MAGPIE TALES: The Comfort of Lies
Roodstrom Reign was noted for its lovely blue plates and Berenbauer Beige linen table cloths. The three flights of stairs down the side of Minnesota Point made it a bit of an obscure destination but one that rewarded visitors with breathtaking views of greater Duluth and Superior Bay. Two more flights down one could visit the Superior Cup where espresso machines and coffee grinders whirled in a steady rhythm.
The source of the restaurant's name was long the source of legend in Duluth. The prevailing myth was that it was named in honor of Princess Supayaji, daughter of Thibaw Min, the last king of Burma. When the royal family went into exile, there had been speculation that Princess Supayaji had escaped to Vancouver, then traveled through Canada overland before crossing Lake Superior to settle in a safe house in the hills above Duluth. The eccentric chef who always had his head wrapped in ornate scarves and scowled while chopping scallions and spoke little English was rumored to be the son of the princess and rightful King of Burma should the monarchy ever be reinstated.
Whether or not the legend had any basis in fact, it permeated Roodstrom Reign, with many dishes named after deposed monarchs -- the Anastasia Anise Cakes, the King Juan Carlos Sesame Crab Stew, the Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Pumpkin Pancakes. Each recipe had a story behind it, and one never knew if that elegant woman wearing sable stole over her UMD Bulldogs jersey at the next table was Bernice Chattington from Ball Bluff or some incognito royal. Just in case, diners would pour their Pabst into elegant crystal goblets and lift their pinkies as they consumed it with saffron braised cucumbers in case they were suddenly asked to curtsy.
Some say the unofficial motto of Duluth is City of Rumor and Fanciful Fiction. Anyone who visited there after Thanksgiving could see why this was not madness but a wise coping mechanism far superior to the alternative of games involving vodka, pistols and spouse swapping that often lasted until the big thaw that sometimes did not come until mid-June.
Even the Duluth airport, where you could travel no further than St. Paul or Milwaukee, named its small restaurant in the terminal The Flight of Fancy.
In the 1970s when EST and other "truth seeking" movements came out of California and other places warm enough to afford such nonsense, they failed miserably in Duluth. In 1981, Werner Erhard was shocked when the crowd who came to his seminar at Fitgers' Inn went into a rage when he challenged them to "embrace bold honesty".
"How dare you take our lies and fantasies from us?" they shouted, many having suffered through the closing of the GM plant and the Yugo distribution facility that had once graced the harbor. "Dishonesty and myth are the only things we have left to hold on to!"
Once they had tarred and chased Erhard out of town, they converged in Canal Park, forming a stunning tableaux of the final days of the Hapsburg Court.
In 1992, Ed Granville of the Chicago Tribune came to Duluth intent on exposing the insanity surrounding Roodstrom Reign. When he questioned locals about the logic of a Burmese monarch living in Duluth, they would confidently reply, "If you were a royal from the Southeast Asian tropics needing to go under cover to save your life, what do you think is the last place people would look for you?" Granville's article was never published. Was it because he felt it would shatter the solitary, fragile pillar of stability that was the backbone of Duluth, or was it something else? Was it because he picked up a Burmese dictionary and discovered that the Burmese word for delusion is dooluth?