the reviewers.


January 16th, 2011
10:37 am

I think the owners of the Park Cafe have asked their loyal customers to respond to this review. Because it’s clear that is what happened here (and I know this because I have NEVER in all the years of reading reviews seen people respond like this) I wouldn’t try this place on its best day. Clearly they are petty and unfprofessional and instead of rising up and growing from the review they are acting like children…

Theirn Scott

January 16th, 2011
1:27 pm

While I’m sure the owners have discussed this review with the customers they’ve seen since its appearance, it’s not probable that there’s an organized campaign to get them to respond. It could also be their loyal customers like the place and feel as I do, that this review is unfair. My own comment has not been posted probably because I mentioned that while the reviewer obviously had a bad experience it is not uncommon for a business to have a bad day; the AJC has had a bad decade. So I suspect this comment won’t be posted either.

Theirn Scott
105 Millennial Court
Lawrenceville, GA 30045

Theirn Scott

January 16th, 2011
3:16 pm

I stand corrected. I’m not sure what happened to my initial posting. I supposed it was lost in the internet “ether”.

In my initial attempt the point was any business can have a bad day and that most going concerns typically perform day to day. A business that performs badly on a regular basis will not be in business very long. And while an average to good review probably represents an establishment accurately, a particularly bad review may not.

Ms. Turknett made a point in her comment above to say that Park Cafe was a recommended restaurant however the snarky style belies this.

I recommend you try Park Cafe and decide for yourself.

Theirn Scott


January 16th, 2011
5:01 pm

@Theim – As the reviewers at the ajc have said before, and as is evident from the review itself (the sentence “similarly, on a separate lunch visit” should have been a clue), they visit multiple times before reviewing a restaurant, precisely for the reasons you mention. And as the review states, the wait was inexcusably long on more than one occasion. I myself have had the same experience here, and so am not surprised. So there’s nothing at all unfair about it. As others have stated, the appropriate thing for a restaurant to do in this situation is to learn from its mistake, not make excuses. All the excuses being given here only makes the rest of us think that if we go there we should expect the same experience as the reviewer. So you’re not doing them any favors…


January 20th, 2011
12:12 pm

I’ve had the same experience as Ms. Turknett. I used to go to the Park Cafe fairly regularly over a 3 year span. It’s always been fairly slow from the kitchen and with the wait staff. The food is good – but it would be nice if the kitchen would speed up a bit.

But no need to jump all over Ms. Turknett if you love this restaurant – she wrote fairly and politely about her experience…which is her job to do so.