Category: Fergus Falls

My Fergus Falls Love Song: Trees, Cafes & Ghosts

Before we moved to Iowa, I had hoped to compile a list of the best places to find road food between Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN and Fargo, ND.

Due to the quickness of our move and purchase of our first house, this plan was never realized. However, I do want to take the time to share photos from my last trip to Fergus Falls, MN.


I became smitten with Fergus Falls the first time I drove down these plush, tree-lined streets to the downtown area located about 10-minutes from I-94. They remind me of walking with my grandma through her old Cuyahoga Falls, OH neighborhood to the park.
I often stopped at Cafe 116 for coffee and a panini on my way to the Twin Cities.
The gift shop next door reminds me of the Bibelot and Patina shops.

My typical order at Cafe 116 was a machiatto (espresso simply topped with milk foam) and a Cleveland Panini filled with prosciutto, mozzarella, thinly shaved red onion and sliced apple. You can substitute fresh vegetables for chips for only $.50. It’s a worthy investment because they provide a large portion of fresh carrot sticks and pea pods. You can even add a small cup of homemade ranch dressing.

Cafe 116 makes as much of their food from scratch as possible and sources from local suppliers including bread and granola from Falls Baking Company, sausage from Premier Meats and Seafood, and maple syrup from Camp Aquila.

I also enjoyed my visits to the Viking Cafe located a few blocks down the street.

This cafe is a fixture; family owned for over 40-years. You can enjoy a meal along the counter or seated in the dark wooden booths. Some of Viking Cafe’s specials may seem a little institutional, but the prices are extremely affordable the service is swift. If you order coffee, your cup will never be empty.

I’ve been told they really shine for breakfast and a reader highly recommended their favorite biscuits and gravy. On my last visit, I arrived in time for an early lunch and they had already sold out, so go early if you want them.

It just feels special to eat here.

Since you are in Fergus, take a moment to visit the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center that operated from 1890-2005 (it was originally called the Fergus Falls State Hospital until 1985).

The treatment center was one of dozens built by Psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride. He intended that their majestic architecture and sprawling lawns be part of the patients’ treatment. According to this Star Tribune article, the facility was once self-sufficient and patients helped maintain orchards, crops, livestock, and a greenhouse for compensation.

Since its closure, the building has remained mostly empty. The Otter Tail Country Historical Society offers tours and a couple horror movies were filmed on the premises. I found some beautiful photos of the insides of the buildings on Ghosts of Minnesota (Part I and Part II).

It sounds like the city has struggled to find buyers for the property. A group called the Friends of Kirkbride have worked to preserve the historic buildings, while others feel it’s best to demolish them. Both plans would be very expensive.

This recent article mentions that a developer from Georgia signed a letter of intent during June of 2013 to transform the buildings into a hotel, spa, two restaurants, gym and 60 apartments. Renovations are scheduled to begin in 2014.

I visited after a heavy rain. The property was silent except for birds and I was alone except for a few nurses power walking during their lunch breaks. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to explore Fergus Falls.

There are always fantastic adventures in store for those who wanderlust.

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: Cafe 116 (Again) & White Horse

I continued exploring dining options off I-94, between Fargo and Minneapolis, on a solo road trip home this past weekend.

On the way to the Twin Cities, I returned to Cafe 116 in Fergus Falls, MN for lunch.  Even though I wanted to branch out in my roadfood stops, my first visit last Memorial Day was so lovely that I returned.  Cafe 116 strives to utilize local foods and suppliers.

Plus, it smells like butter.

With just two visits, Cafe 116 has already crept onto my short list of happy places.  These are places in which I find myself breathing easier and my shoulders relaxing.  Where the climate is controlled, chatter doesn’t echo, and the music’s not too loud or obnoxiously selected.  The light’s never to bright (or too dim), the tables are perfectly spaced, and the service is friendly.  Places where I feel comfortable pausing over warm beverages and better than average food.  You will rarely find me at coffee shops that serve terrible food.

I ordered a cortado, $2.75.  A couple shots of espresso cut with milk froth.

For lunch, I ordered the Hamden, a panini filled with ham, mozzarella, roasted red red pepper, thin slices of red onion, and pineapple, $7.50.  I upgraded chips to a generous pile of carrot sticks and pea pods and homemade Ranch for $1.

The panini was crunchy and I liked the salty and sweet interplay between the meat, cheese, and pineapple.  However, I liked the panini I ordered last time, better.  It was made from prosciutto, mozzarella, fresh apple slices, and red onion.

I ordered a chocolate chip cookie bar, $1.50, for the road.  It tasted surprisingly bland and dry and one bite was enough.  No worries.  I’m smitten with Fergus Falls and will return to my newest happy place for coffee and grilled paninis.

On Friday evening, I met some friends at the Imperial Room for a rumored, free mashed potato bar.  I know I’ve become accustomed to Fargo traffic when I ran into Target Field Twins Traffic and broke into a cold sweat.  Walking to the Imperial Room, I realized I was lost somewhere around Dream Girls.

We learned the Imperial Room no longer offers their complimentary happy hour mashed potato bar on Friday evenings.  We ordered happy hour specials instead.  Half-priced beverages and appetizers, and $5 treats.  The fried goodies were cooked with a deft hand.  I enjoyed a small plate of non-greasy walleye fingers and a thoughtful salad of crisp romaine accompanied by a bracingly tart vinaigrette.

Then, I got lost again on the way back to my parking ramp.

The afternoon trek back to Fargo included a stop at White Horse, a bar along the main street in downtown St. Cloud. I chose the White Horse for two reasons:

1.  It’s in St. Cloud
I went through a country music phase in 1995.  The second song I ever loved was “On a Bus to St. Cloud” By Trisha Yearwood.  And hence, St. Cloud, MN has become legendary in my mind.  Kudos to Trisha Yearwood for hosting own cooking show.  I’d still take her show over Ree Drummond’s, any day.  She joked about her chain-smoking grandma while her sisters looked embarrassed.  For some reason, this made me laugh.  Ree Drummond’s never made me laugh.

2.  The Thai Burger
I prowl the Internet for potential roadfood stops.  Yelp may not be the most reputable source for reviews, but it’s often the only source when it comes to small towns outside the metropolitan area.  One reviewer complained the White Horse’s Thai burger was too spicy to be edible.  “Ding Ding Ding Ding!  The bells went off in my head when I read the words “literally inedible.”


I know St. Cloud is in outstate Minnesota, but I was determined to try that Thai burger and hoped for at least a tingle.

White Horse’s printed lunch menu offers mundane bar food, with the expectation of the Thai burger.  However, the dinner menu offers surprisingly diverse dishes of Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese influence. The daily chalkboard specials included a soup made with eggplant and chickpeas and even homemade pho with shrimp.  The pho scented the bar with star anise which was unexpected and lovely.

The Thai Burger was the menu’s most expensive burger option at $11.  I upgraded the burger’s side of french fries to a salad for $2.50 (upgrading to a cup of soup was only $1).

White Horse delivered an above-average salad for the upgrade.  It was goodly-sized and made with high quality ingredients.  Crispy romaine lettuce, generous slivers of red onion (the more, the better), seasoned homemade croutons and dressing, and plush, ripe tomato.

I publicly admit that I have a thing for Ranch dressing.

The burger was spicy and flavorful.  For my tastes, it was spicy enough to induce a jolly sweat, though it probably wasn’t spicy enough for the most seasoned of chili-heads.

The meat patty was crusty on the outside.  I detected garlic and lemongrass while nubs of of Thai chilies and chili seeds were packed into the meat.  The sriracha aoli contained a pleasant kick and wasn’t overly rich or creamy.  Again, I swooned over the ruby-red, ripe tomato slices.  They were really beautiful, especially considering the mealy, orange abominations normally served elsewhere.  Finally, the brioche burger bun was above average.  It was toasted, buttered, and of the ideal texture to support a burger.

When I cut into the burger, I cringed when I realized I didn’t specify the burger’s doneness.  The patty was cooked all of the way through.  Thankfully, it was juicy, despite its doneness.  Considering the modest size of the burger and the salad upgrade, $13.50 plus tax and tip made a pricier than average lunch.  Overall, I enjoyed my meal and felt comfortable as a single, female diner.  The vegetables were especially lovely. Had the Thai burger had been cooked a little less, it would have been my version of bliss.

Service was fine with a tinge of apathy.  The “thank you for coming” chocolate mint sticks helped.

I-94 is Delicious Chronicles, restaurants on deck:

  • Albany Restaurant, Albany, MN
  • Palmer House, Sauk Centre, MN
  • Ackie’s Pioneer Inn, Freeport, MN
  • Mable Murphy’s, Fergus Falls, MN
  • Eagle Cafe, Barnesville, MN
  • El Portal, Melrose, MN

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