I-94 Is Delicious: Jacobs Lefse Bakeri and Tip Top Dairy Bar, Osakis, MN

Our morning trek back to North Dakota encountered some minor speed bumps.

For one thing, we both had a raging case of the Tuesdays.  Our three-day weekend was coming to an end and we were anticipating our return to the corporate grind.  Jake was especially anxious to be home, unwind, and process his backlog of laundry.  However, I was itching for an adventure and wanted to stop in a new town for lunch.

When we ease onto the freeway, I realize I left my laptop charger at his parents’ house.  By the time we return to the freeway, Jake’s in a foul mood.  We bicker about stopping or not stopping for lunch and whether or not we should choose a sit-down or take-out joint, until Jake notices a billboard for Jacobs Lefse Bakeri located in Osakis, MN.  Our bickering halts.

I’m not sure what caused Jake to perk up.  Maybe it was the sight of his name, the mention of lefse (which he happens to love), or the combination of both.  Regardless, I was happy to embark on a food adventure.

Osakis is located along I-94, East of Alexandria.  The main street is less than 10-minutes from the freeway and snuggled close to Lake Osakis.  The city has a sleepy charm and I desperately wanted to stay for the evening.  I still fantasize about sitting on that dock and dangling my feet into the big blue lake.

We wandered inside Jacobs Lefse Bakeri.

It smelled like my grandmother’s home.  Any grandmother’s home.  The front counter was adorned with a small selection of baked goods while an adjacent cooler contained lefse.  We decided to pass on the packages of lefse and ordered four lefse rolls, two of each filling.  Lingonberries and butter, and butter, sugar, and cinnamon.  A pleasant woman prepared our lefse rolls in the big, back kitchen and returned with boxes.

While we waited, I sampled sweet, flaky flat bread.  The lefse rolls were delicate and airy.  The sheets were quite large, and each roll was cut into two, substantially-sized pieces.  Each roll was filled with a generous slathering of real butter and sweet fillings.  I still like mine better but I will always like mine better.  All we wished for was a cup of strong coffee.  We would return for some road lefse.

Down the street, I noticed an ice cream shop and suggested we stop.  I was hoping for something savory and salty to wash away the lefse’s lingering sweetness.

Tip Top Dairy Bar reminds me of places my family visited when I was growing up.  We made countless drives to Dairy Delite in Lakeville, MN, which my mom loved even during her last stages of cancer.  When I was much younger, our family used to bike the Cannon Valley Bike Trail.  I remember devouring the ripe raspberries that lined the trail.  No ride was complete without stopping for ice cream, burgers, and onion rings from similar, summer establishment after our ride.

I smiled as I read through Tip Top’s menu that included fried zucchini and pizza burgers.  I half-heartedly ordered a chili dog, while Jake ordered a hot dog and sloppy joe.  Expecting the food to have the after-thought quality of Dairy Queen, I was curious about why our order took a few extra minutes to prepare.

Between 7-10 minutes later, our food popped out from the pick-up window.  The first thing I noticed were the toasted buns.

These hot dogs laughed in the face of those typically found at Dairy Queens; Mysteriously cooked without any tell-take signs of having been cooked, and stuffed into spongy buns.

No.  These buns were carefully toasted and the dogs were charred on the outside, juicy on the inside, and garnished with hearty pickle chips.  My chili dog was slathered in a meat sauce that was both savory and sweet, complimenting the hot dog’s salty quality.  We both agreed that this was a damn fine chili dog.

The sloppy joe tasted similar to the chunky, homemade version my mom used to make.

It, too, was garnished with pickle chips and I was happy I was quick enough to grab a forkful.

The thoughtfully prepared food melted away the morning’s crankiness and temporarily numbed our back-to-work anxieties.  Even Jake didn’t regret that our food detour added an extra 45-minutes to our journey.

Each time I drive to and from the Twin Cities, I look forward to proving that one can find compelling food along I-94.

The drive may not be as infamously boring they say.  


  1. Anonymous

    Thanks for the info, I’m headed thataway on Sunday. I’ll be sure to stop!

  2. Anonymous

    I was in Osakis last week and we hit the Tip Top. YUM. Chili cheese dogs, hot dog, corndog, onion rings, some fried pickle thing, and excellent root beer (without ice!!). And as usual when in Osakis, I picked up some lefse.

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