Big Daddy’s - Come Hungry! Leave Stuffed! Guaranteed!
In the Twin Ports burger scene, a few iconic places come instantly to mind. For many tourists and home-town folks alike, it doesn’t get any better than the legendary burger and fries platter at Big Daddy’s restaurant in Duluth’s Piedmont neighborhood.
From his humble beginning as a teenager working as a dishwasher at Country Kitchen in Duluth to his amazing success in his twenty-plus tenure with Big Daddy’s, Owner Dave Gonhue has forged his own path.
He had been working for a few restaurants in the area, including Blackwoods, honing his cooking skills, when his mother-in-law gave him the opportunity to buy her restaurant in Butte Falls, Oregon, and move there.
Instead, Gonhue chose to stay in the Twin Ports, where he grew up, and pursue his own culinary track. When he decided to open his own place, after doing the leg work to make that happen, he found his location in a small strip mall at 2828 Piedmont Avenue. He has stayed ever since, opening the doors of Big Daddy’s in 2001.
Gonhue’s no-frills, down-home cooking has grown with increasing popularity, and he has built a loyal clientele in the twenty-plus years since.
Burger Lovers’ Choices Galore
While you can get a basic version of a hamburger or cheeseburger at Big Daddy’s, the question is why would you want to? An incredible array of choices there bring customers back to try a multitude of other toppings and variations.
The seasoned 1/3 pound hamburger can be prepared with different choices of cheeses, bacon, olives, chili, onions, jalapeños, mushrooms and much more.
Other options include a pizza burger, a vegetarian burger, the Big Daddy, the Big Mama, and the Mega Cheese. And diners with bugger appetites can choose to get a 1/2 pound burger instead of 1/3 pound.
Of course, each burger comes with a heaping 1/2 pound serving of their famous delectable fresh-cut, seasoned fries.
Everything is prepared in their open kitchen, right in the center of the restaurant. Some people like to sit right at the counter and watch as their meals are cooked.
“I like to have the kitchen open for everyone to see their meals being prepared. It is part of the restaurant’s fun atmosphere, and the kids love it,” he said.
Gonhue has fond memories of going to supper clubs like Superior’s Cronstrom’s with his parents and watching the chefs who would cook steaks right in the dining room.
“I was one of those kids who liked to watch chefs work in their white coats and their chefs’ hats. I think that was the start of my wanting to cook and own my own place
Wait, There’s More!
If you are looking to change it up from a burger and fries, Big Daddy’s offers a potpourri of hometown cafe favorites such as their pot roast and gravy, hot turkey sandwich, meatloaf and more.
“I went through several versions of the meatloaf to get to the one that was approved by my mom,” he said.
Other favorite choices are hot dogs, chili dogs, chicken wraps, fish sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, grilled ham and cheese, BLTs, and Denver sandwiches.
Sides include cheese and chili cheese fries, onion rings, cheese sticks, broccoli, side salads, soups, cole slaw and cottage cheese. Diners can pair their food with a chocolate, vanilla or strawberry malt, or a variety of fountain Pepsi-product soft drinks with free refills, or canned sodas.
Big Daddy’s also serves a variety of breakfast dishes including omelets, eggs, country-fried steak, biscuits and gravy, corned beef hash, breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, French toast and a potpourri of sides. “We think we have the best breakfast in town,” Gonhue added.
Seniors can get smaller portions of many of the breakfast and lunch/dinner options. Big Daddy’s also features a kid’s menu.
Big Eaters’ Bragging Rights
Big Daddy’s invites people to “become part of burger-eating royalty” by competing in one of their eating challenges—the smaller “Belly Buster” Challenge or the Big Daddy of all eating competitions, “The Challenge.”
The one-hour “Challenge” features a monster burger with 7 pounds of beef patties, 22 pieces of bacon, 22 slices of cheese, and 2 pounds of fries.
This daunting feat has a one-hour time limit. Those who are able to eat it all receive their meal free, a Big Daddy's T-shirt and have their photo added to the restaurant’s “Wall of Fame.”
“Believe it or not, the person who has done this the fastest and completed it all is a petite, 120 pound woman!” Dave said with a chuckle.
“I also take pride in our fresh foods, with no frozen meats ever. And we were happy to have been named Best Burger in the Twin Ports a few times.”
In his small, unassuming diner restaurant, in a quiet neighborhood, Gonhue can still be found behind the grill, flipping burgers that are a far cry from fast food, and putting a smile on his customers’ faces, from their very first bite.