Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Lunch at the Viking Cafe June 15, 2011

The Viking Cafe in Fergus Falls.

“We r eating at the viking café in fergus falls,” I texted.

“Oh boy,” she texted back.

Oh, boy, indeed.

Typically I don’t text while dining because I consider such phone usage rude. But my husband and I had arrived in this western Minnesota community within the hour and I wanted our three kids to know we’d gotten there safely. I figured the Viking message would amuse them.

Only the middle daughter, who lives in Wisconsin, texted back. The second daughter was busy with a wedding and the teenage son opted to ignore the message.

We didn’t explore any other noonish eating options in Fergus Falls. When we drove downtown, I hadn’t even mentioned the Viking to Randy. But my spouse spotted it and pulled into the one available parking space practically in front of the restaurant.

It was only then that I told him I had read about the Viking in Tasty Foods along Minnesota’s Highways. This was meant to be.

Kim Embretson confirmed our decision. I had never met Kim until that moment, when I stepped from the car, saw him strolling toward us and figured he looked like a local.

“Is that a good place to eat?” I inquired after approaching him and learning that he was, indeed, from Fergus Falls.

Kim praised the Norwegian-American restaurant, suggesting we try a daily special such as the meatloaf, hotdish or a pork or beef sandwich and the homemade soup. He got me right then and there. I’m a soup lover. The vegetable soup sometimes includes rutabagas, something typically not found in veggie soup, Kim said.

And when I asked about sites to see and things to do in Fergus, Kim pointed us to the wine and panini bar, The Spot, across the street; to the art fair around the corner; to the Kaddatz Galleries in the next block; to the river walk; and, because I asked, to the kitschy otter statue in Adams Park. He even gave us specific directions to the park and directed us to the metal goose sculpture at the Otter Tail County Historical Society.

Fergus Falls tourism people, Kim rates as a fine, fine spokesman for your community. He gave us more details than I’ve written here. Every town should have someone so enthused about where they live.

As a side note, he also cheered the Roadside Poetry Project, which was the specific reason we traveled to Fergus—to see my winning poem splashed across four billboards.

The well-marked Viking Cafe, established in 1967.

I was getting downright hungry, so we thanked Kim for his suggestions and walked toward the Viking Café, which has been around since 1967. Prior to that, another restaurant was housed in the building beginning in the 1930s or 1940s, depending on your information source.

Enter the Viking and you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

The view, once you step into the Viking Cafe. The lunch counter is on the right. A viking ship is suspended from the ceiling. Swords and shields adorn the walls in a viking-themed decor.

Two rows of ramrod straight wooden booths define this long, narrow eatery anchored on one side by an old-fashioned lunch counter. The place even has a candy counter, for gosh sakes, and an oversized bubble gum machine tucked into a corner next to the coat/hat racks.

Napkin dispensers and salt and pepper shakers sidle up next to ketchup bottles on tables.

Stools line the lunch counter stretching nearly the length of the cafe.

A Norman Rockwell print hangs on the wall by the coat racks and bubble gum machine right inside the cafe entry.

An old-fashioned candy counter at the front of the viking-themed restaurant.

Primary restaurant seating is in these vintage wooden booths.

Waitresses hustle to booths at an almost frantic pace, taking orders and delivering our food in the short time it takes me to circle the room once snapping pictures. Randy has ordered the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy and a side of peas with a mini strawberry shortcake for dessert. I’ve selected a bowl of vegetable soup and a roast beef sandwich on whole wheat bread slices.

I’m typically not a fan of meatloaf, but even I like the meatloaf sampled from Randy’s plate. We agree that his food and my soup, which includes a homemade dumpling, and my sandwich qualify as  simple, good comfort food at reasonable, reasonable prices—$6.40 and $6.95 for our respective plates.

Our food: meatloaf with mashed potatoes and vegetable soup with a beef sandwich.

But it’s the atmosphere, more than the food, which I appreciate about the Viking on this Saturday. From the wooden booths to the well-worn tile floors to the viking décor to the lunch counter, especially the lunch counter stools, this café evokes simpler days. You cannot help but feel better for having eaten here, having experienced this slice of Americana where a cell phone feels so much out of place.

Menus are stacked on a counter below a shelf of viking decor.

Another view of those lunch counter stools, looking from the back of the cafe toward the front.

Looking from the back of the cafe, which is semi dark (for photos), toward the front.

CAFE BONUS: If you need to use the facilities, you will have to walk downstairs to the basement. That’s where I discovered this little gem, at the bottom of the stairs. I think this piece of memorabilia should be moved upstairs, where the dining public can view, maybe even use, it.

A character reading machine which apparently reads your character based on your weight, or something like that.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


13 Responses to “Lunch at the Viking Cafe”

  1. Bernie Says:

    Sounds like a fun day. I love the pictures. Did they have lefse on the menu? Your lunches looked great!
    So did you try the character reading?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That is a good question, about the lefse, Bernie. I did not notice it on the menu, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there as I didn’t scan the menu that carefully.

      As for trying the character reading, no. Why would I step onto a scale? lol But I really do think the Viking Cafe owners need to move this upstairs as it would add even more to the vintage charm of the restaurant.

  2. Paul Carney Says:

    Audrey –

    I’m glad you made it to The Viking. “Must Eating” for all visitors to Fergus Falls! 🙂


    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Highly-recommended by Kim, I might add. I love places like the Viking Cafe, for all its vintage appeal and great service and good food.

      We thoroughly enjoyed our short time in Fergus Falls. I’ve got more stories and photos coming. What a wonderful community you have. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it via my billboard poem.

  3. That looks like the coolest place ever to stop for lunch. We don’t have anything like this here in Northern Canada. It reminds me of the movie Cars and route 56?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Everyone should dine at least once at a place like the Viking Cafe. What an experience.

  4. I probably have the wrong route number, but you know what I mean.

  5. Nina Hedin Says:

    Looks like a great little restaurant! Love the candy counter. My husband is the ‘talker’ in our relationship, and I swear, every little town we stop at – he’ll chat with a local and have the whole scoop and every bit of gossip in under 20 minutes.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Isn’t that candy counter a dandy? Well, your hubby needs to get himself a camera and start a blog to share all those stories. I love small towns. We drove through Glencoe, BTW, on our meandering route home.

  6. Melinda Says:

    This post just made me feel all warm inside! My family has a place in Battle Lake and, when I’ve gone out there, my Mom and I always make a trip to Fergus Falls, which includes lunch at the Viking Cafe. I haven’t been able to make it out to MN for the past few years (I now have young children–too young for a road trip from Oregon and I really loathe flying!), but another trip to the Viking Cafe is definitely on the list the next time I make it out!

    Thank you so much for brightening my day!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well, Melinda, I am happy to brighten your Oregon day, because ours here in Minnesota this morning is dark, gloomy and rainy.

      I’m so glad you appreciate places like the Viking Cafe. They are treasures. I hope someday you’ll be able to take your kids there so they can perch on a lunch counter stool or slide into a booth and then afterward choose a few treats from the candy counter.

      Thanks for stopping by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

  7. Dave Phillips Says:

    Our annual July visit to Fergus Falls always includes a breakfast at the Viking. The hashbrowns are the best. They go great with the ham & cheese omlette. They even have some pretty good sausage gravy. Order some sausage gravy on some of their hashbrowns. You will be coming back for more.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      The Viking really is a must eat at place for a journey back in time. Sounds like you have a great tradition. I’m not a sausage gravy eating kind of person, but I expect plenty of readers are. So thank you for the recommendation, Dave, and for stopping by to comment.

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