Category: Freeport

In Transit: From Fargo to Mason City, Iowa

I have to remind myself to take one day at a time, lest I go mad.

Last week, we packed our luggage and headed to Mason City, IA to explore our new hometown and begin the search for a house. Our drive south on I-35 triggered a lot of memories from my college years when I drove between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Waverly, IA countless times. The funny thing is that I never had the urge to pull off the freeway and explore back then. Now, that’s all I can think about as we pass quirky billboards and roadside attractions like the Spam Museum and tiny, country churches.

Although I hated the three and a half hour commute between Fargo and our hometown, Minneapolis-St. Paul, I enjoyed exploring the small towns along I-94. My husband’s usually in a hurry to go straight to our destination but agreed to stop for dinner.

I chose Freeport, MN, the small town with a smiling water tower. It’s also home to Charlie’s Cafe, a popular breakfast joint with a strong billboard presence. When I dined at Charlie’s last year, I felt drawn to the charming main street and wanted to return to Ackie’s Pioneer Inn, the interesting building next door. We hungrily eyed a supper club menu posted on the door, hoping for a meal.

The interior surprised us. For one thing, it was empty except for a small group of friends perched at the bar. It also smelled strongly of alcohol and not at all like food. The friendly locals told us they only served meals on certain evenings. As they directed us to their restrooms, a young man yelled something about falling spiders. I thought he was messing with us. My husband, who is typically even-keeled, emerged from the restroom unnerved because a spider had, indeed, fallen on his head.

The rowdy locals directed us to the Corner Pub down the street for burgers. The same young man who had warned us about spiders hollered an endorsement for their chicken.

The corner bar was also quiet except for a handful of locals and the menu was simple, consisting of fried appetizers and sandwiches. Jake chose a German burger with American swiss and sauerkraut while I went after a sloppy burger with sauteed veggies, bacon, and mayo, both with sides of crispy, crinkle cut fries. A friendly server took our orders and prepared our meals. She left a bottle of Thousand Island at our table and I put it on everything.

Weary travelers should never underestimate the power of a burger basket from a humble, small town bar. The patties were cooked all of the way through and nondescript, but the people watching was memorable. A couple of women celebrating a birthday were glued to the television mounted above the bar, closely following The Biggest Loser. A contestant fell off his bike and they laughed. Later, another man sat at the bar and turned around often to stare. He was located near the bathroom, so I chanced my bladder and held it all the way to St. Paul.

We now find ourselves in limbo as we live in hotels during the workweek and return to the Twin Cities to live with our parents on the weekends until we can buy our first home. Then, we’ll arrange for movers to bring the rest of our belongings down from our apartment in Fargo.

It’s stressful and it’s tiring. We’re always in transit and there’s no definitive end in sight. Fortunately, everyone we’ve met in Mason City has gone out of their way to offer warm welcomes and extend their assistance.

Getting acquainted with our new downtown

As my college acquaintance who lives here said, “It’s the Mason City way.” We’re grateful for this.

Solo Road Trip Home Part I: Awkwardly Delicious Breakfast In Rural MN @ Charlie’s Cafe

Although our Easter break is only a couple of weeks away, I felt antsy and wanted to go back home for a quick visit.

I enjoyed a somewhat leisurely Saturday morning and packed up for the Twin Cities.  Even at nine a.m., the fog swirled along I-94 E and made for a drive more amusing and beautiful than the norm.

Having done some prior research via Chowhound, I decided to make a quick breakfast stop in Freeport, MN at Charlie’s Cafe.  Freeport is located about 75-minutes from the Twin Cities and I have always admired it’s smiley water tower-like contraption and beautiful church steeple.

No one seemed to offer any glowing suggestions of breakfast joints along I-94 between the Twin Cities and Fargo, but mentioned Charlie’s Cafe for decent food, accessibility to the freeway, and that it’s supposedly the inspiration behind Garrison Keillor’s Chatterbox Cafe in Lake Wobegon.  It’s website also advertises free wi-fi.

The cafe was literally a few minutes from the freeway.  I admired the amiable, tiny main street and character of the beautiful, old homes.  Charlie’s Cafe was immediately visible due to it’s prominent signage.

Charlie’s Cafe
115 Main Street East
Freeport, MN 56331
(320) 836-2105

The small restaurant was buzzing with families and friends enjoying each other’s company on a beautiful Saturday morning.  Although the restaurant aggressively advertises to weary road travelers on billboards along the interstate, Charlie’s seemed like a cozy gathering spot for locals.  Many of the diners appeared to be happy regulars or familiar with each other.

Once inside, I quickly seated myself, set up my laptop, and placed my order for coffee and a breakfast skillet that included hash browns, vegetables, two eggs, sunny side-up, and the meat of choice, ham.

My server quickly brought me a small pot of hot coffee and I gratefully poured myself a cup to ward of an increasing sensation of sleepiness.  I was happy to see little creamers at my table.  Real cream is best, little creamers are good enough, and powdered, dairy-free creamers are abhorable (for the record, I like my coffee blond and my espresso somewhat less blond).

Minutes later, my server brought my breakfast skillet.

I tested one of the egg yolks and it ran liquid gold.

The exterior of the hash browns was delightfully crispy and interspersed with bits of ham, thin slices of onion, crispy green pepper, canned mushrooms, and melted American cheese.  I felt iffy about the canned mushrooms and American cheese, but appreciated the perfectly cooked eggs and the dish’s lack of visible greasiness.  In fact, all of the skillet elements, from the hash browns to the eggs, tasted rather light. . . as light as a breakfast skillet could possible be.

Not exactly haut cuisine, but the guilty-pleasure type of comfort food that hit the spot during my morning drive.

As a side note, I did my best to nonchalantly enjoy my meal while a table of local, male, senior citizens kept turning around to stare.  This staring activity didn’t seem to be hostile or overtly unwelcoming, but possibly curious.  I guess they may not see too many strange Asian girls with laptops in these parts.  That being said, I ate pretty quickly, as the experience felt a little awkward.  Mind you, these weren’t brief, curious glances (which I have become relatively oblivious to), but full-on, turning around in one’s seat to gawk.

I paid my tally which came to about $9.25, and returned to the road.

In conclusion, I felt the service was friendly and attentive and I also noticed the restaurant advertised German specialties served on Wednesday evenings between 4-8 p.m.  Maybe Jake and I can stop by for German food if we happen to be traveling to or from the cities.

Do you have any suggestions for food-related stops between the Twin Cities and Fargo?

Stay tuned for Solo Road Trip Home Part II where this Hunger Games virgin brings my family to Dong Yang for some amazing Korean food and stern Korean grandmothering, and suffers a near meltdown after seeing the film (a.k.a. omg, so that’s what they mean by “games”).

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