“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling