Fargo, North Dakota. It’s a city I never expected to visit, but found myself venturing to the Great Heartland for work. Taking the advice of co-workers who have explored the Downtown Fargo culinary scene in the past, I set out to conquer the local food scene during my 36 hours in the state.
Arriving late on a Thursday night, few restaurants were still attracting large crowds for dinner. However, Mezzaluna, located one block from the main Broadway stretch, had everything; late night menus, TNF on TV, outstanding cocktail/wine list and a lively crowd. I snagged a seat at the main bar, watching the high scoring NFL game with my kindle in tow.
On Thursday nights, they don’t have just one Happy Hour, they have two. Between 10pm and 11pm, you can enjoy discounted cocktails, wine and a variety of appetizers. The crowds pour in once the clock strikes 10pm, creating an environment similar to that in any chic Manhattan bar. I felt completely at home.
Order one of their signature cocktails, and you’re in extremely capable hands. Fargo knows how to drink in style. Other patrons sipped flaming Manhattans, while I watched in awe. I asked to be surprised, as the bartender served up a twist on a Pisco Sour, with whiskey and a frothy egg white on top.
When it comes to food, the menu boasts a wide variety of dishes, that seem to be so diverse, some can’t even be categorized. Those plates fall under “Other Interesting Stuff,” that shows off items that are certainly interesting. For my first meal in Fargo, my eyes instantly drew to the meat, ultimately deciding to order the Pistachio Crusted Rack of Lamb with a side of Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Welcome to the Heartland.
While the romantic dim lighting of Mezzaluna didn’t make for the most ideal of pictures, and raised a few questions among the local patrons (especially a gentleman who went by WDIII), the dish was outstanding. The extremely large portion of lamb, cooked to a medium rare melted in your mouth. The sweet jus on the bottom, along with the crunch of the pistachio enhanced the flavor of the locally sourced protein. On the side, a heap of buttery and garlicy mashed potatoes adds a starch, which paired perfectly with the lamb. A small pile of grilled veggies on the side gives a bit of smoky freshness, but I’ll admit those remained mainly untouched in favor of the gluttonous items.
I admitted defeat leaving a beautiful piece of lamb remaining on the plate. Without asking, the waiter offered to box up my meal. A practice I learned very quickly was extremely common in Fargo. Even a single scrap of food could be considered left over worthy. It’s a far cry from our wasteful habits in Manhattan, where asking to bring home two ravioli inflicts a stare of judgment and disapproval from the waiter, like we’re supposed to leave things behind.
The Boiler Room
Breakfast, I learned quickly, is not a very common thing in Fargo. And the art of brunching seems to strictly be a big city way of life. Most places didn’t open until 10:30 or so, immediately serving their lunch menus. So when I set out to find a place to eat and read the paper at 7:30am,my options were limited.
In Fargo, Broadway is the main street lined with bars and restaurants. Hidden inside what looks like a business storefront, one floor below ground, lies the appropriately named restaurant, Boiler Room. It’s a large space, wide open and a bit brighter then one would expect for an underground spot. TVs play ESPN from the crack of dawn, while lively patrons wait patiently until the clock strikes 8am to begin drinking.
Repurposed metal fill the walls and coat the furniture, sticking to the theme of the basement boiler room vibe. According to the limited recommendations on FourSquare and the advice of local patrons, the Scotch Eggs are not to be missed. And in honor of Scotland’s decision to stay part of the United Kingdom , it seemed extremely appropriate to check out the traditional breakfast treat.
If you are going to eat deep fried anything for breakfast, Scotch Eggs might be the ultimate winner. Hard boiled eggs are surrounded by a thin layer of house made sausage before being sent to the deep fryer. The sweet and spicy maple mayo creates a creaminess, mimicking that of an egg salad or deviled egg.
I opted for the much healthier side option, fresh fruit instead of the gluttonous three cheese tater tots. The attentive and extremely charming waitress made sure my glass of Iced Tea was continuously full, as I read the New York Times, thanks their complimentary free internet.
The Boiler Room is extremely charming, with a caring staff, delicious food and wonderfully warm environment. It’s one of those spots where if you returned often enough, everyone would know your name and take great care of you.
HoDo Lounge at the Hotel Donaldson
James Beard Award and Fargo wouldn’t seem like they are synonymous. At the HoDo Lounge, the level of sophistication and high quality dishes, you easily understand why the prestigious award has been bestowed countless times. The dining is divided into two parts; Restaurant and Lounge. For a more low-key vibe, I snagged a seat at the Lounge Bar, shifting through the impressive cocktail list and whimsical menu.
I put my fate in the hands of the bartender, Jason, who managed to unknowingly recreate my favorite coffee drink from my time in college.
Back in College at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a restaurant called Graze created a non-alcoholic drink called Magic Coffee. In Fargo, an alcoholic version was recreated, combining my favorite vices of espresso and dark liquor. The spices make the cocktail, with the Rum Chata infusing nutmeg and cinnamon throughout.
Following the advice of my trusted boss, I immediately ordered the Fried Pickled Onion Rings with White Cheddar Sauce on the side. I don’t know why more things aren’t pickled before being fried.
Whenever I indulge in a fried dish, I’m always reaching for a wedge of lemon to squeeze on top to give a bite of acidity. These onion rings have the acidic element already infused within. Picked onions are fried until golden brown and paired with an extremely rich, and slightly sharp cheddar cheese sauce. Great twist on a classic dish.
For my main course, after 24 hours of countless fried Fargo dishes, I turned to a New York favorite. Zoodles. A term that lovingly refers to thin strips of zucchini created in a similar style to pasta. The staff was floored by the fact that this dish that has graced their menus for years had gotten the trendy city treatment. Here the Zoodles are prepared in the style of a Carbonara with a Fried Duck Egg on top. Serious sophistication.
Thin slices of zucchini are styled into a tight pile, with shaved parmesan and topped with a duck egg. The dish is served slightly warm, with the ribbons of vegetables maintaining a mild crunch. Duck egg yolk oozes over the zucchini mixing to create the carbonara sauce.
The HoDo Lounge attract the elegant crowd of Fargo, sophisticated individuals indulging in a night out on the town. It’s a beautiful space, and an even more impressive menu.
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So Fargo. A place I never anticipated to visit in my life, ended up exposed me to a whirlwind of incredible food. From fabulously prepared Rack of Lamb to the most incredible Onion Rings of my life, I enjoyed every second. The people epitomized the Heartland Charm, the sweet and warm natured individuals. Each individual I spoke to really loved their hometown and couldn’t wait to share their favorite dishes, drinks and experiences.
If you ever find yourself in Fargo, explore! Talk to people. Take advantage of every moment in this charming town. And if you have the pleasure of visiting in the warmer weather months, wander around and get lost, because you never know what you might find.