It is probably more obvious when traveling, but it is a truism of the restaurant business that a server has the ability to turn and ordinary meal into a wonderful experience and unfortunately visa-verse. On our 2200 mile jaunt last week this scenario played out. Our servers ran the gamut from excellent to a "basket case".
Here is a rundown on what we did since last posting at this location:
First stop, Tuesday a week ago, was Glencoe IL and an overnight visit with good friends, A light dinner at their house provided some excellent Gazpacho and Graeter's, the ice cream is our usual house present, if distance and time permits.
The next day, after a stop in Eau Clair WI to visit a young friend, who is expecting in Oct., we drove on to St. Cloud MN. Arriving around 7:30 PM we decided to try "Anton's" for our first Northland dinner. "Anton's" in Waite Park MN( AntonsRestaurant.com) is a early 1930 type resort road house filled with memento's and other items. Wooden chairs and tables, several rooms, and of course, being in MN a full bar. Our server Sarah made the evening. She was attractive, smart( a history major) and accommodating. The food was acceptable. Marilyn had a typical northern MN dinner, Walleye and outstanding wild rice while I opted for Shrimp and Red Pepper Pasta.
Next day, on to Bemidji MN where we meet our two eldest Granddaughters, who each had a young women friend it tow. Lunch at the "Green Mill", attached to the large well run Hampton Inn, was on the terrace overlooking Lake Bemidji. Again our server was first class although not quite as personable as Sarah the night before, but she had more tables to cover. The six of us shared a number of items from Thai Egg Rolls and Walleye Bites to salads, burgers, fries and soups.
The women spent the afternoon shopping and lounging in our huge room before we all headed to Walker MN and dinner at "The Boulders". "The Boulders" is a remarkable spot in a small resort town serving very good food in a sophisticated atmosphere. ( I really don't expect many of you, reading this, to follow in our footsteps but one never knows who and where things might be helpful in this mobile society.) After drinks I had the Caesar salad and then split sauteed Walleye, the best of the trip, and roasted Grouper with a Hollandaise sauce. Marilyn had the Walleye while others also chose the Grouper or Shrimp Linguine. The table ordered two desserts, warm bread pudding, a mix of white and chocolate and a Sunday, 2 large scoops of vanilla ice cream with fresh red raspberry's and chocolate sauce. If the winters were more mild we might move in.
Friday night was a "mad house" with 8 of us, all family members, of sorts, at the "White Birch Supper Club" in Solon Springs WI, a real bar and road house. It has become a family habit to eat there but maybe one we will break shortly. The evening started with the server spilling drinks on the table and chairs and even after a cleaning several sticky spots remained. I am going to skip food descriptions but it is enough to say that our group, age 13 to 80, ordered a variety ranging from fish to steak. The universally voted best item was a fresh salad bar, not large but plentiful. Afterward the younger members of the group topped of the evening at the Dairy Queen in Lake Nebagamon, WI.
We have become good friends with Pete Regas who runs a hot dog and Gyro stand at the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth. His cousin Gus Miller owns a hat shop in downtown Cincinnati. Lunch at Pete's location brought 4 of us excellent, large Gyro's with Pete's homemade tsatsiki sauce.
After an afternoon shopping and resting on the Duluth lake front we drove across the bridge to Superior WI and dinner at "Le Bistro" 1409 Hammond Ave. "La Bistro" is about as classy as one finds in Superior, but the dinner was a struggle because our server, above average age, was either nervous or "not with it". Food and beverages were acceptable, white fish broiled with pesto and lamb and venison chops in a wine reduction. We have been to "Le Bistro" before and enjoyed their food an service so this may have been an anomaly.
In this part of the world we often stop for lunch at "Culvers" which we find uniformly clean and well run with pleasant helpful crews. On this trip we ventured into at least 3 and were never disappointed. The outstanding operation was in Tomah WI.
Our last stop, Sunday night was in Champaign IL. Dinner at "Buttitta's Restorante" 1201 Neil St started on a high note with a very cordial greeting by the host and a promise of excellent food and service, Oh, that that had been the case. Our server, Jamie, a Sr. at IU was pleasant but not efficient. The meal started with excellent Fried Calamari, strips, done perfectly, in a spicy tomato sauce, followed by 3 different salad, Mixed, Romaine and Endive which were decent but not as good as the appetizer. The main course was a slight disappointment, Trisha, our Granddaughter, and I split Fruitti di Mare, pasta and a small amount of seafood in the same tomato sauce while Marilyn had Spaghetti with meat sauce and mushrooms, again the sauce came out of the same pot. Maybe we were just on overload from a week on the road.