Daeuber: Toasted Frog a warm, inviting tavern
FARGO - The Toasted Frog is refreshingly honest. It's not Irish, English or German. And except for the odd whimsical reference to frogs on fire, it doesn't seem to have a theme.
FARGO – The Toasted Frog is refreshingly honest. It’s not Irish, English or German. And except for the odd whimsical reference to frogs on fire, it doesn’t seem to have a theme.
It isn’t anything but what it obviously is: a warm, inviting, downtown tavern with big windows that show downtown Fargo for what it is: a warm – metaphorically anyway – inviting town.
The restaurant’s interior is understated, pleasantly lit, with a little funk to spare. It’s alive without being crowded, loud or demanding of your attention. It’s filled to the gills at 6 p.m. and slows down a little around 8, suggesting it’s found a place as an after-hours business venue and a way to relax after the eight-hour slog.
A fun martini list gives it a positively Manhattan feel, and friendly people at the door make you know you’re right at home.
The menu includes the same kind of bar food you might find in any similar downtown lounge in any city, but often with a twist. And it includes a few unique selections, too, that make this import from Bismarck and Grand Forks seem like a homegrown Fargo institution.
For example, the fried cheesy pickle ($7), ubiquitous in the South, gets a touch of the European by wrapping it in Havarti.
The Moroccan spiced lamb burger ($12) delivers on a promise to take the venerable pub burger to a new level. It’s served with a passable tzatziki sauce, and the outstanding lamb patty done exactly as lamb needs to done.
Sides suggest a well-considered menu as well with options such as garlic mashed potatoes. And while it may seem unnecessary to say that they are made from garlic and potatoes, it is.
There’s also a good selection of flatbreads and wood-fired pizzas that consider combinations you might not find elsewhere, even in the context of the current trendy wood-fired pizza arms race that is the casual-dining scene in Fargo today.
Ingredients such as duck served with a potato sauce in place of the usual red or cream sauces become an interpretive entrée rather than a pizza ($13-$16).
But one standout dish calls to the Midwestern patriot as almost a tribute to prairie hipness. The Sodbuster Porter, brewed by our own Fargo Brewing Company, pairs well with beef short ribs ($23) in a braise that puts High Plains frostiness in its place. It may well be the kind of homespun comfort food that will put a place like this on the culinary map. The only culinary disappointment turned out to be the temperature of the food, which arrived at our table considerably colder than it should have been. While not a huge problem with dishes such as pizza, falling temperatures plays havoc with burgers, mashed potatoes and braising liquids.
And it wasn’t an altogether isolated incident. I expect it has something to do with arriving at busy times, but a menu that relies heavily on the kinds of ingredients that set this menu apart from other bar-crowd establishments also relies on heat. And piping-hot plates don’t compensate for cold food. It’s almost an irony that the excellent pear pie ($9), served on the same crust as the pizza and with two scoops of ice cream, was the hottest dish at our table.
The Toasted Frog doesn’t take reservations for parties fewer than 10, but they will put your name on the waiting list over the phone. The greeter at the door caught our eye on entering, told us he’d be with us in a minute and kept his promise. Table service was pleasant, a little tentative and slower than it should have been, but details such as replacing silverware and keeping an eye on the glassware needed for wine were well attended to.
The Toasted Frog is right across the street from the iconic Fargo Theatre marquee, and it may well become as much associated with downtown Fargo as those lights themselves.
The Toasted Frog
Address: 305 Broadway, Fargo
Food: Three stars
Service: Three stars
Ambiance: Four stars
Hours: 4 to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday with the bar open later.
Phone: (701) 478-7888
Alcohol: full bar
Reservations accepted: no