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Published June 08, 2011, 12:00 AM

Lakeside Hangouts: Maple Beach Grill famous for humor, 7 varieties of burgers

LAKE LIDA, Minn. – On a recent afternoon inside Maple Beach Grill, Thomas “Mike” Young finished his cheeseburger, leaned back from the counter that overlooks Lake Lida and aimed his boisterous voice at the cook, Philip Cowie.

LAKE LIDA, Minn. – On a recent afternoon inside Maple Beach Grill, Thomas “Mike” Young finished his cheeseburger, leaned back from the counter that overlooks Lake Lida and aimed his boisterous voice at the cook, Philip Cowie.

“Ooh-wee!” piped Young, a 65-year-old retired Army Ranger. “Happy belly. It be smilin’ big-time.”

Cowie has been keeping bellies happy at the lakeside haunt five miles east of Pelican Rapids for more than 20 years, serving a stripped-down menu of seven burger varieties and a few other favorites such as corn dogs, BLTs and chicken strips.

When The Forum asked readers to submit their favorite lakeside hangouts, one touted Cowie’s culinary creations as “the best burgers in lakes country.”

“I can’t disagree with that. I eat one every day,” Cowie said, laughing.

Like the burgers, fries and Sprecher-brand root beer, humor is a staple at the grill, from the sign that warns of “fishing pox” to the framed photo of famous comedian Louie Anderson, a Minneapolis native who, as the story goes, ate at the grill when he was 12.

With his own brand of lakeside humor, Cowie said he offends his customers just enough so they won’t stop coming back.

Case in point: As Young, his son Chad and their fishing buddy Jason Ross, waited for their meals on blue-leather covered stools, a reporter asked Cowie if they were his regulars.

“Irregular regulars,” he said, making sure they heard.

But it’s more than banter that lures customers back.

“By far, what keeps people coming back is the food and the quality of it,” Ross said. “It’s really good.”

“These are the only fries I’ve found that I like better than McDonald’s,” Chad Young said.

Cowie claims there’s no big secret to his burgers.

“I use fresh, never-frozen burger and a good bun,” he said. “The rest is magic.”

He toasts the buns, unless it gets busy – which it often does – and there’s no room on the 24-inch grill.

Cowie said some customers joke that he must put something addictive in the mushrooms on the mushroom and Swiss burger.

“We’ve heard they’re an aphrodisiac, but that’s just a rumor,” he said.

Cowie has been cooking since 1974.

“I just found out that I had a knack for it,” he said.

He honed his skill at Moorhead Technical College and worked at restaurants in the Fargo area.

Cowie quit his job as kitchen manager at Fargo’s Doublewood Inn to start the Maple Beach Grill when his sister and brother-in-law, Ann and Gene Davis, bought the Maple Beach Resort in 1990.

Ann and Gene Davis have both since died. Their two daughters, Molly and Sarah, now operate the resort, while Cowie runs the grill with help from his daughter, Britta, and a couple of part-timers. His 12-year-old son, Drew, also likes to help out by wiping down the picnic tables outside, he said.

The outdoor seating has expanded over the years, as there’s no extra room inside the grill, which seats only 17 or 18 people.

“As we’ve gotten bigger, I just keep buying more picnic tables,” Cowie said.

Inside the weathered building, the walls are plastered with collectables, mounted walleyes and an old clock that urges soda pop drinkers to “Put a little Squirt in your life.”

Cowie’s customers range from campers, fishers and boaters to lake residents and even some Fargo residents who have sold their cabins on Lake Lida but still make the trip to eat at Maple Beach Grill, he said.

The seasonal grill is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m. daily except Mondays, when the grill is closed. Only cash or check is accepted.

The Cowies – Philip, wife Rita and the two kids – live two cabins away from the grill, “so it’s an easy commute,” Cowie said.

While he’s worked at fancier eateries, Cowie finds comfort in his current digs.

“It’s the best view I’ve had from any kitchen I’ve worked in,” he said.

Your favorite?

Have a favorite lakes area hangout? Let everyone else know by nominating it to be featured in The Forum, which will showcase hangouts every Wednesday through August. To nominate a hangout, send an email to news@forumcomm.com and type “Lakeside hangouts” in the subject line.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528