THE EATBEAT: Roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy shine at Out To LunchThe roast beef was tasty and so tender you could cut it with a fork. There was a well filled with brown gravy in the mound of mashed potatoes. And there was a serving of nice, firm green peas on the plate when I had lunch Dec. 10 with friends at a cafe called Out To Lunch on the main street of this town.
By: Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Herald
PARK RIVER, N.D. — The roast beef was tasty and so tender you could cut it with a fork. There was a well filled with brown gravy in the mound of mashed potatoes. And there was a serving of nice, firm green peas on the plate when I had lunch Dec. 10 with friends at a cafe called Out To Lunch on the main street of this town.
In a way, you feel as though you are stepping back in time when you enter this long, narrow restaurant. The place seems old, but it is well-kept. There is a row of stools at the counter. There are booths and tables. And way back in the cafe, there is a welcoming gas fireplace with flames that make you feel warm on a December day.
The outing to Park River, seven miles west of Grafton, N.D., on state Highway 17, was an annual Christmas season adventure with friends Jan Olson, Ann Porter and Mary Jo Shide.
MJS and I each started with a cup of chicken dumpling soup and found out later from the cook that you can’t add too much flour if you want to make light dumplings. Her soup rates high, but I had to spoon out a little bit of chicken skin because I am picky. The soup was loaded with vegetables and much better than run-of-the-mill and overly salty soups found in too many restaurants.
Customers at Out To Lunch have their own routines. The restaurant doesn’t open until 7 a.m., but the coffee drinkers arrive at 6:30 a.m. A woman who works nearby says they automatically put in an order for grilled chicken salad, which she has every day.
We tasted the coconut cream pie of the day. It was good, not too sweet. The crust, though not made on the premises, got a thumbs-up from one of us for being flaky.
The work is hard and the hours are long for people who run restaurants such as Out To Lunch, which is operated by Julie Johnston and her son, Alex Johnston. (Another son, Adam, used to work at the cafe.)
The cafe has been in the Johnston family since Julie and her husband, Harold, bought it five years ago from Toby and Cheryl Welch, who run the bakery in Park River.
Julie, who does some cooking, insists her mom, Jeanette Clemens, 78, is a star of the show. She makes pies, cookies and bars and does prep work. Then, there’s Ellen Winke, who helps out with both cooking and waiting tables.
The food at Out To Lunch is inviting. The restaurant is orderly, though the building seems old. There are homey touches, such as crocheted work in frames on the walls. There is a cheery Christmas tree right now.
The restrooms are downstairs, where there is excess seating. They are delightful with colorful diva and dudes themes. The diva decor was so cute and clever that I was tempted to check out the dudes room. Then, I thought better.
This splurge of artwork and the cozy fireplace on the main floor send a message that the owners care.
Prices are reasonable. The ever-popular hot beef, pork or hamburger sandwich, served with mashed potatoes and gravy, is $6.50.
Out To Lunch
414 Briggs Ave. S., Park River, N.D.
Owners: Julie and Alex Johnston.
Hours: Opens 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday; closes 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Telephone: (701) 284-7741.
Report card: Excellent variety of everyday foods served in an inviting seating arrangement with booths, tables and a long counter. Prices are medium range. Smaller portions with discount for seniors and children are available. Server Carissa Fricke is efficient, pleasant and patient with guests.
Reach Hagerty at email@example.com or call (701) 772-1055.