Why I love bed and breakfasts
Last week, I found myself in Alexandria.
One of my most unforgettable bed and breakfast experiences occurred at The Elephant Walk, located near downtown Stillwater. Rita, the innkeeper, has traveled all over the world and decorated the inn with items from Africa and Asia.
I was initially wary of eating with strangers as a solo traveler, but have come to find the experience of sharing a meal around a common table to be powerful. The few times I have done this, I have made unique connections with various people. At The Elephant Walk’s breakfast, I shared a conversation with the other guests and the innkeeper which lasted for hours. Rita offered additional words of wisdom on love, life, and the importance of traveling as I sat on her kitchen floor and pet her giant, fluffy, black cat.
This week, on the way home from North Dakota, I checked into the Cedar Rose Inn. As a solo, female traveler, I felt weird at the thought of checking into a hotel and find bed and breakfasts cozier.
Initial dinner fail
After I checked in to the inn, I searched for dinner. My friends have consistently described their experiences at a certain Minneapolis establishment as “weird.” This description was always followed by awkward facial expressions. Usually I laughed, but one day I pressed them for more information. They finally described that they felt a certain vibe. That upon walking through the door, they felt like they were interrupting some kind of secret, sinister, or strange club. That it felt like the sensation portrayed in movies where an imaginary record skids to a halt and everybody stops and stares. And the suspicion that the moment you leave, the restaurant atmosphere is torn down so everyone may continue their secret, illicit activities. This metaphor is a hyperbole but hopefully you can visualize the vibe I am trying to describe.
I thought my friends were ones who were weird and never really understood what they meant until I walked into this Alexandria establishment. Even though it was dinner time, the restaurant contained a handful of customers who seemed to stop and blankly stare the moment I walked through the door (imaginary record screeches to a halt). The staff stationed at the bar blankly stared at me and returned to their conversation, blankly stared and returned to their conversation, etc. As I paused in the entrance, I kept thinking how it felt strange to be “acknowledged-ignored.” I checked for wardrobe malfunctions. I looked for a “seat yourself” sign. I wondered if I should leave, but was afraid someone would walk over and greet me the moment I decided to turn around. I hoped someone would notice my wide-eyed look and guide me to a table, hand me a menu, send over a friendly wave, grab a pitchfork and chase me down the sidewalk. . . really, anything, people. Any reaction at all. But no one ever never did, so I shrugged and walked out the door.
On to Bella’s
My body relaxed as I walked outside and headed to Bella’s where was promptly greeted and seated in a cozy booth. I savored a glass of Riesling, $6.50, and flipped through a depressing book I had grabbed from the inn’s bookshelf, but didn’t really want to read. As a solo, young, female diner, I’ve always been treated very kindly, though often with a tinge of maternal concern or curiosity.
The joys of solo dining.
Before my meal arrived, I was served two pieces of warm foccacia that tasted freshly baked, along with a small dish of balsamic dressing. The delightfully tart dressing almost made me forget how much I love butter. More please.
As an entree, I ordered the Cranberry Walleye, $17.95.
My plate contained broccoli florets, cooked al dente. The broccoli was buttered and generously salted. Fortunately, I happen to lean salty and found the level of seasoning to be edible, however others may disagree. Large chunks of fish lay atop a mound of chunky mashed potatoes. The whole lot was covered in a garlicky butter sauce studded with craisens.
The fish was abundant, tasted fresh, and had a nice crust from a gentle sear. It could have been cooked slightly less, but was overall, tasty. The mashed potatoes were seasoned well, creamy and of the chunkier-smashed variety. I found a whole, small red potato in the mound, but prefer mashed potatoes to border on chunky than completely smooth.
Theoretically, I like cranberry butter sauce. When I ate a bite of food containing the sauce with a craisen, I was happy. Otherwise, the sauce tasted of butter instead of cranberry. Once I ate all of the craisens, I was left with buttery fish, buttery mashed potatoes, and buttery broccoli which tasted fine on the principle of me liking butter, but I yearned for acidity. Had the sauce contained more tartness, incorporated cranberry juice in addition to the craisens, or even drizzled with a reduction of cranberry juice, the combination would have been nearly perfect. I ran the remaining bites of fish through my leftover plate of balsamic vinaigrette.
As a viewer of Chopped, I never understood why Chef Scott Conant was so derisive towards the combination of seafood and cheese. I always wondered what the big deal was about adding some parmesan cheese to seafood. Now I know. The grated cheese tasted fine on the vegetable and potato, but odd with the fish.
Would I return? If I happened to be in Alexandria again, I might return. The dining options are limited. The service and food was decent enough to return and try something different, but I’d probably branch off and try something new.
My bed and my breakfast
Cedar Rose Inn
422 7th Avenue West
Alexandria, MN 56308
I had never tried cream sherry until my first stay at a now closed bed and breakfast, located in Chaska. I now own my own bottle of cream sherry but never drink it. For some reason it tastes so much better at someone else’s bed and breakfast.
We were served dishes of some sort of peach parfait. Normally I am not a fan of parfaits, as they tend to be over-sweet and gloppy, but this version was lovely. The peaches tasted fresh and the yogurt or cream layers were refreshingly light.
I also enjoyed this wild rice and sausage quiche, freshly baked muffin, and fruit. The muffin was light and fluffy and the quiche was really delicious. It was filled with a breakfast sausage, a little cheese, and topped with a layer of crispy wild rice. Simple and comforting.
If I needed to stay in Alexandria or pass through Fargo again, I would return to the Cedar Rose Inn. The Elephant Walk is still my favorite place to stay, but The Cedar Rose Inn had thoughtful touches freshly brewed coffee brought upstairs in the morning, a clawfoot whirlpool tub, off-street parking, and a high quality of food.
Words Jen made-up: “Peoplecraters” & “Acknowledged-ignored.”