Category: Diner

Searching For Breakfast in Rochester, Minnesota

This year feels like I’m living a long version of Sex & the City S4:11.

When I watched the show in my earlier 20’s I never really understood Charlotte. Re-watching the series, I never understood her more than during this episode.

A lot of things are hard when you’re dealing with infertility: Facebook pregnancy announcements, your Instagram feed, baby showers, family holiday gatherings, and people giving terrible advice (like anything alluding to relaxing more).

You will truly not know how you’re going to feel about any of these things until you’re confronted with this reality. Sex and the City got a lot of things wrong (and nailed others), but accurately captured many of the feelings around infertility.

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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.

A Detour At Kay’s Kitchen, St. Joseph, MN & Nine Breakfasts That Changed My Life

Jake and I enjoyed one of our longer stretches away from the Twin Cities. It fell between our wedding and Thanksgiving. Now, we’re back to traveling back and forth along I-94 for the holiday season.

This past weekend we celebrated the engagement of Jake’s youngest brother and his fiance. On the way back to Fargo on Monday morning, I stopped at Kay’s Kitchen, in St. Joseph, a restaurant that has served breakfast since 1972. St. Joseph is the home of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University so I guessed it would have a decent cafe or diner. I had remembered finding Kay’s Kitchen on a web search for breakfast along I-94 months ago.

When I’m in a hurry but want to stop for a food detour, I pause in towns whose main streets are about five minutes from the freeway (such as Osakis and Fergus Falls). I stopped in St. Joseph, knowing its main street was also a short drive from the freeway. Kay’s Kitchen is not actually located in St. Joseph’s charming main street area, though it’s not far.

I sat in the diner part of the restaurant and perched on a bar stool along the counter. The woman working there quickly offered me a bottomless mug of coffee, $1.69, and provided me with a menu. Little plastic containers of cream and a jar of sugar were already at the counter.

For breakfast, I chose the Silver Spoon Omelet, $7.99, described as having avocado, tomato, onion, bacon, mushrooms, and cheese. It also came with my choice of wheat toast and hash browns. After a short wait, my breakfast arrived.

The omelet was fluffy and I liked its texture. The inside was filled with plenty of caramelized mushrooms, onions, and large pieces of crunchy bacon. I love mushrooms, especially when cooked to a golden brown. The avocado on the top of the omelet was a little droopy and slightly oxidized. It didn’t taste bad, but could have been fresher.
The omelet, as a whole, tasted quite good, but I didn’t like the little dribbles of oil from the inside. These either from the sauteed vegetables or bacon grease. I enjoyed the hash browns. They were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. They were also nicely seasoned. The wheat toast was dense and grainy and spread with margarine. I helped myself to the plastic packs of strawberry and grape jelly available on the counter.
In summary, breakfast was fine. I appreciate that Kay’s used fresh mushrooms instead of canned. I hate canned mushrooms.
The service wasn’t notably warm, but it was attentive. My mug was frequently refilled with hot coffee and I received my bill quickly which was helpful since I was driving directly to class in Moorhead.
Although I enjoy breakfast foods, restaurant breakfasts don’t often strike me as life changing. More often than not, they have been decent, but not life changing. But that doesn’t keep me from searching.
Nine Breakfasts That Changed My Life
  • Venezuelan corn pancakes with butter, syrup, and cotija cheese from Maria’s Cafe, Minneapolis, MN
  • Daily egg bake from The Lodge On Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, MN
  • A freshly fried churro, Puebla, Mexico
  • The room service breakfast we ordered after our wedding from The St. Paul Hotel, St. Paul, MN.
  • Four-course breakfast at The Elephant Walk, a bed and breakfast in Stillwater MN (the cheese and homemade cracker platter was stunning as well. Rita even made me gluten-free muffins during my year-long, gluten-free phase).
  • Breakfast on trays including maple sausage, french toast, and fruit that we picked up to eat in our room at the Chelsea Station Inn, a bed and breakfast in Seattle, WA (The rooms are more like apartments and cost less than what you’d pay at a nice hotel. There is a community fridge packed with treats like goat cheese, local sodas and ice cream, plus an equally stuffed pantry).
  • Fluffy cinnamon rolls from Isles Bun & Coffee (I worked at an office next door one summer and, had this been longer, I would have had some problems).
  • An eggy breakfast skillet with thin slices of jalapenos griddled until caramelized at the Waveland Cafe, Des Moines, IA.
  • The simple but satisfying $5 free range eggs and sourdough toast plate from French Meadow Bakery and Cafe, Minneapolis, MN

The Viking Cafe, Fergus Falls

On Friday morning, I drove to the Twin Cities to begin our wedding weekend.

My stomach churned with hunger an hour into the drive, so I stopped in Fergus Falls for an early lunch.

I was happy to stop in Fergus Falls even though I felt urgency to reach the cities.  Fergus Falls comforts me very much like a warm blanket.  The homes are well-kept and form cozy neighborhoods that are surrounded by mature trees.  The town was especially beautiful painted with fall colors.

Normally I’d stop at Cafe 116, but wanted to try something new.  I wasn’t so much in the mood for cafe food as I was for a blue plate special.

The Viking Cafe is like the antithesis of Cafe 116.  More like the old-fashioned neighborhood diner as seen in movies with wooden booths and pie.  Hence, the cafe’s name, it was lined with Viking-themed decorations.

I stood at the entrance for a few minutes trying to decipher the seating code.  Do I seat myself or wait to be seated?  The man at the cash register finally directed me to choose a seat.

I settled into a booth in the middle of the room and facing the door.  A server whizzed by and deposited a small glass of ice water and a menu.

After perusing the menu, I ordered coffee with cream and sugar, and a lunch special of fried fish, toast, tomato slices and potato salad.  She took my order and zoomed away as quickly as she had arrived.

The coffee was hot and arrived with my very own saucer of real cream.  I was thrilled.

My food arrived soon after.

The fish appeared to be of the pre-frozen variety, but it was piping hot, crispy and not greasy in the least.

I liked the potato salad’s tanginess, but its temperature which was warmer than I expected.  It tasted fine so I’m guessing it might have been recently prepared.

The tomatoes were ripe and the toast tasted like butter-flavored oil.

I can not eat fish without lemon, a personal quirk, and looked around to ask for some slices or wedges.  The servers raced around, hardly stopping at a table for more than a few seconds.  No one stopped by to check in and my attempts to make eye contact failed.  I found a server who paused at the table behind me and asked for lemon.  She told me they only had lemon juice packets.

I took what I could get.

Several of them appeared sticky with syrup so I let those be.

Overall, the meal was warm and adequate.  I appreciated that I could get in and out in less than a half hour and my final bill was less than $9, including tax.

I realize the cafe was busy, but I was slightly distracted by the smushed muffin by my foot and sticky salt and pepper shakers.

All things considered, I would return to The Viking Cafe.  A little sticky, possibly semi-homemade, and efficient, the sum of its parts was endearing.


I-94 Is Delicious: The Brass Lantern, Alexandria, MN

On Saturday morning, I found myself on the road again.

I’ve become intimately acquainted with the stretch of Interstate 94, between Fargo, ND and Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN.  And I find myself in a love-hate relationship with the journey.  At the end of the three and a half hour drive, I am usually spent, especially at the end of a busy week.

I enjoy scanning the local radio stations along the way.  When two stations simultaneously played Paula Cole’s Where Have All The Cowboys Gone, I was filled with glee.  This was followed by Aqua’s Barbie Girl and something by Shaggie.  As an introvert, I enjoy the solitude of a solo road trip and spend most of the drive singing like a lunatic.

Billboards have become as familiar as friends.  I nod at the grinning Keith of Keith’s Kettle Family Restaurant and and wonder when OMG meant “Obama Must Go.”  The terrain is mostly flat and mostly boring, unless you look closely or take time to wander off the beaten path.

This time, I drove without a specific plan of where I wanted to stop for a meal.  I just drove until I was hungry and noticed my blinks dangerously increased in length.  Thus, I exited in Alexandria in search of breakfast.  An appointment in St. Paul left me with less than an hour to choose a restaurant and eat, so I conducted a quick Internet search, settling on The Brass Lantern.  It was close to the freeway and ranked on Urbanspoon, which I realize is as helpful and prone to astroturfing as Yelp.  When it comes to outstate Minnesota, I have to take what I can get in terms of online reviews.

I had a difficult time finding The Brass Lantern, located in what looked like a strip mall.  The restaurant’s interior was dated and dark, and I hesitated when it seemed devoid of customers this late Friday morning.  I asked a server if I could order breakfast.  She answered affirmatively and invited me to sit in the front section of the restaurant that faced the inside of a mall where a few other customers had settled.

When I inquired about using the restroom, they replied, “It’s in Herberger’s.”  I spent the next ten minutes holding my bladder and silently cussing as I wandered through the dead mall and weaved through cosmetics and clothing.  A friendly salesperson finally guided me through the department store maze, to the cleverly hidden bathroom.  Aren’t they always?

By the time I returned to the restaurant, the staff had gravitated towards the other side.  I felt like Goldilocks/Sheldon Cooper as I tried out several booths in hopes of finding a seat where I didn’t feel so awkward.  I wandered to the other side of the restaurant and let a server know I had, in fact, emerged from the garishly-colored bowels of Herberger’s juniors department.  She quickly gave me a menu along with a mug of hot coffee and water.  I ordered the Western Breakfast Skillet with sourdough toast.

My meal quickly arrived and I inhaled my skillet of scrambled eggs mixed with diced bell peppers, onions, and ham a top fried potatoes.

The scrambled eggs reminded me of egg foo young patties.  They were cooked to the point of being golden brown on the outside and slightly spongy in texture, and covered in melted American cheese.  Jake likes his eggs like this; cook to the point of near crispiness.  I prefer mine soft or runny.  The fried potatoes were crisp, non-greasy, and nicely salted and the buttered sourdough toast hit the spot.

As I began to eat, I overheard a server tell a regular she just learned a patient escaped from a local psychiatric hospital.  According to her friend, who was supposedly an employee at the hospital, the patient was described as dangerous.  The server and the regular agreed their best precaution was to carry their guns with them until the patient was re-admitted.  Then, the server added that she hoped she wasn’t murdered that evening. I ate quickly.

While I can’t say I’d make a point to return to The Brass Lantern, I also can’t really say I disliked my meal, well-cooked eggs, American cheese, grape jelly packets, and all.  The food and coffee were served piping hot, the skillet was not greasy, and I found the service endearing. I basked in the “hun’s” and “dear’s” and appreciated their efforts to make sure everyone’s coffee and water was refreshed.

As I paid my tally of $10, I asked for a small, to-go cup for my remaining glass of coffee to sip on the remainder of my drive.  The server provided me with a fresh tumbler of hot coffee and offered me a set of French vanilla creamers.  Not the powdered kind.  I loved her for that.

Even though I would have liked to make one more trip to the ladies room, the thought of returning to Herberger’s was too much to bear, so I ran out from the dead mall, back to my car.  I locked my car door and began to breathe a little easier as I sipped the gift of hot coffee and put some distance between me and Ms. Alexandria.

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