Category: North Dakota (Page 2 of 2)

Wanderlust: Hillsboro and Mayville, ND

When I get bored, I drive. When I feel sad, I drive. When I have the time, I drive.

My life is flecked with wanderlust. Or, more like plagued. I’ve read enough travel memoirs to know I’m not alone and that there are more like me out there. This week, I felt great kinship with author Irma Kurtz as I read her memoir The Great American Bus Ride, cover to cover.

I like the safety and security of my home base. My nook on the couch and the flop of my husband’s favorite slippers as they slap the hard floor. I like waking up to the sound of his morning showers and the smell of freshly brewed espresso. But I also like to wander and this wanderlust always leaves me with a certain amount of discontent. One small town or back road is never enough. Once I visit, I want to know more about that town and then I want to move on to another. Ironically, my wanderlust is both propelled by both enthusiasm and fear. There’s nothing I find more invigorating or terrifying than solo travel.

It’s Thursday and nearing the end of my spring break from school. At the break’s start, I became enamoured with Andrew Flier’s website Everydot, in which he photographs every town in North Dakota. I spent hours working my way down the list, from A-Z, lost in big skies and fields of soft, waving grass. Some of the locations were nothing more than an intersection of rusty dirt roads. Others reminded me of the abandoned towns depicted on AMC’s television series the The Walking Dead. I kept an eye on those that seemed to have active cafes and bars and notated them on a map. Flier was kind enough to email me back and mention a couple memorable dining experiences.

I stayed up late drawing majestic itineraries that would take me to the far reaches of North Dakota. Straight north to the Canadian border, passing through Grand Forks, Cavalier, Langdon, Pembina, and ending at the strange, pyramid-shaped safegaurd complex. Another took me through the south-central part of the state in search of German-Russian cuisine, passing through Fredonia, Wishek, Napolean, and Linton. Unfortunately, March in North Dakota might as well be February. The roads have been prone to iciness due to the temperature fluctuations and precipitation so I put my grander plans on hold. It’s hard waiting for the spring.

Not Your Typical Coffee Shop View

Recently, a Twitter friend mentioned a new bakery in Hillsboro, a town of about 1,600, located less than a half hour north of Fargo on I-29. Our Town Bakery opened early last December. According to this Grand Forks Herald article, the cafe was a community effort. The residents helped Amanda Johnson, the bakery’s owner, save the buildings, built in 1890, from destruction.

I parked across from towering farm buildings, stopped in a quirky antique store, and almost walked past the bakery whose window was marked with a paper sign. The interior was beautifully remodeled. Exposed brick walls, interesting wooden tables, and a sleek contemporary feel. The bakery counter offered a small selection of treats such as cookies, bars, and turnovers. Shelves to the left of the counter offered homemade marshmallow creations and hinted at freshly, baked bread, although I did not see any that morning.

A whiteboard described the daily lunch special ($8) and soup of the day. I ordered two beef pies, one for me and one for Jake, and sipped on a bottled soda. The pie crust was buttery and flaky, like it had merged with phyllo. Its golden top was thoughtfully sprinkled with salt and pepper, encasing stew that comforted with carrots and tender beef.

I paused to enjoy my pastry. The tables were few and I watched people who appeared to be in a business meeting extend an invitation to share their table with a pair of elderly women. As I returned back to my car, I heard the tinkling of a carillon. I half-heartedly drove in search of its source before rejoining the freeway towards Mayville.

The city of Mayville is about 20 minutes north east of Hillsboro, home of Mayville State University It’s smaller than it’s counterparts in Fargo or Grand Forks, and its total enrollment hovers around 1,000 students. I figured Mayville would have the type of charm that usually accompanies college towns.

I spent my college years in Waverly, IA, a small, rural town along the Cedar River. The campus was surrounded by neighborhoods. We could walk to our favorite bars, a small grocery mart, and a movie theater that treated students to 99¢ cent movies one midnight a month. On these evenings, we marched to the theater in packs. I loved running on the bike trail along the river and we always felt safe. Back then, I resented the smallness of the community and have now grown to miss it.

Mayville is quite a bit smaller than Waverly. About nine times smaller. The main street was dotted with the usual suspects. A pizza joint, drug store, bank, bakery, cafe, and even a small theater. Paula’s Cafe was packed for lunch and I slowed my car down to examine the day’s specials including a hickory burger, roasted ham, and roasted turkey. Since I was full of beef handpie, I made a mental note to return and moved on to the Soholt Bakery.

A woman greeted me as I gazed at the small shop’s products. I noticed a sign that let me know the bakery did not accept credit cards, so I averted my gaze from loaves of bread and packages of cookies. With two dollars in my pocket, I focused on the smaller treats and settled for a tray of plain donuts.

“How much are they?” I asked.

The woman replied about $2.50 for six or 45¢ each.

“May I have four?” I asked after trying to do some quick mental math.

“Whatever,” she responded in a sing-song voice. “You can have however many you’d like.”

At this time in the afternoon, the donuts were cold. A little dense, a little soggy, with enough crisp left on the outside. They tasted like nutmeg and I found them strangely addicting. I enjoyed them with my next couple morning coffees.

Before I left Mayville, I drove around the campus and admired a stately, red brick building. Maybe it was the winter or the cloudy day, but the town looked tired. I’ll pop back on my grand tour North. Everything looks better in the Spring.

Made In North Dakota: A Few Of My Favorite Treats

Last month, I wandered into the Pride of Dakotashowcase at the Civic Center in Fargo. I had just finished a yoga class and thought I’d breeze through the showcase, not really knowing what to expect.

The Civic Center was filled with vendors selling North Dakotan-made products and services. I was especially pleased that such a large percentage involved food. The rooms were packed with attendees and I quickly gave up my plan to rush through the event. Instead, I resigned myself to joining the thick crowds of people, packed shoulder to shoulder.

The lines were especially busy around the food and beverage vendors but I found that the tastes were worth the wait. Lots of practice in patience.

By the end of my visit, I took home a few items.

Not only was I compelled to buy these items upon first taste, but the vendors were especially gracious. They did not hesitate to offer me samples or tell me more about their products. My appearance makes me look deceptively young and I suspect that this may lead vendors in convention settings not take me too seriously. At one stand, I felt blatantly ignored while the vendor offered samples of delicious looking pot roast to everyone else around me. Needless to say, I didn’t stick around to try it.

The spicy variety of Hunter’s Choice marinade is indeed spicy. Its flavor is Asian-inspired and intense. Sure, I can make my own marinade, but also have no problem stocking high quality versions for days when I could use a boost. The ingredient list didn’t appear to contain artificial ingredients or food additives.

Dot’s Pretzels are addicting. This may have something to do with the fact that MSG is listed  in the middle of the ingredient list. Regardless, I like to grab a handful for a snack after a long day of school and work. Buttery and salty, just to the point of being too salty.

I also picked up a jar of Wild MoonCorn Salsa. The ladies running this stand not only offered samples of their salsa with chips, but incorporated it into dishes they also sampled. This salsa was suggested to me when I asked about their most spicy offering. I can handle a lot more heat but this corn salsa has enough of a kick to hold my interest. The corn kernels provide sweetness that contrast to the tangy and cumin-scented sauce.

Dr. Bop’s Flaxseed Crackers also made an appearance at the showcase. Jake and I have enjoyed these crackers at the Green Market where they adorn the restaurant’s pristine cheese plates. You can buy them at the Green Market. I also picked up a bag at Zandbroz in Downtown Fargo for $5. I like them so much that I suggested them in Simple, Good, and Tasty’s 2012 Local Gift Guide.

I love gifts that I can eat! Do you have any favorite locally-made treats?

My Knoephla Soup Quest

I’m new to knoephla soup.

The first time I encountered knoephla soup occurred during a solo road trip to Fredonia, ND.  Last fall, I had stumbled upon the site Ghosts of North Dakota which documents ghost and near-ghost towns throughout the state.  I became enamoured with the website’s stunning photography and its readers’ compelling antidotes.  Fredonia had caught my eye because a reader mentioned Home Plate Cafe, a restaurant offering Russian-German specialties.

At Home Plate Cafe, I lapped-up every drop of my knoephla soup.  It came as part of the hearty meatball lunch special which probably cost less than $7.  The broth had a light texture and mouthfeel, even though it shimmered with butter.

Translucent shards of celery and celery floated in the soup, amidst tender potatoes.  Its knoephla dumplings were shaped as diversely as snowflakes.  Unfortunately, Fredonia is two and a half hours from Fargo; west to Jamestown and south through the rural back roads of North Dakota.  I hope to return, someday, for another meal.

Since our move to North Dakota, I’ve learned a little about the state’s German-Russian heritage.  Knoephla soup is one of their food traditions and makes its appearance in restaurants all over this region.

My newly found fascination with German-Russian cuisine has resulted in my self-proclaimed knoephla soup quest.  I am going to try as many versions of khoephla soup as I can and create a version at home, drawing from my favorite versions.

This weekend, I stopped by Kroll’s Diner, a local chain with four locations in North Dakota.  My takeout bowl of knoephla soup with saltine crackers cost $4.99, before tax and tip.

The broth was salty, verging on too salty.  I debated on whether or not I wanted to dilute the soup with a little milk.  The knoephla dumplings were abundant and I was relieved when they tasted lighter and fluffier than they appeared.  The broth left a strong, bouillon aftertaste in my mouth.  I also noticed small pieces of translucent onion and occasional chunks of creamy potato.
This afternoon, I ordered a bowl of knoephla soup from CJ’s Kitchen, to go.  This bowl’s size seemed comparable to Kroll’s Diner and cost $5.50, before tax and tip.
CJ’s knoephla soup was almost as salty as Kroll’s Diner’s.  The broth’s flavor reminded me of clam chowder and didn’t leave a bouillon aftertaste.  The dumplings were dainty and their texture was fluffy.  In addition to small chunks of potato, CJ’s version included some bits of chicken.
Overall, these two Fargo versions were tasty and comforting enough, but quite salty.  I preferred CJ’s by a small margin and will continue my knoephla soup quest.  Feel free to suggest your favorite versions of knoephla soup, recipes, or tips.
Jen’s Knoephla Soup Quest Ranking:
1.  Home Plate Cafe, Fredonia, ND
2.  CJ’s Kitchen, Fargo, ND
3.  Kroll’s Diner, Fargo, ND

Best jumbo shrimp ever in Medora, ND.

Last week, I decided to drive to the badlands.  Theodore Roosevelt National Park, to be exact.

On the way, I secured a reservation at Rough Riders Hotel, a newly renovated lodge operated by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.  Though it sounds creepy, it’s actually quite stately (the walls are obnoxiously thin, so bring earplugs).

During the drive, I enjoyed watching the terrain gradually change.  Flat, factory farmland transformed into hills and scrubby prairie brush, and slowly dissolved into canyon and buttes.

An hour from Medora, I turned south onto the Enchanted Highway.  This rolling, rural roadway is interspersed with strange, metal sculptures created by artist Gary Greff in an effort to prevent his city of Regent from becoming yet another ghost town.

I drove about half of the 32 miles of Enchanted Highway and visited three of seven statues (two were 12 miles apart).

The Enchanted Freeway is truly ethereal.  It undulates through hilly terrain covered in delicate grasses that lean with the wind.  The statues perch on top of hills and loom over nothing in particular.  Like a scared animal, I park by the statues and dart into the gusts of winds that rustle through the prairie grass.  I tiptoe around the statues feeling rattled, quickly taking pictures as if the larger-than-life sky could swallow me up at any minute.

My shoes leave tell-tale scuffs in the rusty soil.

I stare through lonely picnic shelters.

A giant grasshopper claims one hill.

Before I turn my car around, I wander through this bizarre “Fisherman’s Dream,” weaving through iron kelp and fish that rattle in the wind.

By dinnertime, I arrived at the hotel and checked in.  Medora, which is snuggled into the national park, took my breath away.  As I walked into my first room assignment, I noticed suitcases and a cooler.  I was quickly assigned a new room.

Feeling tired, I decided to dine at the hotel restaurant so I could surf the web and quickly retire to sleep.

I wasn’t compelled by any of the menu choices which were more spendy than I had anticipated but settled on the Jumbo Shrimp with Pineapple Dipping Sauce.  When offered the choice of a fried or grilled preparation, I hesitated before caving to the fried.  I ordered the cheapest glass of Merlot to take the edge off the drive, and chose a salad with the house raspberry vinaigrette and mashed sweet potato as a side.

My waiter was an amiable, young man from Indonesia who has spent many summers working in Medora. He brought a small basket of warm bread speckled with what tasted like cranberries.  The bread was a little dry and had the texture like it had been microwaved, but was tasty enough.

The side salad was composed of strips of romaine, crisp, garlic-scented croutons, tomato wedges, thin slices of cucumber, and grated carrot.  The vegetables were crisp and fresh and the croutons were well-seasoned.  However, I was not thrilled with the raspberry vinaigrette for the same reason I usually avoid raspberry vinaigrette.  It struck me as overly sweet and syrupy, lacking other seasoning, enough acid, or bite  After a few bites, I gave up trying to like it, and asked for ranch.

Oddly enough, I did not care for the flavor of the ranch either.  It was extremely thick and didn’t taste like a typical ranch.  I tried combining both dressings with tolerable results.  Each time I ate a a bite of salad with the raspberry vinaigrette, I’d alternate with a bite with ranch to compensate for the sweetness.  The ranch tasted off, so back and forth I’d go until I finished the salad.  
After a short wait, I received my plate of jumbo shrimp.  And they were jumbo shrimp indeed.  

I joyously noted their size, pleasantly surprised.  Most restaurants seem to lie by offering jumbo shrimp or prawns and delivering small, generic substitutes.

My plate contained four shrimp monstrosities, literally the size of my hand.  The batter was crispy and non-greasy and the shrimp were meaty and succulent.  They were cooked perfectly and snappy.  I expected a mediocre entree but was thrilled with these delicacies.
All of a sudden, the $31 price tag seemed a bit more palatable.  
The mashed sweet potatoes were addicting.  Not too sweet and multidimensionaly savory.  The vegetables leaned mushy but tasted palatable.  The pineapple sauce was surprisingly delicious.  Tart, well portioned, and slightly spicy.   
As I was chomping through my second shrimp, the waitress brought me a second glass of wine.  
I sat confused until she explained the man a couple tables away bought it for me.  
This has never happened, so I am rattled and unsure how to respond.  
I am annoyed when the middle-aged man refuses to make eye contact with me.  Uncomfortable with the idea of a strange man watching me while I eat, I march over to his table and exclaim “Hi.  Did you buy me a glass of wine?”  
Flustered, he said answers affirmatively.  I thank him and return to my table to finish my dinner.  As a lightweight, I usually don’t order more than one glass of wine so I appreciated the gesture, although it made me edgy. 
Halfway through my meal, I became extremely full and struggled to finish my first glass of wine.  I asked for the rest of my meal to-go, and the kind waiter let me bring the wine back to my room.  
As I walk through the lobby, I pass a man in dark hallway next to the elevator.  He says “hi,” so I reply “hi” and return the smile.  He pauses and sputters, “Oh my, you are just such a cute little thing.” Then, he stands there grinning, waiting for my response.  
My jaw drops in surprise.  I feel my nose wrinkle.  He does a double take and quickly turns the corner.  
I escape to my room, flip the deadbolt, and stack the furniture in front of my door.  
“Blimey!”  I realize I forgot my leftover jumbo shrimp.  I call the restaurant and speak with the nice woman overseeing the dining room.  She locates my leftovers and I ask if the kitchen can hold them until breakfast, explaining I just got hit on by two men and refuse to leave my room.  As an observer, she notes she was uncomfortable with the wine transaction and kindly brings the food to my room.  We chat for a few minutes and I feel better.  
Until I hear a knock at my door.  By the time I dismantle the furniture obstacle course, no one is there.  
An overreaction?  Probably.  But don’t judge me until you’ve been a single, female traveler.
I left for Fargo as the sun rose, stopping by the only gas station in Medora.  The gas pump was so antiquated, I had to run inside and ask for assistance.  When I asked about coffee, the nice woman also pointed me towards breakfast sandwiches.  Though the gas was slightly higher than other towns, the breakfast sandwich and piping hot coffee were only a few dollars.  
The sandwich consisted of two toasted slices of bread, a flavorful sausage patty, fried eggs, and American cheese.  A welcomed change from the mass produced, egg patty versions available frozen or at fast food restaurants.  
View my favorite photos from the trip at my post Sometimes pictures are better than words.
Read about my reaction to oil activity adjacent to the badlands at There’s an oil pump in my national park!

Homesick, chasing ghost towns, and the most perfect rhubarb pie.

I’m homesick.

There.  I said it.

I miss having the familiarity of people who know me.  Knowing where I am going.  The lakes and the trees.  The buzz of the city and sidewalks of Uptown.  I miss the cozy neighborhoods and dogwalkers.  I loathe the cold winds and am perplexed by the urban sprawl.  And though the people I meet are lovely and kind, I think I just miss home.

Almost three years ago, my mom died following Thanksgiving.  I had embarked on an 11-day trip to southern China and found out she had fallen into a coma soon after I arrived in Qinzhou.  Flights were booked and the only available seat cost $8,000.  So I stayed, heartsick and nauseous while my friends cared for me.  The journey home took about two days, during which I was unsure if my mom was still dead or alive.  She remained in her coma for a few days after I returned home and then quietly passed away during a still moment when we all stepped out of the room for just a minute.

Even though I run from the grief, my body still remembers this time of year.

And so I developed a severe case of wanderlust.  I’ve made it to one of the most northern and unpopulated states in the country.  Scratch that.  I’ve moved to the cold, windy prairie land and since I’m already this far north, I might as well explore.

Earlier, I had run across the website Ghosts of North Dakota.  Fascinated, I clicked on one town after another, transfixed by the photographers stories, haunting imagery, and memories left by individuals who expressed warm connection to the remaining, weather-worn shells of homes.

I was drawn to the town of Fredonia.  Not only were the images striking, but the passion of one commenter who mentioned her husband was the pastor of the pictured church.  She was angry that her town was considered a “ghost town,” and attempted to explain that Fredonia is indeed inhabited.  She and another individual mentioned Fredonia’s Home Plate Cafe, arguing the cafe is one of the best kept secrets in North Dakota that serves a special German menu on Fridays.

The only information I could find on Home Plate Cafe was a brief review on Tripadvisor, describing warm hospitality, homemade pie, lunch specials, and the special German menu on Fridays.

The next morning, I set off in search of the not-so vacant ghost town of Fredonia; lukewarm French Vanilla coffee in my cup holder and a crappy gas station breakfast sandwich beside me.

During my first couple weeks in Fargo, I was fond of a radio station that pulled songs from the 90’s.  My enthusiasm has since waned after hearing Ace of Base and Kenny Loggins play more times that I care to remember.  At the beginning of my drive, I tuned in to the sweet sounds of Dave Grohl and Bon Iver which quickly decomposed into static. And then I felt alone.

In a previous post, I mentioned that the rural landscape unsettles me.  During my long drive, I coped fairly well, until I exited 94 West to smaller highways that ran through monotonous farm land for what seemed like hours.  I was caught in a strange juxtaposition between pleasure and fear; enjoying the beauty of golden fields and leaning barns, and driving, white-knuckled and sweaty-palmed, through an unfamiliar territory of flat land interspersed with water.  Not your traditional lake water with sandy beaches, but fields filled with large holes of water.  Not surrounded by beach or rocks, but lined with road or pasture and punctured with dead, Halloween trees.

Sometimes, the craters of water seemed to wave like the ocean and kiss the ground, merely feet from both sides of the highway.

I stared at giant jelly rolls of hay that undulated into the horizon.

As I neared the town of Fredonia, I turned onto a series of gravel roads.

Finally, I arrived at the not-so-ghostly town of Fredonia.  Unlike the pictures I had previously seen, I noticed many people.  An industrial farming or grain structure was buzzing with employees.  The actual main street was surrounded by a few, weathered houses, some of which I assume to be inhabited due to their satellite dishes.

The main street was lined with a few buildings including Home Plate Cafe, what looked like a bar with a Pepsi banner, and a small, well kept bank with pumpkins peeking from its windows.

The church seemed to be cared for.


I walked into Home Plate Cafe.

A group of men who appeared to be on their lunch break dined at one large table and a few other locals ate at others.  Home Plate Cafe seems to be a popular spot for locals and I was obviously not a regular.  The young woman working at the cafe seemed confused when I asked for a menu and I later understood why.  Everyone else already knew what to order.

I felt so out of place that, when asked if I wanted to dine in or take out, I almost chose take-out.  However, I decided to stay, grabbed a table near the corner, and purchased the Jamestown newspaper for 75 cents.

Finally, I noticed the blackboard listing the daily lunch special and pie selection, and ordered half the meatball special that came with a bowl of knoephla soup.  The regular menu offered typical diner fare such as hamburgers, chicken, and fried shrimp.  According to an online search, this type of soup is popular in North Dakota, originating from German emigrants from Russia.

This soup was really divine, as you can see by the glossy butter sheen.  Unevenly cut dumplings, small pieces of potato, onion, and celery lay amongst a velvety soup.  The dumplings were light and reminded me of gnocchi while the soup was deeply satisfying without feeling too rich.

Next, arrived a giant 1/2 portion of the daily lunch special.

The plate contained two large, dense meatballs, what tasted like mushy canned peas, mashed potatoes, a slice of white bread, and small pat of butter.  I actually enjoy any kind of peas, even canned peas, so I was happy to finish my vegetable. I especially enjoyed the delicious gravy that covered the meat and potatoes.  It was so savory and also tasted homemade.

I stood up to leave and ordered a slice of their rhubarb pie to-go and paid my tally which amounted to about $8.50.  The two women employees seemed to warm up when I asked about their German menu.  They confirmed it is still offered Fridays and described their upcoming special of roasted pork loin and dumplings.  Despite my initial discomfort, I am glad I stayed.  The men went about their business discussing their concerns about water levels and work, mutually bantering back and forth with the waitress in a friendly and jovial manner.

And the pie.  My goodness the pie.


The meringue was caramelized on top and fluffy like a marshmallow.  The rhubarb filling had the texture of a custard and maintained a perfect balance between sweet and tart.  The pie crust was delicately light and flaky, even beneath the filling.  I can not think of a more beautiful piece of pie and I should have ordered more than one slice.
On my way home, I admired more hay rolls.
And paused at some dusty railroad tracks.
The 2000 census recorded 51 occupants in Fredonia, while the Ghosts of North Dakota site estimate a couple dozen in May of 2011.  From my observations today, Fredonia seemed far from a ghost town and actually buzzed with noticeable activity, vehicles, and the addition of small houses and trailers.
The journey felt long, but was worthwhile and I yearn for one more slice of rhubarb pie.
Newer posts »

© 2024 Jeni Eats

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Visit Us
Follow Me