Fine dining in the upper Midwest

What’s the point of ordering the same-old, same-old when traveling and when you have hosts and companions who can point out menu delicacies?

During a reporting trip to the Midwest, CNS photographer Bob Roller and I were at a restaurant a block from St. John Church in Rochester, Minn., with Bishop Bernard Harrington of Winona. In one of his last offical acts before retiring as bishop there, he insisted photographer Bob Roller and I try the walleye sandwich. And not just any walleye sandwich, but the beer-battered walleye sandwich.

I’m game for just about anything, but Bob, who maintained a running and fitness regimen while on the road for CNS’ “On the Farm” series, had to be rather strongly encouraged to ask for it. The verdict: He liked it. So did I. 

At Sabor Latino I (no sign of a II) in Postville, Iowa, I saw rabbit on the menu and ordered it. But the waiter-manager came back with his apologies for not being able to fulfill the order. “We didn’t go hunting last night,” he said. So, a form of breaded Swiss steak with melted cheese atop the steak, and fries atop the cheese, had to do. Confidentially, it was delicious.

So, too, was the lunch the following day at the parish hall of St. Bridget Church in Postville. Guatemalan women who had been arrested in the meatpacking plant raid nearly a year before cook lunch for parish staff and volunteers. It’s their way of saying thank you for the help given by the parish and its people. The lunch included taquitos, salad, yellow rice, and chicken that fell off the bone before you could put it on your plate.

The bartender at a watering hole in Decorah, Iowa, offered Bob and me some “Ole and Lena” fortune cookies. Rather than the expected Chinese adage or prediction, the slip of paper inside the cookie offers jokes about a Nordic-American couple. The cookies tasted good, though.

For sheer audacity, though, one must go to the Irish Shanti (that’s right, an “i,” not “y”) in Gunder, Iowa. The Irish-themed restaurant-bar is one of the biggest enterprises in the tiny town. And it has menu items that nearly match it. I would have tried the thick pork burger sandwich were it not for the Gunderburger, whose reputation extends into Minnesota.

The Gunderburger gives the soul who orders it a pound of ground  beef with a wide choice of toppings, condiments and assorted slatherings. The bun is only regulation size, though, so one must use a knife and fork to cut away slices of the burger in order to pick up the rest of it. I have to say it was well worth the effort.

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