Category: I-94 (Page 1 of 2)

Returning to Fargo: The Best Place To Stop For A Snack Off I-94

Disclaimer: Logan spoiler. 

Oh, Logan. North Dakota was supposed to have a starring role. The whole film builds towards this majestic moment where all of the little mutants make a grand pilgrimage to North Dakota.

I’ve gone as North as Grand Forks and I’ve driven across the state from Fargo to Medora. The burnt orange, rolling prairie grass and rugged terrain of Theodore Roosevelt National Park left me awestruck. I’m sure the prairie grass is scratchy and thick with critters, when you drive by and see it gently rolling in the wind, you’ll want to pull your car over and take a nap in it.

North Dakota is actually really beautiful. I could see the characters in Logan reaching the fictional destination of Eden in my mind as prairie grass danced in the wind.

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Eating I-94: The Palmer House Hotel, Sauk Centre, MN

I have a confession to make.

I like ghosts.

Jake, on the other hand, likes aliens. He finds them more probable than ghosts, but I disagree.

To be realistic, I’m terrified of ghosts. Never in my life do I actually want to see or encounter one. But nevertheless, I still like ghosts.

This ghost talk brings me back to a conversation Jake and I recently had with friends. We discussed living offensively vs. defensively over Rhombus Guys pizza and half-priced wine (we especially liked the Louisiana Saturday Night). I live offensively enough. I’m usually game for new experiences, as long as they start before 8 p.m. Jake mentioned he feels that as he’s gotten older, he’s come to live life more defensively, which has resulted in a smaller pool of stories.

When I reflect back, my most interesting stories occurred during travel. And not just long trips, but local road trips, too. In the spirit of adding new experiences to the old story bank, I convinced Jake to join me on another adventure down I-94. We stopped in Sauk Centre to visit the Palmer House Hotel on our way to Saint Paul, MN.

If you take the Sauk Centre exit and turn left, you’ll find yourself on Main Street within minutes. The Palmer House Hotel is located along the heart of my favorite type of classic Americana main street. It’s a striking, three-story building made from red brick and impossible to miss if you’ve seen a photo. The hotel was rebuilt in 1900 and was the city’s first building with electricity. Sinclair Lewis, the first American to be awarded the Nobel prize in Literature, hailed from Sauk Centre and used to work at this very hotel. Literature buffs can visit the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center, located right off the freeway, and his childhood home.

Even more so than Sinclair Lewis, I’ve seen Palmer House noted for it’s paranormal activity. The hotel has seemed to have been explored by every paranormal investigation group in the region and was recently featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures.

We walked into the lobby and were directed to seat ourselves in the pub (bar). At three p.m., the hotel was extremely quiet. Nevertheless, the woman who served us was attentive and friendly. We warmed up with hot coffee delivered in large, clay mugs. They were the type you grip with two hands and, for some reason, I found joy in this.

We learned happy hour had just begun and appetizers were half-priced. Since it was before five p.m., the dinner menu wasn’t offered yet. The lunch items consisted of appetizers, soups, sandwiches, and salads. I wasn’t terribly hungry and ordered the ham, cheese, and pineapple quesadilla.

Jake ordered a burger with blue cheese and caramelized onions, and a side salad.

My quesadilla was good enough. Overall, a satisfying appetizer at less than $4.

Jake’s burger was cooked through (I don’t think he was asked about doneness and he forgot to ask), but it was moist and covered in plenty of caramelized onions and creamy blue cheese. The bun was buttered and nicely toasted. The side salad was like a typical iceberg lettuce mix. Nothing remarkable but it was fresh and the dressings tasted good.

The hotel appeared clean, though slightly worse for the wear. The exterior of the building conjures glimmers of its historical richness, and the interior looks like it was decorated by one of our Midwestern grandmothers. The lobby restrooms were also clean, yet worn. Curtains, instead of doors, shaded the stall and a wooden stick propped up the sink. The hotel management displayed a note by the mirror  acknowledging they were aware of needed repairs, but needed to wait for insurance settlement money to arrive.

Side note for the ladies: The hotel thoughtfully offered complimentary feminine supplies in little baskets within each stall.

All in all, our meal was decent and affordable, especially with the happy hour discount. The Palmer’s lunch menu wasn’t worth a special trip in itself, but the hotel was a pleasant place to pause for hot meal and break from the drive. Visiting a building steeped in so much history and lore felt like an adventure in itself and the service was hospitable. And, ghosts.

Sauk Centre’s charming main street is very accessible from the freeway and about halfway between Fargo-Moorhead and Minneapolis-St. Paul. I also noticed other restaurants and cafes and would like to return for further exploration. Returning for dinner could be fun. Maybe after I have a chance to read one of Lewis’s literary offerings.

Food-Related Odds And Ends

Enjoy these food-related odds and ends from my winter break.

Jake’s grandma passed away this weekend so we will head to the Twin Cities for the memorial service next weekend. When we return, winter break will end and classes will resume.

Ole and Lena’s Pizzeria, Westacres Mall, Fargo, ND
A blog reader recommended the original Ole and Lena’s in Rothsay, MN, about a half hour away on I-94 towards Minneapolis. There is a smaller version at the mall’s food court.

I enjoyed a piece of plain, cheese pizza. The crust had nice texture. Firm where it was supposed to be firm, chewy where it mattered, and floppy in all the right places. It also tasted a little sweet.

The slice was large and was topped with high quality cheese. Perfect for when I’m craving Cosetta’s-style pizza.

Citizen Cafe, Minneapolis, MN
During Christmas week, I met a friend for dinner at Citizen. She mentioned Citizen Cafe’s commitment to locally sourcing ingredients.

I arrived a little early and the staff was more than happy to let me pause at a table and sip a glass of wine until she arrived.

Our server brought a complimentary bread basket. The bread was served warm and accompanied by soft, whipped butter and a mysterious, vegetal/nutty spread.

We both ordered the portabella sandwich which was a steal at $9 (add .75 for goat cheese). The mushroom, onion, roasted red pepper, and squash were cooked nicely and the balsamic provided tang. The ciabatta was toasted and tender. Following the large holiday meals I had recently eaten, I ordered the sandwich without goat cheese, which I immediately regretted.

Sandwiches come with fruit, coleslaw or homemade potato chips. I ordered the chips and they were thin, unseasoned waffle crisps.

Overall, the restaurant had a weird vibe. Not unfriendly, but maybe reserved or curious? Our actual server had a warmer demeanor than the woman who seated me.

Nelson Bros., Clearwater Travel Plaza, Clearwater, MN

On our drive back to the Twin Cities, we wanted to grab a non-fast food lunch. A blog reader once recommended the deli sandwiches at the Clearwater Travel Plaza. I stopped for a caramel roll earlier this year and wasn’t impressed because it didn’t taste of butter.

I found the sandwich counter next to the bakery. The ordering system initially struck me as slightly overwhelming. I think I expected to order from a larger menu of set sandwich combinations, but the deli encouraged customers to pick their own bread, meat, cheese and sauce. Sort of like Subway. Eventually, I noticed a small sign advertising sandwich combination.

I ordered chicken salad but discovered I got tuna in the car. Fortunately, I like both equally.

The tuna salad was a little wet, but tasted fine. The vegetables tasted fresh and there were many to choose from. I liked the spicy mustard sauce and the bread was notably fresh. I ordered Jake a creation involving roast beef and horseradish sauce and he was pleased.

All in all, the deli serves very large sandwich for about $6. Ideal for those who like to customize, but putzier for those who are in a hurry or don’t feel like making a lot of decisions that moment.

Cafe 21, Fargo, ND
A fellow Fargo food blogger, FMFare, discovered a new Asian restaurant serving a fusion of Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese foods. Cafe 21 seems to have replaced Yuki-Hana, a Japanese/Korean restaurant. They serve pho and might be the only restaurant who makes bahn mi. The Asian and American Market sells bahn mi from the Twin Cities in their refrigerated section. I tried one once, and thought the freshness got lost in transit.

We enjoyed spring rolls, spicy ramen with vegetables and egg, eel sushi, beef pho, and flan. Fresh and affordable. Friendly service. Would not hesitate to return.

My only suggestion: Do something about the microwave prominently displayed by a large window facing the parking lot.

But more on this dinner later.

A New Knife Set
Jake’s uncle is active and successful in the Minneapolis-St. Paul restaurant business. He generously gifted me with this metal suitcase O’ Wustoff knives. He said someone had done the same for him when he began his culinary career. 

Carrying the suitcase makes me feel like an assassin.

I just bought a diamond steel so I can try to maintain them. There are two layers of knives and cooking tools such as a zester, channel knife, melon baller, and sewing needles. There are even a couple keys to lock the whole thing up.

We bought Dexter Sani Safe knife sets for class. The handles may be safe, but not particularly sanitary. They are indented with tiny grooves that may prevent slippage but trap debris. In class, it’s not uncommon for students to grab knives from cutting boards while the owner’s back is turned. Knives and other tools are borrowed, never returned, and run through the dishwasher.

These will never see the light of class.

An Ice Cream Maker
Our good friend gave us her ice cream maker. She had only used it once and just never got into it. I am excited to give it a whirl.

As always, your dining suggestions are always appreciated!

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

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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