In Transit: From Fargo To Mason City, Iowa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weary travelers should never underestimate the power of a burger basket from a humble, small town bar. The patties were cooked all of the way through and nondescript, but the people watching was memorable. A couple of women celebrating a birthday were glued to the television mounted above the bar, closely following The Biggest Loser. A contestant fell off his bike and they laughed.

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

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

Getting used to a new downtown. It’s quieter than Fargo’s.

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

Dive Bar Date Night: The Crowbar, Sabin, MN

We went a little crazy at the Green Market last week. After all, it was most likely our last meal at the Green Market, ever. We resolved to make our following weekend date night much more frugal.

By frugal, I mean dive bar frugal.

I reflected back to a memorable drive back to the Twin Cities that lead us down a detour gone wrong. A bad accident had occurred on Interstate-94 between Fargo and Barnsville, MN that involved a semi and lots of fire. We were surprised to find ourselves stopped in the back of a long standstill just outside of Moorhead. This was unusual, considering that any type of traffic is a rarity in Fargo-Moorhead. People complain about the weekday “rush minute,” and that is all.

The traffic was so backed-up that it took us at least two and a half extra hours to get to the Twin Cities. Part of this delay also involved a long-winded detour that took us through the small town of Sabin, MN. I enjoyed this opportunity to peek at a small town I’ve never seen before and noticed the Crowbar perched across from towering grain elevators. Ever since, I’d hoped to return.

Sabin, MN is only about a twenty-minute drive from Fargo. Just take Exit 6 towards Sabin, MN. Highway 52 will lead straight to the Crowbar which is located along Sabin’s main street. In fact, it’s address is even “1 Main Street.” We parked the car and walked down the snowy sidewalk and past the looming grain elevators to the Crowbar. The whole evening was enveloped in a light, winter mist. For us city kids, the setting was ethereal.

Inside, the bar was warm and cozy. We were greet immediately and chose a table in the back room by the arcade games and television. Jake, the craft beer connoisseur asked what was available on tap. I giggled when our server only listed Miller and Bud light. I’m not sure what he expected. We happily sipped cans of PBR.

The menu was a little flappy and worn and I liked it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ordered the evening’s chalkboard special of a french dip sandwich that came with french fries and choice of either a soup or salad. I passed on the cream of mushroom soup and opted for the salad with ranch. Jake chose the hamburger topped with cream cheese and olives. He had never tried this combination before and was fascinated.

My salad contained about equal parts iceburg lettuce and shredded cheese/croutons. What can I say? I ordered a salad in a dive bar. I should have gone for broke and ordered the soup instead of making a weak attempt to be health conscious. That being said, the tomato wasn’t the underripe, hard, orange type and the lettuce was crisp.

My french dip sandwich was generously sized and filled with thick slices of roast beef. The bread was really lovely. Slightly crusty on top and squishy inside. I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the beef since it was cooked well-done and dry. I just removed the beef to a single layer and proceeded on my way, dunking the sandwich in the flavorful au jus.

The fries were super crisp and fluffy inside. They were lightly breaded on the outside, which I didn’t mind. Not at all greasy.

Jake was smitten with his cream cheese and olive burger. He loaded it up with pickle chips, ketchup, and mustard. I took a bite agree that it was pretty tasty. Every once in a while, I crave cream cheese and olive sandwiches, so I didn’t find this combination on a burger so unusual. Jake wished he could find this option at more restaurants.

Normally I am the type of gal that prioritizes food over ambiance. This was actually place where I liked the ambiance and vibe more than the food but would still return, regardless.

It’s basic bar food with a special or two thrown in. Plus, it’s cheap. Our entire bill totaled about $30 including tax and tip.

The vibe is warm and cozy. There’s a variety of arcade games in the back room. Graffiti on the ceiling. And you can help yourself to popcorn from the popcorn machine. The staff and patrons were genuinely friendly and our server called us “sweetie.” The Crowbar is a community gathering place and it’s obvious that most of the customers were familiar with each other or regulars, but we weren’t made to feel like outsiders.

A year and a half ago, I would never have expected to live in Fargo, let alone find my happy place at a dive bar in Sabin, MN. May your next, unexpected detour also lead you to a friendly dive bar.

North Dakota. It makes me wanna take a back road.