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June 12, 2003


Plains Folk: Best of the Plains

Tom Isern, Professor of History
North Dakota State University

Itís time once again, as a public service, to praise good works and to provide guidance for the weary and famished. Here are some current picks--the best of the plains, Saskatchewan to Texas.

Itís reasonable to expect a decent hamburger wherever you go, but unfortunately, frozen patties are the norm. If you want to go back to the basics, hamburgers 1920s style, little sliders grilled with mounds of onions, then you want the Cozy Inn of Salina, Kan. Itís your classic hole in the wall but the best part is, you get to enjoy the scent of your visit for days afterward.

Honorable mention goes to the Cattle Exchange, which is in a rehabilitated hotel in Canadian, Texas, for the green chili cheeseburger.

Best Mexican food on the plains? Iím influenced by upbringing on the central plains and thus accustomed to Santa-Fe-Railroad Mexican cooking, so in my book, you canít beat the Anchor Inn of Hutchinson, Kan. Still, I recall with longing (and salivation) the tamale plates of El Toro, a great little cafť on the main drag of Tucumcari, N.M.

The northern plains have their delights; too, chief among is the German-Russian delicacy, Kuchen. Here I am of divided counsel, and so Iím going to split the recommendation. Best Kuchen available to the public in a sit-down setting, thatís the Prairie Oasis, Cleveland, N. D. Best Kuchen available to carry away, thatís the Co-operative Store, Tuttle, N.D.

Best onion rings? Thatís easy, the Chateau, Fort Pierre, S.D.

Best corn dog? Thatís got to be the Dixie Dog, Ponca City, Okla.

Best chicken fried steak? The Pig Stand, San Antonio, Texas.

Summer is coming on so weíve got to think about the best drive-in, and here Iím going to split the award. In the Canadian division, itís the Bridge of Winnipeg, Manitoba, where young lovers share Saskatoon sundaes, neck on park benches, and swat the mosquitoes wafting up from the river bottom. In the American division, itís the Zesto of Pierre, S. D., where every citizen and her Labrador retriever (itís a Labrador retriever kind of town) shows up on a summer evening to eat sundaes with hokey names.

For best of show, that is, best all-around cafť, I just cannot settle on one. The sentimental pick is the Kingfisher by Marion Lake, Kan.--not only because of those corn fritters, but also because the place just exudes community good will. Same goes for Friedís Family Dining of Mandan, N.D. Comfort, thatís what it is.

If pressed for a decision, though, I think Iíd have to go with Jackís Cafť, Eastend, Saskatchewan, presuming that the incoming management upholds the standards of recent years. The place is historic for its associations not only with the town but also with the return thereto of the author Wallace Stegner, who checked in there while researching Wolf Willow. Angelaís murals make history tumble from the very walls. And the ribs, and that rice pudding--it doesnít get any better than this.

Unless, of course, you just want to eat yourself senseless in which case I recommend the Sunday buffet at the Hotel Fort Garry, Winnipeg. Itís no use describing it, you have to experience it.

Best sushi on the plains? No award given.

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Source: Tom Isern, (701) 799-2941, isern@plainsfolk.com
Editor: Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.nodak.edu
 

 

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