Category: North Dakota (Page 1 of 2)

Favorites From 2013: Foods, Beverages & More

2013 was a big year. We lived in Fargo, North Dakota and Mason City, Iowa. We got married, bought our first house, and adopted a dog. I embarked on a lot of solo road trips and completed a whole year of full-time culinary school at Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

Here are my favorite tastes from the past year:

Favorite Overall Dish: Prosciutto Wrapped Shrimp With Marscapone Polenta at Mezzaluna

Mezzaluna offered our favorite happy hour in Fargo with hospitable service and skillfully crafted cocktails. This is the dish we ordered the most frequently during the year. No trip to Mezzaluna was complete if one (or both) of us did not order this.  It’s only $7 during happy hour.

I don’t have a decent photo since we dined when the light was especially dim, but there’s a photo on Mezzaluna’s slide show on their homepage

Favorite Sushi Roll: White Boy Sushi Roll from Bangkok Corner (formerly Cafe 21), Fargo, ND
Yes. I, too, was surprised my favorite sushi roll came from Fargo, ND.

This sushi roll’s name is strange. I liked its pleasing balance of sweet and savory. The mango sauce surprised me because it tasted like a fresh puree and wasn’t cloyingly sweet. The fish was fresh and silky and the portion size was generous for $12.99. Hopefully this is still the case.

Red Curry Scallops, Sarello’s, Moorhead, MN
I met Sarah, the author of the blog Home With The Lost Italian at the North Dakota Blogger and Writer Conference in Bismarck, ND. We were the only Fargo-Moorhead attendees to participate in first evening’s food crawl with Marilyn Hagerty. Jake called me about the Iowa transfer during this conference and so we made a point to visit Sarello’s before we moved.

We spent one of our last evenings in Fargo surrounded by good friends at Sarello’s who gave us the perfect send-off. Our favorite dish was their Red Curry Scallops. The menu features a lot of Italian food, so I was surprised when their curry was spicier and more flavorful than any I’d tasted at a Thai restaurant.

Favorite Salads: 1910 Grille at the Historic Park Inn, Mason City, IA
The only surviving Frank Lloyd Wright hotel 
We’ve visited the Historic Park Inn several times to dine at their restaurant and lounge. Their menus are concise and don’t get too crazy, but everything we’ve ordered has been nicely seasoned and thoughtfully prepared.

Their salads are outstanding. For $9-10 per salad, I’d expect the greens to be free of any blemishes and the dressings to be scratch-made and balanced. These certainly are.

We love the calamari here. One the two occasions we ordered it, the squid was tender, tasted fresh, and fried nicely without being greasy. I was also pleasantly surprised when our gin martinis were only $7 each. 

Fish and Chips from Ward 6, East Saint Paul, MN
This is the dish that keeps me from branching out. It’s fried in beef tallow. “Nuff said.”

More reasons why I love Ward 6.

Favorite Beverages

Absinthe from Meritage, Saint Paul, MN
I’ve written about Meritage so many times. It’s one of our favorite special occasion restaurant in the Twin Cities. They offer many varieties of absinthe that they pour from their fancy absinthe fountain.

They allow one serving per guest, per visit and it’s all for good reason. 
Chai Tea from Verdant Tea in Minneapolis, MN and Coffee Cat, Mason City, IA
Homemade chai tea lattes are the best. Both Verdant Tea and Coffee Cat offer versions made from their own blend of ground spices. 

Tea from Verdant

Verdant’s is automatically made with almond milk unless one requests otherwise and Coffee Cat stocks soy milk and sweetens theirs with honey. You won’t find any sweet powdery mixes or syrups at these places.

Favorite Sandwiches

Signature Sandwich Box Lunches from Starboard MarketWhen I first moved to Mason City, people sang the praises of Starboard Market. I stopped by for takeout lunches while we were in the midst of a miserable hotel week before we could move into our house.

These sandwiches brightened our day. First timers beware: There are so many different types of creative sandwich combinations that it may take you a long time to choose your first one.

The full Signature Sandwich Box Lunches aren’t cheap at $10.25, but our Reuban and Regatta (smoked turkey, mango chutney, havarti cheese) were stacked tall with freshly sliced meat. The boxes also come with a pickle spear, chips, freshly baked cookie and a tiny cup of your choice of salad.

The Cleveland Panini from Cafe 116
We drove between Fargo and Minneapolis-St. Paul countless times. My favorite city to stop was Fergus Falls and I always visited Cafe 116 for their Cleveland Panini and espresso.

Fergus Falls is a beautiful city with a cozy feel. I felt at ease at Cafe 116, so I would often pause to enjoy my meal on my way to the Twin Cities.

The cafe pulls wonderfully rich espresso and serves scratch-made foods made from local producers. I always ordered my favorite Cleveland Panini filled with prosciutto, mozzarella, red onion and sliced apple with a side of fresh vegetables. All sandwiches can be ordered by the half or whole.

I don’t miss making the three and a half hour drive between Fargo and the Twin Cities, especially in the winter, but I will miss my visits to Cafe 116.

Most Surprisingly Good Foods

Shrimp Cocktail at Dempsey’s Public House
Who orders the shrimp cocktail at a dive bar in Fargo?

Dempsey’s is a dim dive bar on the main drag through downtown Fargo. It serves an eclectic crowd and offers surprisingly decent food like Bertrosa’s beer cheese soup.

We’ve been burned by shrimp cocktails such as the $1 version at the MN State Fair so we were wary when our friend ordered it. We were surprised when shrimp were huge and the cocktail sauce made our noses burn with horseradish. In fact, it was just as good than the version at a hotel down the street. It costs $9.75 for five large shrimp and is Dempsey’s offers it for less during certain happy hours. Who knew?

Breakfast Sandwich at Polly’s Coffee Cove, East Saint Paul, MN
This little coffee shop is tucked into a block on Payne Ave. within walking distance to my in-laws house. One morning I ventured over in search of breakfast. I asked the woman at the counter if Polly’s offered breakfast sandwiches and she offered to whip one up for a few dollars.

The sandwich she created wasn’t fancy or gourmet. But somehow, squishy croissants, eggs, swiss cheese and cubed deli turkey meat never tasted so compelling.

Favorite Sweet Things

Green Market, Orange Tart and Corn Cake, Fargo, ND
Alas, the Green Market is no more and is truly missed. 

Green Market was one of a kind in Fargo because they sourced local and organic ingredients and offered a rotating menu every night. Chef Andrea Baumgartener and staff were stellar so we cheer for them as they embark on new adventures. I was thrilled to see Chef Andrea and Amy Thielen prepare Icelandic pancakes on the first episode of Heartland Table.

Pictured above is a buttery tart filled with tangy orange custard and passion fruit glaze and a corn cake with burnt caramel syrup.

Buttermilk Pie, Josie’s Corner Cafe & Bake Shop, Fargo, ND
I hadn’t even heard of buttermilk pie until I worked at Josie’s.

It became my favorite pie and I still think about it from Iowa. Flaky crust and a filling that’s slightly tangy and caramelized on top. It’s already affordable, but on Mondays and Fridays, you can get a slice of pie and freshly-brewed house coffee for a few bucks.

If you’re not in the mood for sweet, their knoephla soup and chicken pot pie soups are some of my favorites. Plus, they make a mean veggie panini.  

Strawberry parfait, Decker House Bed & Breakfast
We spent our first week in Mason City at the Decker House this summer. Jake had to start his new position within weeks and since lodging options here were limited, we thought the Decker House would provide a safe place to land while we considered our long-term options.

One morning, the owner started breakfast with this yogurt parfait made with local strawberries she and her staff picked. It was a bright spot in the midst of a stressful situation.

Read more about our week at the Decker House here

Rhubarb Soup, Pirogue Grille, Bismarck, ND
As I mentioned, the ND Bloggers and Writers Conference food crawl through downtown Bismarck led by Marilyn Hagerty was completely epic. In fact, it has to be one of my favorite memories of my entire life. I’m not even joking.

On our first stop, Chef Stuart Tracy and Cheryl served this cold rhubarb soup in which a ball of ice cream coated in crunchy nougat floated in the middle. It tasted like magic.

It was also surreal to eat lunch with and learn from freelance writer Margie Goldsmith and Mark Orwoll, the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Thanks to the ND Department of Commerce for coordinating the workshop. 

Favorite Culinary School Tastes

Last year, I completed my first full-time year of culinary school at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead, MN. I loved culinary school and was crushed when we found out about our transfer to Iowa last summer. I had just begun working at the bakery and looked forward to completing my second (and final) year where we got to butcher animals, supervise first year students, and plan the school’s cafeteria menus.

Nevertheless, I am grateful for this experience, the friends I made, and the learning opportunities our instructors provided. Here are a couple highlights:

Peking Ducks
Our teacher taught us how to make Peking ducks in our meat unit. We stitched them full of marinade, blew them up with a air compressor, hung them to dry, blanched them in honey water, and roasted them until their skin was crispy.

I’m not even going to try to be humble, here. This experience was awesome.You can read a detailed post as part of my Culinary Chronicles series at Simple, Good & Tasty.

The Seafood Unit
This collage doesn’t quite do our seafood unit justice, but it provides an impression of all the things we tasted.

We learned how to scale and fillet whole salmon and halibut and boil lobsters. We shucked and ate raw oysters, cooked clams and mussels, and ate bacon-wrapped scallops. We boiled lobsters and ate them drenched in lots of butter and learned how to distinguish between different qualities of shrimp.

Read more about our seafood unit here

Spiciest Food

Dhamaka Balti, India Palace, Fargo, ND
Finally, a curry that really gave us heat stroke. We ordered it with lamb and enjoyed every bite.

This particular curry came with a hilarious disclaimer that’s been since removed. It said: *Very HOT! Prepare for an explosion in your mouth.  

Either way, we loved that India Palace actually delivered on their promise of heat. The rest of the dining experience was pleasant as well. Now, if only they’d set up shop in North Iowa.

Favorite Acquired Taste

The Everything Grinder from The Red Pepper, Fargo, ND
Boy, did I hate The Red Pepper when they first opened their location into the strip mall next to our apartment complex.

I whined about the long lines and lengthy wait times and I whined about how the parking lot was now busy with traffic. When I finally got my first taste of Red Pepper, I didn’t hate it, but just didn’t understand how it could have created such a frenzy.

The cheese tostada was just plain weird and the grinder was made from squishy bread stuffed with slimy deli meats and taco meat. We didn’t return between our first visit and move to Iowa. But then everything changed when I had to make solo road trips from Mason City to Fargo to coordinate our move.

By the time I arrived at our old apartment, I was completely exhausted and found the only thing I wanted to eat was an Everything Grinder from The Red Pepper.

I remember wearily trudging across the parking to Red Pepper to collect my sandwich and then to Happy Harry’s for a bottle of beer. It became a ritual that I will miss.

Favorite Food Television Moment

One of my favorite food television moments occurred during season two of Rachel vs. Guy: Celebrity Food Cook-Off.
On the first episode, the contestants seemed determined to win and loved cooking even if they weren’t trained chefs. And then there was Gilbert Gottfried
It became very clear he had no idea what he was doing as he struggled to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This was all made all the amusing by the fact that Rachel Ray was so earnestly trying to coach Gilbert as if this situation wasn’t hilarious. 
Obviously, he lost that challenge and moved on to compete in a second elimination challenge. When he started preparing a peanut butter and banana sandwich, Jake and I just lost it.
Was he being serious? Was he trolling the Food Network? I mean, for goodness sake, look at his answers to the following interview questions on his contestant profile:

What’s your signature party dish?
GG: I don’t use my dishes during parties. I bring out the paper plates. 
What’s the most surprising thing we’d find in your fridge?
GG: Jimmy Hoffa
Maybe we’ll never know, but I want to thank Gilbert Gottfried from the bottom of my heart for whatever the heck this refreshing moment was in an era where the Food Network feels compelled to produce more and more shows hosted by Guy Fieri and add Farmhouse Rules to its line-up.
Final Thank You’s
Thank you for reading. Blogging has been a dream come true and I am grateful for your support every day. Also, thank you to everyone who made our Fargo journey memorable, our family and friends, and new friends who’ve helped to ease our transition into Iowa. 
I also want to add a thank you to the friends and family that welcomed us into their homes and fed us homecooked meals while we had to live in a hotel. 

A List: Our Favorite Fargo-Moorhead Dishes & Drinks

After nearly two years, we’ve tasted a lot of Fargo-Moorhead, though there’s plenty we still haven’t tried. Here is our list of favorite dishes from Fargo-Moorhead (and beyond).

Savory Dishes

Parma Prociutto Wrapped Shrimp with Marscapone Polenta & Sun-Dried Tomatoes ($7 during happy hour, $13 full price), Mezzaluna, Fargo.

Happy hour is like magic at Mezzaluna. On Mon.-Fri. between 3-6 p.m., you can order some of the biggest, most beautiful plates of food for $7. Our favorite dish at Mezzaluna is this small plate of crispy prosciutto wrapped shrimp. High quality shrimp with crispy tails, tangy tomatoes, and creamy polenta drizzled with chunky pesto sauce bring us back to this dish again and again.

Red Curry Scallops ($14), Sarello’s, Moorhead

I didn’t expect to find better red curry at Sarello’s than I’ve at most Thai restaurants. The curry was surprisingly spicy and well balanced while the tender-crisp vegetables contrasted with the silky scallops. I enjoyed the sauce so much that I swiped my plate clean with my finger. Jake used the bread basket. Either way, you’ll find a way to consume all of the sauce.

    An appetizer portion costs $14. This is a double portion we ordered to share with the table.

    Fish & Chips ($14), Hodo Lounge, Fargo

    I almost always order this dish when we dine at the Hodo Lounge or Sky Prairie Rooftop Lounge. Moist chunks of cod are coated in a panko breading and fried until crispy. The fish is always moist and noticeably fresh. I drizzle bites with malt vinegar or swipe them through flavored mayonnaises that have always been addicting, whether chipotle or curry-flavored. Plus, the fries are hand cut. This dish is spendy, but satisfying enough that I’ve ordered on our last few visits. 
    Wild Rice Burger ($9) & Bison Burger ($11), Hodo Lounge, Fargo
    In addition to the Fish and Chips, our favorite Hodo plates include the Wild Rice Burger and Bison Burger. Again, these burgers are pricey since they’re served a la carte, but are consistently well-prepared.

    Bison Burger & Wild Rice Burger

    The bison burger’s a juicy medium-rare and comes with fresh accouterments and spicy giardiniera. Diane, the editor of the High Plains Reader, recommended the Wild Rice Burger as one of her favorite dishes in Fargo and now it’s one of ours. Even my husband, who hardly ever orders vegetarian dishes, likes it enough to order it on occasion.

    Other dishes from the lounge menu have been hit or miss, but these three are consistently executed. 

    Dhamaka Balti with Lamb ($14.99), India Palace, Fargo

    Fargo’s newest Indian restaurant wins for serving us the spiciest food we’ve tasted in Fargo. This particular curry came with it’s own disclaimer: *Very HOT! Prepare for an explosion in your mouth. Finally, we found the heat we were looking for. The prices here aren’t cheap, but the quality is high and curries contain an appropriate amount of proteins. 

    We’ve also found the service at Passage to India hospitable and the food tasty, but it’s just not as spicy. Their curry sauces are richly flavored, but the meat dishes provide less value than the vegetarian. Their weekend buffet is above-average if you like that sort of thing. 

    Spring Rolls ($5), Cafe 21, Fargo

    We order these spring rolls each time we visit Cafe 21. They’re nicely wrapped and fresh. I like that Cafe 21 fills the rolls with a base of lettuce instead of rice noodles so they’re more like salad. You’ll also find small bits of shrimp and savory roasted pork. The peanut dip is rather sweet, but somehow it all balances out.

    Beer Cheese Soup, Bertrosa’s Cafe/Dempsey’s Public House

    Bertrosa’s serves the best beer cheese soup we’ve had anywhere. The cafe is hidden inside the Black Building along Broadway Ave. in downtown Fargo. Although it’s only open during weekday business hours, you can find this soup at Dempsey’s every evening. I find most other beer cheese soups too sweet, too thick, and/or too Cheeze Whizy, but not this one. It’s also a little bit spicy. At Dempsey’s, prepare for a carb-fest, because soup bowl arrives in a basket surrounded by bread and croutons.

    We also like their hot, Chicago-style beef sandwich with horseradish sauce and extra hot pickled peppers.

    German Sausage Chowder, Sanford Hospital Cafeteria, Fargo
    Oddly enough, hospital cafeteria food makes the list. For my first year a half in Fargo, I worked in a neighboring clinic and often visited the cafeteria next door for lunch. Many of us took an early lunch when we spotted this soup on the menu and it ran out quickly. It’s made with a creamy broth (not the overly thickened kind), kielbasa, silky cabbage, and potatoes.

    Hot & Spicy Tofu & Steamed Dumplings, Jade Dragon, Fargo
    One of my last meals in Fargo was also one of the loveliest. Tender meat-filled dumplings steamed and served with vinegar infused dipping sauce and this stir fry made with fried pillows of tofu, scallions, onion and bell peppers cooked to an ideal tender-crisp. The sauce wasn’t extremely spicy but it had a kick. I also like that it wasn’t cloyingly sweet.

    Our pizza delivery of choice is usually from Pizza Nico’s. They make homemade sauces as well as prepared meats like ham and barbecued beef. If we didn’t choose our own combination of toppings, we rotated specialty pizzas like the Buffalo, BBQ, taco and Hawaiian. Jalapenos are fresh and thinly cut.

    Buffalo sauce is above average but the wings aren’t great. They’re coated in a crumb mixture and I think they’re baked. On the other hand, the sandwiches are great. 

    Rhombus Guys: Louisiana Saturday Night
    I might make a few enemies saying this, but we haven’t frequented Rhombus Guys often because it’s overpriced. They offer a lot of creative pizzas, though some are a little overwrought for my preferences. Then, our friend introduced us to his favorite pizza, the Louisiana Saturday Night. It’s topped with Cajun marinara, shrimp, sausage, red pepper, pepperocini, and and caramelized onion. A large will run you $25 plus tax and tip. Expensive, but memorably delicious. 
    Rhombus Guys does run some daily specials like half priced bottles and glasses of wine on Tuesday evenings.

    Roasted Chicken & Basil Pesto Flatbread ($10), Maxwells, West Fargo
    Maxwells might be the most expensive restaurant in Fargo. Their dishes are intensely flavored and beautifully composed, but also strike me as being overwrought for creativity’s sake. However, we are smitten with their flatbread appetizer that’s available in both the restaurant and bar. It’s a simple, yet harmonious combination of flavors melding fresh mozzarella, salty olives, sweet roasted tomatoes, and reduced balsamic vinegar. For $10, it’s amply portioned. 

    Anything from Nichole’s Fine Pastry
    Nichole’s Fine Pastry smells like butter, just as it should. Sweet bakeries that don’t smell like butter make me nervous.

    I’ve never been let down by Nichole’s. Over the past couple years, we’ve tried many different treats like cranberry and brie-stuffed croissants, biscotti, quiche, constantly rotating cheesecakes, red velvet cookies, cannoli, and lemon tarts.

    Nichole’s also offers coffee shop beverages. I like their strong coffee, signature hot tea blend, and rhubarb iced tea.

    Buttermilk Pie ($2/slice), Pumpkin Cookies ($1.18) & Chicken Pot Pie Soup ($3-4) at Josie’s Coffee Corner Cafe
    In full disclosure, I worked at Josie’s for a couple months this summer until we had to get ready to move to Mason City, IA. I was given the opportunity to try many of their foods and found some favorites. I’d order them myself even if I hadn’t worked here.

    We especially liked the buttermilk pie, a tangy custard with a caramelized top baked into a homemade pie crust. The pumpkin cookies are fluffy and more like cake, topped with a rich cream cheese frosting. They’re intense for people like me who prefer salty foods, but I enjoyed nibbling them a little at a time.

    Even though Josie’s is a bakery, it also functions as a busy little lunch joint where people order sandwiches and homemade soups. I especially liked the creamy chicken pot pie soup garnished with a handful of flaky pie crust leaves.

    Coffee is freshly ground before brewing, as well as espresso. If you have a sweet tooth, look for Nancy’s special beverage creations on the chalkboard.


    Giant $5 Frosty Mug O’ Beer, Mango’s Mexican Grill, Fargo
    Since you’re there, enjoy the complimentary chips and salsa. The food isn’t as authentic as you’ll find in larger cities, but it’s made with fresh ingredients and nicely seasoned, more so than the Mexican Village and Paradiso chains. Plus, it’s run by a family that treats you like family.

    Favorite Martini: Maxwells and Monte’s
    The martinis here aren’t cheap at regular price, but they’re so expertly made that they’re worth it. 
    Favorite Cocktails: Mezzaluna
    Mezzaluna manages to craft creative, yet well-balanced cocktails. All too often, I order cocktails that sound intriguing on paper, yet taste too weak, too sugary, or generally strike me as “meh.” This doesn’t happen at Mezzaluna. Bartenders are hospitable and just plain likable. A small selection of cocktails is available for $7 during happy hour and $9 full-priced. Haven’t met one we didn’t like. Plus, they’re happy to accommodate requests for equally refreshing non-alcoholic creations. 

    Beyond Fargo Mentions:

    Jumbo Shrimp, Popovers, & Frosty Mugs of Beer at Wilkin Drink & Eatery, Breckenridge, MN
    This 100-year old eatery located about 40-minutes from Fargo along the main street in Breckenridge. Kind of like a pub and kind of like a supper club. Guests receive complimentary bowls of popcorn and popovers with honey butter. Has a unique character you won’t find anywhere in Fargo. We felt completely welcome as non-locals.

    Jumbo Shrimp at Theodore’s Dining Room at the Rough Riders Restaurant, Medora, ND
    The town of Medora is nestled into the badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s got a family friendly Wild West vibe in the summer and eerie stillness in the fall. I had a lovely meal in the hotel’s restaurant that included lobster-like jumbo shrimp.

    Neopolitan-style Pizza, Sorbet & Gelato, Fireflour Pizza, Bismarck, ND
    Serves Neopolitan-style pizzas with blistered, airy crusts baked in a wood-fired oven. Toppings range from La Quercia prociutto to arugula to Calabrian chili oil. The housemade gelatos and sorbets are really fantastic.

    Knoephla Soup & Rhubarb Pie with Meringue Topping at Home Plate Cafe, Fredonia, ND
    To this date, Hot Plate Cafe’s knoephla soup and rhubarb pie are still the best versions of themselves that I’ve tried.


    Too bad the cafe is two and a half hours away from Fargo. FYI, the town’s population was recorded at 46 in the 2010 census and it’s a locals-only joint. Don’t let this stop you from taking the road trip.

    Breakfast Eggbake, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, MN

    One of my favorite parts of our stay at the lodge was eating squares of cheesy eggbake filled with various fresh vegetables (I doused mine in hot sauce). It’s complimentary with your stay. The view’s not bad, either.

    Drinking Cans of PBR at the Crowbar, Sabin, MN
    This cozy dive bar is located in the small town of Sabin, about 20-minutes from Fargo-Moorhead. You’ll easily find this bar on a corner along the main street, across from a towering grain elevator. The scene is composed of mostly locals, but we felt very welcome. There’s graffiti on the ceilings and a popcorn machine in the corner.

    Order a dinner special from the blackboard or flip through the tattered menu. We were happiest with a burger basket, more specifically, the cream cheese and olive burger. 

    How Does One Say Goodbye To North Dakota?

    On the second day of the North Dakota Bloggers and Writers Workshop held in Bismarck, my husband called with news. He had just found out we were getting transferred to Mason City, IA.
    I was on a high from the previous evening’s food crawl through downtown Bismarck with Marilyn Hagerty and this news made me feel especially emotional during the North Dakota Tourism Department’s presentation. It featured photos of the state’s most beautiful places and encouraged us to look for stories to tell. I felt like I had just made new friends and finally connected with people I had only communicated with on Twitter. Talk about bad timing.

    Now I’m left grappling with how to say goodbye to North Dakota. Two years ago, I remember sobbing about leaving my hometown of Minneapolis-St. Paul, pausing between tears to say, “But I lovethis city. Now, I feel the same way about Fargo. Oh, how I wish I could stay in North Dakota, but at least I know I have the ability to bloom where I’m planted. I’ve found a lot to be happy about here, just as I will in Iowa.

    Our time here is short. Next week, we’ll visit Mason City for the first time and celebrate a family wedding in southern Minnesota. Any spare time will be dedicated to tying up loose ends, saying goodbyes to friends, and looking for a house. Still, I want take the time to say goodbye to North Dakota and am figuring out what this means.

    Last night, we had a farewell dinner of sorts at Sarello’s. I met Sarah Nasello at the ND Writers and Bloggers Workshop and have been meaning to try their family’s restaurant. It’s funny how you just assume you’ll have more time. We enjoyed the type of meal that made us wonder why the heck we didn’t go there sooner.

    Then there’s the fact that I will not return to culinary school at Minnesota State Community and Technical College this fall. I looked forward to learning how to work the fryer, break down a cow, and function in a supervisory role. This fall, I will think of my classmates and cheer then on from Iowa. I highly encourage anyone in the Fargo-Moorhead community interested in culinary arts to consider this program. It’s affordable, class sizes are small, and the teaching is high quality, but apply early because there’s always a waiting list. Students are accepted on a first come, first serve basis. You’ll have to deal with your fair share of slacker classmates and unusual behavior, but you’ll reap what you sow in terms of your education and connections with your peers.

    I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface on exploring North Dakota. I had grand road trip plans for the summer and the reality is that I may only be able to choose one, at the most. Shall I head to German-Russian country and tour the local cafes and bakeries, Pembina Gorge, or Lake Mettegoshe and the Peace Gardens?

    Do I return to the restaurants that serve my favorite dishes or try those we haven’t visited yet?

    How would you say goodbye to North Dakota?

    I’d love to hear your ideas.

    An Epic Food Crawl With Marilyn Hagerty

    I never expected that, “Oh my goodness, more drinks?” would be a recurring thought running through my head on Thursday evening. 

    The 2013 North Dakota Writers and Bloggers Workshop hosted by the North Dakota Department of Commerce June 6-7th was propelled by a food crawl through downtown Bismarck with Marilyn Hagerty. Our plan was to wander to a few of her favorite restaurants in downtown Bismarck and mingle over tasting menus. No one, not even the event’s organizers, predicted the extent to which the restaurants rolled out their red carpets.

    Last spring, when Hagerty’s earnest review of The Olive Garden in Grand Forks went viral, I might have had some snarky things to say. But I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw. I had become the very thing I despised the most in other foodies. Pretentious. The Olive Garden review was my first introduction to Hagerty’s THE EATBEAT column published in the Grand Forks Herald and I’ve looked forward to reading it each week, ever since. 

    Wednesday is EATBEAT day and it’s the first thing I enjoy with my coffee in the morning. I’ve read Hagerty’s reviews from years ago in addition to those written during the past year and appreciate how they range from chain restaurants to small town cafes to Le Bernadin. They’re concise and never boring. By the time she appeared as a guest judge on Top Chef Season 10: Seattle, this new North Dakotan felt like a real North Dakotan and cheered on our hometown hero.

    On this evening, we began at Pirogue Grille and enjoyed a four-course tasting menu created by proprietors, Chef Stewart and Cheryl Tracy. We got acquainted over baskets of crusty bread with soft butter, rhubarb cocktails, and smoky red wine, followed by beet salad, venison sausage and a walleye cake, and a rosy slice of bison. Many of us were tickled pink to taste our first morel and then there was dessert that thrilled even me, who typically prefers salty over sweet. 

    A silky ball of ice cream coated in crunchy nougat floated in a boat of rhubarb soup. It was Willy Wonka whimsical and filled me with glee. I’ve never tasted anything like it and have come to accept I probably never will.

    From Pirogue Grille, we wandered to Peacock Alley and I was nervous to find myself sitting near Marilyn. She graciously answered all of our questions, asked some of her own, and shared stories. Peacock Alley’s tasting menu was as extravagant as its décor. Think newly renovated stained glass windows and billowy tent-like ceilings. I wasn’t surprised to learn it’s popular amongst suited legislators. Our eyes and stomachs bulged upon sight of an eight-course tasting menu complete with drink pairings. 

    I won’t try to describe each course, but many contained beef that was every bit as good as their National Food Service Beef Backer award implied. It proudly decorated the middle of our table. I knew I was in trouble when I started feeling full after the first course of Asian Nachos made with crispy wonton chips and beef short ribs. 

    After the third, I considered waving my napkin as a white flag. By the final course, I giggled at my collection of drinks ranging from a Bloody Mary to an espresso Martini and managed to push down a frosty, sugarcoated doughnut with the chew of a beignet.

    Our walk to Fireflour Pizza felt more like a waddle. Those who attended Fargo’s Street Fair last year may remember Fireflour’s pizza oven. Co-owner Kenny Howard showered us with marinated olives and four of their Neapolitan-style pizzas with airy, blistered crusts. 

    They reminded me of the Twin Cities’ popular Punch Pizza, except, dare say, bigger and better? We all stood up and raised our arms, trying to will more room into our stomachs. The evening ended as Howard passed around tiny cups of housemade gelato flavored like salted caramel and lemon.

    What had originally been planned as a three-hour food crawl grew into four, and, over the span of a single evening, we left feeling like friends. Extremely full friends. I will always sitting on Fireflour’s sidewalk patio that cool summer evening listening to the trains passing. It was as lovely like Marilyn’s humility and inspiring like her confidence. In fact, I was humbled by the hospitality and warmth I found in the rest of the cohort, as well as the participating restaurants. I think her best piece of advice that evening was simply to be authentic, something that makes writers and non-writers, alike, stand apart. 

    North Dakota’s rich with talented writers and bloggers and ripe with stories to tell. Come find us or try your hand at crafting some of your own.

    Photo courtesy of ND Dept. of Commerce

    You can read Marilyn’s thoughts on the workshop here.

    IF YOU GO:
    What: Pirogue Grille
    Where: 121 North 4th Street, Bismarck
    When: Tues-Sat, 5 p.m.-close
    What: Peacock Alley
    Where: 422 East Main Avenue, Bismarck
    When: Mon-Thurs, 11 a.m.-Midnight, Fri, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sat, 10 a.m.-1 a.m., Sun, Closed (Kitchen open until 11 p.m. Mon-Sat)
    What: Fireflour Pizza
    Where: 111 North 5th Street, Bismarck
    When: Tues-Thurs, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri-Sat, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

    Two North Dakotan Burritos: Juano’s & Paula’s Cafe (Steakhouse & Lounge)

    I’ve never been that into burritos. This month, I’ve eaten two and I’m not sure what’s brought on this sudden urge to order burritos.

    There’s no Chipotle in Fargo. Hell, there’s no Chipotle in the whole state of North Dakota. Live in Fargo-Moorhead and want Chipotle? Drive two hours east to St. Cloud. I visited Chipotle’s website to double check. When I entered in my zip code, it replied that there were no locations within 100 miles. It suggested searching again, with another city, state, or zip code. And then it added, “Or move.”

    Or move? What the heck, Chipotle? Why would you even say that?

    We may not have Chipotle, but we have other casual/carry-out Mexican-themed chains like Qdoba, Panchero’s and Moe’s Southwest Grill. If you want to visit a regional chain, there’s the newly opened Red Pepper location (thoughts on my first and only visit) and Juano’s. Since one Red Pepper visit was enough for me, I headed to my nearest Juano’s location for a take-out lunch. A couple friends with similar tastes mentioned Juano’s offers their favorite Mexican food in the community. There’s a fancier sit-down location on Broadway in downtown Fargo and a few other quick-serve locations.

    I don’t know if this is a company-wide special, but North Fargo’s Juano’s offered a $5 burrito wrap between 11 a.m.-3 p.m. This was quite a deal considering the rest of the menu hovered around $10. I filled my burrito with rice, black beans, ground beef, lettuce, cheese, fresh cilantro, and their spiciest salsa. The ground beef was nicely seasoned. While some may have considered it too salty, but I’m fine if foods push this boundary just as long as they don’t leap over it. The black beans had a texture more like refried beans which took away some of the burrito’s textural contrast and the salsa was less spicy than Chipotle’s hottest, but overall, this was a flavorful burrito.

    I noticed they can also drench burritos in chili sauces. Juano’s downtown location offers its menu with prices on their Facebook page, though I can’t find an official website with information on their other quick-serve locations.

    Paula’s Cafe (Steakhouse & Lounge)
    On my day off, I headed up I-29 towards Mayville, North Dakota. I first visited Mayville in mid-March and made a note to return to Paula’s, a bustling cafe along the main street. There was just something about this cafe that fascinated me. I started following their Facebook page and admired their daily specials featuring good ole’ home cooking as well as photos of smoked meats. Mayville’s about 45 minutes from Fargo and I braved the windy drive on a dreary spring morning.

    I parked along the main street and entered what looked like a mostly empty diner equipped with an old fashioned counter. I asked a server where I should sit for lunch and she directed me to the dining room. I followed a sign instructing me to seat myself. Once inside the dining room, I passed a salad bar and searched for a smaller table for one. When I couldn’t find one, I chose a table in the back. The other customers appeared to be regulars who knew exactly what they were doing and I was confused. It didn’t seem like anyone had noticed I seated myself, so I went to the salad bar and asked a server about the protocol. I wondered if I supposed to eat the salad bar or order from a menu. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying salads and I didn’t see any menus. I tried to explain that this was my first visit and I had no idea what I was doing.

    The server may not have heard me well because she instructed me to help myself to the salad bar, mentioning I could go back as many times as I liked. I thought it was odd that the salad bar was the only thing offered for lunch. But since I was there, I filled a plate with vegetables, a toasted roll, and small cup of potato au gratin soup. When I reached my table in the back, I found some ladies congregating around my seat. At first, I optimistically wondered if they were going to join me, but when I noticed one woman grabbing towards my purse, I got the idea they were trying to move it elsewhere. I wondered where, exactly, they planned to place my purse, phone, and book. Anywhere except there, I suppose. A server noticed what was occurring and walked over to assist the ladies. I asked if I should move, but the server relied, “no” and helped them find a different, empty table.

    I sat down to eat my salad and noticed others had beverages. I found a server and asked if I could have a glass of water and she came over right away with a large pitcher and a couple glasses. At this point, I felt rather sheepish about eating by myself. After a few minutes, I noticed others eating hot foods and asked if there was a lunch menu. She brought one over quickly, explaining the daily specials. I chose the beef burrito. Along with the salad bar, it cost under $9.

    While I waited for my entree, I nibbled my plate form the salad bar which included the typical offerings. The salad was fresh. The piping hot potato au gratin soup tasted exactly like the boxed versions of potato au gratin I used to enjoy at my grandma’s house.

    The beef burrito was generously-sized and covered with melted cheese and red sauce. It came with some shredded lettuce, diced tomato, a tube of sour cream, chips, and salsa. Although the salsa seemed canned or bottled, it carried a pleasant kick, along with the red sauce. The best part of the meal was the tender beef inside the wrap. It was a little smokey and fork tender. I don’t doubt that Paula’s knows their meats. In hindsight, I should have just chosen a burger. A local reporter spoke highly of the burger and I feel silly assuming the salad bar and beef burrito would make a healthier choice.

    The dining room was quite busy and once I landed on the servers’ radars, they showered me with “huns” and “sweeties.” I think the awkwardness can be more attributed to the fact that no one was used to new people who didn’t know what to do.

    Solo dining is always an adventure. Sometimes, I feel perfectly at home and other times, I feel awkward. Cafe 116 in Fergus Falls, MN and Harvest Thyme Bistro in Wadena, MN come to mind as being especially comfortable for a solo, female diner. This was one of the more awkward meals where I was especially aware that one thing was not like the other (that one thing being me, the non-regular). I felt the curious stares from the regular diners.

    Being open to adventures means taking in the awkward along with the cozy. For me, the most anxiety-ridden experience is often walking into the cafe of a close-knit community, alone. However, it’s impossible to learn about or connect with others unless someone takes a chance and my favorite way to do this is trying the local food. I truly believe people are good at heart. . . even if they are trying to move me to a different table.

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