I continued exploring dining options off I-94, between Fargo and Minneapolis, on a solo road trip home this past weekend.
On the way to the Twin Cities, I returned to Cafe 116 in Fergus Falls, MN for lunch. Even though I wanted to branch out in my roadfood stops, my first visit last Memorial Day was so lovely that I returned. Cafe 116 strives to utilize local foods and suppliers.
Plus, it smells like butter.
With just two visits, Cafe 116 has already crept onto my short list of happy places. These are places in which I find myself breathing easier and my shoulders relaxing. Where the climate is controlled, chatter doesn’t echo, and the music’s not too loud or obnoxiously selected. The light’s never to bright (or too dim), the tables are perfectly spaced, and the service is friendly. Places where I feel comfortable pausing over warm beverages and better than average food. You will rarely find me at coffee shops that serve terrible food.
I ordered a cortado, $2.75. A couple shots of espresso cut with milk froth.
For lunch, I ordered the Hamden, a panini filled with ham, mozzarella, roasted red red pepper, thin slices of red onion, and pineapple, $7.50. I upgraded chips to a generous pile of carrot sticks and pea pods and homemade ranch for $1.
The panini was crunchy and I liked the salty and sweet interplay between the meat, cheese, and pineapple. However, I liked the panini I ordered last time, better. It was made from prosciutto, mozzarella, fresh apple slices, and red onion.
I ordered a chocolate chip cookie bar, $1.50, for the road. It tasted surprisingly bland and dry and one bite was enough. No worries. I’m smitten with Fergus Falls and will return to my newest happy place for coffee and grilled paninis.
On Friday evening, I met some friends at the Imperial Room for a rumored, free mashed potato bar. I know I’ve become accustomed to Fargo traffic when I ran into Target Field Twins Traffic and broke into a cold sweat. Walking to the Imperial Room, I realized I was lost somewhere around Dream Girls.
We learned the Imperial Room no longer offers their complimentary happy hour mashed potato bar on Friday evenings. We ordered happy hour specials instead. Half-priced beverages and appetizers, and $5 treats. The fried goodies were cooked with a deft hand. I enjoyed a small plate of non-greasy walleye fingers and a thoughtful salad of crisp romaine accompanied by a bracingly tart vinaigrette.
Then, I got lost again on the way back to my parking ramp.
The afternoon trek back to Fargo included a stop at White Horse, a bar along the main street in downtown St. Cloud.
I chose the White Horse for two reasons:
1. It’s in St. Cloud
I went through a country music phase in 1995. The second song I ever loved was “On a Bus to St. Cloud” By Trisha Yearwood. And hence, St. Cloud, MN has become legendary in my mind. Kudos to Trisha Yearwood for hosting own cooking show. I’d still take her show over Ree Drummond’s, any day. She irreverently joked about her chain-smoking grandma while her sisters looked embarassed. For some reason, this made me laugh. Ree Drummond’s never made me laugh.
2. The Thai Burger
I prowl the Internet for potential roadfood stops. Yelp may not be the most reputable source for reviews, but it’s often the only source when it comes to small towns outside the metropolitan area. One reviewer complained the White Horse’s Thai burger was too spicy to be edible. “Ding Ding Ding Ding! The bells went off in my head when I read the words “literally inedible.”
I know St. Cloud is in outstate Minnesota, but I was determined to try that Thai burger and hoped for at least a tingle.
White Horse’s printed lunch menu offers mundane bar food, with the expectation of the Thai burger. However, the dinner menu offers surprisingly diverse dishes of Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese influence. The daily chalkboard specials included a soup made with eggplant and chickpeas and even homemade pho with shrimp. The pho scented the bar with with star anise which was unexpected and lovely.
The Thai Burger was the menu’s most expensive burger option at $11. I upgraded the burger’s side of french fries to a salad for $2.50 (upgrading to a cup of soup was only $1).
White Horse delivered an above-average salad for the upgrade. It was goodly-sized and made with high quality ingredients. Crispy romaine lettuce, generous slivers of red onion (the more, the better), seasoned homemade croutons and dressing, and plush, ripe tomato.
I publicly admit that I have a thing for Ranch dressing.
The burger was spicy and flavorful. For my tastes, it was spicy enough to induce a jolly sweat, though it probably wasn’t spicy enough for the most seasoned of chili-heads.
The meat patty was crusty on the outside. I detected garlic and lemongrass while nubs of of Thai chilies and chili seeds were packed into the meat. The sriracha aoli contained a pleasant kick and wasn’t overly rich or creamy. Again, I swooned over the ruby-red, ripe tomato slices. They were really beautiful, especially considering the mealy, orange abominations normally served elsewhere. Finally, the brioche burger bun was above average. It was toasted, buttered, and of the ideal texture to support a burger.
When I cut into the burger, I cringed when I realized I didn’t specify the burger’s doneness (though, I wasn’t asked). The patty was cooked all of the way through. Thankfully, it was juicy, despite its doneness. Considering the modest size of the burger and the salad upgrade, $13.50 plus tax and tip made a pricier than average lunch. Overall, I enjoyed my meal and felt comfortable as a single, female diner. The vegetables were especially lovely and had the Thai burger had been cooked medium-rare, it would have been my version of bliss.
Service was fine with a tinge of apathy. The “thank you for coming” chocolate mint sticks helped.
I-94 is Delicious Chronicles, restaurants on deck:
- Albany Restaurant, Albany, MN
- Palmer House, Sauk Centre, MN
- Ackie’s Pioneer Inn, Freeport, MN
- Mable Murphy’s, Fergus Falls, MN
- Eagle Cafe, Barnesville, MN
- El Portal, Melrose, MN