Review: Wild Rice Bar and Grill serves up classic Midwest experience
HORACE, N.D. — Prime rib night at the local small town bar is a mainstay of the traditional Midwestern culinary scene. It's easy to see why. It gives those of us at the southern end of the pay scale a crack at what, in the land of sunnier climes and fatter wallets, easily reaches the $30 price point. It's not hand rubbed and served with duck fat roasted potatoes, but it's a taste of it, anyway.
The Wild Rice Bar and Grill in Horace does a rib roast every Friday and Saturday and serve it with a baked potato and "soup or salad," an expression that, here in the Midwest, sounds like one word.
For $13.95 you get an 8-ounce slice of beef and you can shuffle the baked potato off the plate in favor of cheesy hash browns or fries of one sort of another. Serve it up with a Leinenkugel and a bowl of knoephla soup and you are sure to be sitting in a bar north of Iowa and west of Wisconsin. And on a Friday night, that's not a bad place to be.
The beef has flavor because it has fat, and the thing it lacks that its $30 cousin has is serious marbling, as opposed to a heavy fat lip, and a crust that comes from the premium cut and rub. But it's tender, juicy and comes exactly to order, even if the challenge is a rare slice an hour into serving time. When it comes to seasoning, it's not afraid of salt and doesn't depend on it either. The cheesy hashbrown potatoes are the same in that they walk the salt line thoughtfully. Vegetables aren't part of the package and, paired with a bowl of knoephla soup, and the chunk of thick, heavily buttered slice of toast, you end up with a pretty starch-heavy meal.
The knoephla soup, by the way, is a pleasant surprise. In a meal already starchy, it's a thick soup, but rescues itself with a generous helping of chicken meat and an honest chicken flavor.
There are other things on the menu that are worth looking at. The walleye ($14.95) can be done in several ways, but a safe bet is pan-fried, which avoids the flavor-robbing heaviness of deep frying and the potential for drying out such a delicate fish under a broiler. The result is a lightly seasoned, moist fillet that extends itself satisfactorily all the way down to the belly meat, where barroom walleye generally turns stringy and tough. It's served with a slice of lemon, but it's worth seeing if you really need it. The mildness of walleye prepared this way is best enjoyed without the acid.
It's hard not to resist the fried chicken gizzards ($5.50), but try.
Service is friendly, and they think of small things like asking if you'd like your beer with your meal rather than asking if you need a third one before your meal is served. The atmosphere is what you'd expect. The exterior and interior are typical of small-town bars, and it's nice to be free of piped-in music and a dozen screens all tuned into various sports and music videos that are unrelated to what's on the speakers. It's basic, even barren, but the place if full of locals on a Friday night after a solid week's work and there is an honesty in the place of ambiance.
It's not what you'd get for more than twice the price elsewhere, but that's why it has lasted for decades as a weekly tradition. And it shows up in different iterations at a half dozen other places in or near the Fargo-Moorhead area. A slice of Americana served with soup or salad.
Wild Rice Bar and Grill
205 Wild Rice Road, Horace, N.D.
Food: 2.5 stars
Service: 3 stars
Ambiance: 1.5 stars
Grill Hours: 11 a.m.-2p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday
Phone: (701) 239-8470
Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.