Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Belview: A taste of small town Minnesota November 13, 2019

Looking to the south in downtown Belview.

 

TOO MUCH TIME HAS PASSED since I’ve explored small towns with my camera. Things happens and we get diverted by more important matters that require our full attention. So life goes. But life is settling somewhat now and I have time to pause and take in the nuances of places, which I love to document.

This past weekend Randy and I traveled 2.5 hours west to my native Redwood County to visit my mom in a senior living center. But before we pulled into Parkview, we swung through the heart of Belview, population around 350. It’s a small farming community on the southwestern Minnesota Prairie.

 

The sandwich board caught my attention as we drove by.

 

Belview did not disappoint. I spotted a sandwich board outside the Belview Bar & Grill that required a stop and a few quick photos. The sign was, oh, so Minnesotan with a menu listing that included Tater Tot Hotdish. We joke about our hotdishes here in Minnesota. That would be casseroles to those of you who live elsewhere. Hotdish ingredients here lean to hamburger, pasta/rice/tater tots and a creamy soup (mushroom/chicken/celery) to bind everything together. Spices? Salt and pepper.

 

The sign also promoted the University of Minnesota Gophers football game at 11 that morning. The Gophers went on to defeat Penn State.

 

At some point in Minnesota culinary lore, Tater Tot Hotdish became our signature hotdish. I don’t know that it still holds such high esteem. I much prefer Minnesotan Amy Thielen’s more savory and complicated Classic Chicken Wild Rice Hotdish.

 

While I’ve not eaten at the Belview Bar & Grill, I will always choose a home-grown eatery over a chain.

 

But others, I expect, still embrace the basics of that solid and comforting tater tot-topped hotdish. Belview Bar & Grill advertised the dish, along with chili and beef stew, as hunters’ specials. That would be deer hunting. I saw a few orange-attired hunters in Belview, including two who stopped at the senior care center to drop off lunch for an employee.

These are the small town stories I love. Stories that I discover simply by observing, by listening, by gathering photos that document everyday life.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The power of a train August 6, 2017

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TEN FEET AWAY, the train roared down the tracks next to The Depot Bar & Grill in Faribault. I could feel its immense power as the cars zipped by in a blur, rails rising and falling.

 

 

For a moment I considered my vulnerability with only a wrought iron fence and a slip of stones separating me from this mammoth machine.

 

 

Despite my flash of fear, I thrilled in the rush of sitting so near a train as I waited for my brisket sandwich and fries on the outdoor patio. I grabbed my beer, took another swig and felt the rhythm of the fast-moving cars.

 

 

What is it about trains that holds such fascination? The power certainly impresses. But I think it’s the history, too, associated with trains that appeals to us. Travel by rail opened this country to further settlement.

 

 

My paternal great grandfather, Rudolph, rode the train to Henderson, Minnesota, in 1890, four years after he arrived by steamship in Baltimore. And four years after that, he moved farther west and bought a farm from the Great Western Railroad just outside my hometown of Vesta.

 

 

I expect most of you could tell similar stories of your ancestors and their travel by rail. Trains link us to our past, to those who came before us to this land, this America.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tell me, how can a burger be angry? April 29, 2016

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The Angriest Whopper sign in Owatonna

 

WHEN I SAW THIS SIGN advertising the new Angriest WHOPPER® near the Burger King in Owatonna, the journalist in me questioned how a burger can be angry. A burger is not a living breathing thing with feelings. Therefore it cannot be angry.

But whatever sells…right?

Knowing absolutely nothing about this burger given I rarely eat burgers and frequent fast food places maybe twice a year, I googled “angriest whopper.”

It is apparently the hot sauce, baked into the red bun and also layered on the burger along with jalapenos, that generates that word choice of “angriest.”

This follow-up to the Angry Whopper will be offered for a limited time only. Will I run out and try one? Not unless someone offers to buy this spicy burger for me.

Tell me, have you tried either of these Whoppers? And what do you think of the adjectives “angry” and “angriest” used to describe burgers?

#

ON A RELATED NOTE, Burger Kings across the country, including one in Coon Rapids, have been the victims of a hoax that had employees busting the fast food franchise’s windows. A caller claiming to be from the fire department advised employees to smash the windows to prevent an explosion due to a gas leak and build-up. Burger King employees did just that.

I bet there’s been plenty of anger at the affected Burger Kings.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Quintessential Wisconsin April 4, 2014

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Cabin Bar and Grill, Coloma

The Cabin Bar & Grill in Coloma, Wisconsin.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Irish for an hour in historic Wabasha March 17, 2014

Holy water on the bar of The Olde Triangle Pub in downtown Wabasha, Minnesota.

Holy water on the bar of The Olde Triangle Pub in downtown Wabasha, Minnesota.

I POSSESS NOT AN OUNCE of Irish blood and I am not Catholic.

T-shirts on the pub ceiling.

T-shirts on the pub ceiling.

But green is my favorite color.

The Irish national flag flies outside the pub.

The Irish national flag flies outside the pub.

My Uncle Robin hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He married into a family of Germans.

The Olde Triangle's hearty Irish stew.

The Olde Triangle’s hearty Irish stew.

I like potatoes. And Irish stew.

The pub's fish and chips.

The pub’s fish and chips.

My husband likes fish and chips. And beer. Me, too, but not whiskey.

I have no idea what "the year of Kathleens" means. Anyone care to enlighten me?

I have no idea what “the year of Kathleens” means. Anyone care to enlighten me?

My name, Audrey, of course, is not Irish. But I know a lot of Kathys and a few Kathleens.

Performing at The Olde Triangle Pub Sunday afternoon.

Performing at The Olde Triangle Pub Sunday afternoon.

I can’t dance an Irish jig nor name an Irish tune. However, I enjoy music in an Irish pub.

The pub's Triquetra, Celtic (Trinity) knot, symbolizes the three parts of a good life: friendship, food and drink.

The pub’s Triquetra, Celtic (Trinity) knot, symbolizes three parts of a good life: friendship, food and drink.

And I’ll return to The Olde Triangle Pub. Sunday marked my second time dining here on a visit to Wabasha. I love this cozy, and I do mean cozy, spot in the heart of this historic Mississippi River town.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone, Irish or not!

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dairyland, an old-fashioned drive-in in Fergus Falls June 13, 2013

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I’VE SEEN THIS PLACE BEFORE. I just know I have. On my vintage Candy Land board game. Or in a fairy tale perhaps.

The seasonal Dairyland Drive In opened in 1955.

The seasonal Dairyland Drive In opened in 1955. Although I did not ask, I believe the area to the left is the original drive-in, now used for storage and patio dining.

But I haven’t really. Not until this glorious spring evening have I laid eyes on the Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls. Now, here I am, photographing this longtime fast food place in the photographer’s golden hour, thrilling in the pop of red against pink-tinged sky, the flash of headlights signaling the end of a Thursday in this west central Minnesota community.

As close as I got to going inside the drive in. I should have gone inside anyway, just to photograph the interior. Photographer's regrets...

This is as close as I got to going inside the drive in. I should have gone inside anyway, just to photograph the interior. Photographer’s regrets…

If I had even a smidgen of space in my tummy for an ice cream treat, I’d be waiting in line at Dairyland for a hot fudge sundae. But my husband and I have just finished a filling meal of sandwiches and fries at Mabel Murphy’s, across Interstate 94, before touring the town. We are not one bit hungry. Too bad.

A vintage menu is propped outside the restaurant.

A vintage menu is propped outside the restaurant.

So on this visit to Fergus Falls, I must content myself with photographing that sweet gingerbread style building which houses Dairyland, established here in 1955 and now in its 58th year of business.

Pat Connelly

Pat Connelly

Soon co-owner Pat Connelly notices me and walks across the street. He first worked at Dairyland at age fourteen, when he started with slicing onions. He and his wife, Jean, bought the place in 1997 from his brother, Chuck, who bought the business in 1982 from Bert Skogmo.

Up until 2001, Dairyland still had car hops. Now it’s drive-through or dining inside or on the patio.

Just another view of Dairyland, with the parking lot to the right.

Just another view of Dairyland, with the parking lot to the right.

The eatery is still known for its homemade onion rings and for broasted chicken, Pat tells me.

Sandwiches are named after locals and those who worked here. Like the K.C. Ham & Cheese after Kelly Chandler. Or the Borstad Burger.

Pat seems especially proud of all the local teens he’s employed—500-plus through the years. When an elementary-aged girl walks by Dairyland, he greets her, tells me she will be coming with Mrs. Johnson’s class on an end-of-the-year class outing for treats. That’s tradition for most Fergus Falls students.

I can’t help but wonder at the memories they’ll cherish of Dairyland… and pass along someday to the next generation.

HAVE YOU EATEN at Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls? If so, let’s hear your thoughts. If not, tell us about a similar old-fashioned drive-in you’d recommend. Note that my husband and I were in Fergus Falls in mid May, when these photos were taken and I met Pat Connelly.

© Copyright 2103 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cheers to the Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton, Wisconsin January 18, 2013

I DIDN’T REALLY WANT pizza for lunch. But our daughter insisted that this place—the Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton, Wisconsin—served the best pizza. Or so she’d heard.

Turns out that evaluation was spot-on correct.

I’m no food connoisseur. But when a pizza can match, even surpass, the savory goodness of the thin crust pizzas from Basilleo’s, a 45-year pizza restaurant in my community of Faribault, Minnesota, I’m sold.

The Stone Cellar did not disappoint and, in fact, left my husband, Appleton resident daughter and me raving over the spicy New Orleans pizza topped with andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp, red onion, red peppers and Cajun spices.

The beer part of the business is on the right, the restaurant part through the door on the left.

The beer part of the business is on the right, the restaurant part through the door on the left.

We complemented our lunch time pizza with glasses of seasonal pumpkin spice and Stonetoberfest beer brewed on the premises in the Stone Arch Brew House. This is the site of Wisconsin’s oldest continually running brewpub established in 1858 by German immigrant Anton Fischer.

I’m no beer connoisseur either. But I’m always up to trying specialty craft beers. While I wasn’t crazy about the taste of pumpkin in beer, it seemed the perfect choice for an October lunch, early October being the time my husband and I were in Appleton visiting our daughter.

Had I been aware of Stone Arch’s Houdini Honey Wheat beer, made with pure Wisconsin honey, I may have sampled that instead. The beer is named after magician Harry Houdini, who wrongly claimed Appleton as his birthplace. Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary, and, in his early youth, lived for four years with his family in Appleton. (Click here to read my earlier post about the Houdini exhibit at The History Museum at the Castle.)

The exterior of the Between the Locks Mall, where the Stone Cellar Brewpub and Stone Arch are located along with other businesses.

The exterior of the Between the Locks Mall, where the Stone Cellar Brewpub and Stone Arch Brew House are located along with other businesses.

Beer and pizza aside, I love the location of the Stone Cellar Brewpub along the Fox River canal system (which that first brewer, Anton Fischer, helped construct) and the old stone building itself.

Go through the doorway on the left and follow the steps down into the Stone Cellar Brewpub.

Go through the doorway on the left and follow the steps down into the Stone Cellar Brewpub.

To reach the restaurant, you descend into the deep darkness of what is appropriately termed the “Stone Cellar.” I prefer windows and natural light while dining. But this closed-in space with thick stone walls presents the right comfortable feel for a brew pub with a long-standing history in the Fox River region.

A bonus to this whole dining experience comes with the restaurant’s efforts to offer locally-grown, seasonal, gluten-free and (sometimes) organic foods, aiming to offer healthier menu choices. You’ll find much more than pizza here, including the usual salads, burgers and sandwich offerings for lunch and a more extensive dinner menu.

There you go. If you’re ever in Appleton, I’d recommend dining at the Stone Cellar Brewpub.

Walk through these colorful front doors...

Walk through these colorful and detailed front doors…

...into the entry of the Between the Locks Mall.

…into the entry of the Between the Locks Mall.

FYI: To learn more about the Stone Cellar Brewpub, 1004 S. Olde Oneida St., Appleton, Wisconsin, click here. 

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling