Category: Alexandria

Dining With The After-Church Crowd At Travelers Inn Restaurant, Alexandria, MN

Whatever you do, don’t visit Travelers Inn when the after-church crowd hits.

On a recent drive to Minneapolis-St. Paul, I stopped at Travelers Inn Restaurant located along Alexandria’s historic main street on Sunday around 11 a.m. The restaurant was packed and people waited for tables along the sidewalk. I hoped the line signified good food worth a wait and walked inside. A man with a clipboard made his way through the crowd taking down names and seating parties as tables became available. Since I was eating alone, I figured my wait would be brief.

I told the man I just needed seating for one. “Great,” he replied and said he’d be right back. I assumed he had an open seat in mind for me. He never came back. He had walked away without taking my name and continued to seat others and add people to his list.

I noticed a couple seat themselves along the diner’s bar and wondered if I was allowed to do the same. Despite my attempts to make eye contact with the gentleman with the clipboard, he didn’t return. A server said I could also seat myself at the counter. A woman at the register brought me a menu and, eventually, a very harried server brought over hot coffee and took my order for a single biscuit and gravy. It was evident the servers were overwhelmed and frantically trying to keep up with their tables.

An older couple seated themselves next to me at the counter shortly after I ordered. They waited for so long that they asked me if a server would assist them at the counter. I replied that one would stop by soon and pointed out how staff seemed overwhelmed.

They patiently waited for another stretch of time and then asked for assistance. An employee at the front told them they were slammed with the after-church crowd. I realize she was stressed, but her response struck me as gruff. She alerted a server to check on them when she got the chance. They continued to wait for so long that I wished I could share my huge pot of coffee with them. If I could have located extra mugs, I wold have offered.

Another stretch of time went by and the server returned and brought them coffee with no cream so I shared my extras. The couple asked for a caramel roll while they waited, because they could see how busy the restaurant was and that the rolls were selling quickly. They glistened in front of us, just a few steps away.

The caramel roll never came. With concerned expressions on their faces, they watched the roll supply dwindle as servers grabbed them from the case. They asked a second time about their caramel roll when they placed their order, yet it still didn’t arrive. Finally, they asked the woman at the counter if she could pack up a caramel roll in a to-go box before they were gone. At this very moment, the register was hit with customers wanting to pay for their meals, so she helped the long line of people while other servers continued to grab the remaining caramel rolls.

As a bystander, I found myself feeling very concerned about whether or not that couple received a caramel roll. The line at the register never ceased, and I wished the employee would just pause and take the couple seconds to pack up a roll. After all, their request was were being put behind the line of customers who showed up after they asked. Heck, I wished I could have packed up the damn caramel roll for them. Like I said, they were sitting a few feet in front of us and it would have literally taken 30 seconds.

The older couple exchanged glances and the wife softly stated, “This was a mistake,” earnestly.

The kitchen seemed as slammed as the dining room and it took a while to get my order. The biscuit and gravy was fine. I’m guessing the plate might have sat on the line waiting to be picked up. I found the gravy mostly tasty and a little pasty.

By the time I paid my tab (under $6 before tip), the staff was calmer and made a concerted effort to be more friendly. The couple finally got their caramel roll but was still waiting for their meal.

This summer, I’ve worked as a server and barista at a local cafe. I’ve also been the person behind the counter at various restaurants and retailers in the past. Therefore, I try to tip well and give staff the benefit of the doubt. I’ve gotten overwhelmed during busy shifts, written down orders wrong, and made my fair share of stress faces. However, I can honestly say I’ve never been rude to a customer or spoken to one in such a gruff manner.

The couple sitting next to me wasn’t rude or condescending (if a little cranky), and overall mostly patient, all things considered. I found the staff’s treatment of the couple striking. I left with an uncomfortable, sad feeling swishing around in my gut.

I don’t know why the staff was so overwhelmed. Maybe someone called in sick. Maybe the management likes to minimally staff the restaurant. Either way, it wasn’t an ideal situation for either servers and customers.

I love small towns and independently owned, old fashioned diners. I just didn’t love this one after church.

So, I found myself in Alexandria

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.

Bella’s on Broadway
523 Broadway Avenue
Alexandria, MN 56308

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

peoplecraters.”  Otherwise, the house was very beautiful and decorated with artifacts and pictures of the innkeeper’s family.  The atmosphere was hospitable and the owner couldn’t have been more warm.  The house had a cozy antiquish feeling without having the creepy glassy-eyed dolls & frilly lace vibe.  The only thing that struck me as out of place was what looked like a prominent, pro-life advertisement near the stairway leading up to the guest rooms.  
I had my first clawfoot tub experience.  Totally underrated.  

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.”

© 2024 Jeni Eats

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Visit Us
Follow Me