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MARILYN HAGERTY: Go early for Raphael's fresh-baked bread in Bemidji

Summer trails year after year lead to Bemidji. And for me, a visit to Raphael's Bakery Cafe is a key place for lunch. The downtown Bemidji restaurant has seating for 85, but often that's still not enough during the noon hour. We felt fortunate to...

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Summer trails year after year lead to Bemidji. And for me, a visit to Raphael's Bakery Cafe is a key place for lunch.
The downtown Bemidji restaurant has seating for 85, but often that's still not enough during the noon hour.

We felt fortunate to get an invitation from a lone customer named Ray at a table for six when we arrived on a sunny day in June. It was the only place open in the restaurant at noon.

Raphael's serves a half sandwich and a cup of soup for $8.25. That, for me, was just right. The bread is freshly baked, and the egg salad was even better than mothers make - when they have time nowadays to boil and chop up eggs. And the wild rice soup seems to belong in northern Minnesota where wild rice is grown.

The soup, served three times a week, is creamy with a nice, mild flavor.

I was traveling with my son (J.R. Hagerty) and his family from Pittsburgh, who all quickly found something they liked on the menu. And they were interested in the historic pictures on the walls of Raphael's.

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The restaurant serves breakfast beginning at 6 a.m., and coffee and pastries are featured throughout the day. The pleasant scents of baked goods waft through as counters on the bakery side of the restaurant are stocked.

During the afternoon, some customers come for pie and coffee ($3.25). And there is a homey feeling with more than 100 cookie jars on display in the front windows.

Ray Sweeney spends most of his time in the bakery kitchen behind the swinging doors. There, two or three bakers show up early in the morning. His wife, Brenda Sweeney, spends her time in the bakery area.

The couple bought the restaurant in 1991 from his parents, Ray and Pat Sweeney. The elder Sweeneys had sold the bakery they formerly operated in Blackduck, Minn.

For the Sweeneys, business is good on rainy days in Bemidji. And during the winter, many regular customers are elderly and retired people who look to Raphael's as a gathering place.

While there are several fine dining spots around the lake, Bemidji has a profusion of quick food places. Raphael's bakery supplies the buns for a new Lucky Dogs place at 201 Beltrami Ave. N.W. Names for hot dogs there include Model T, The Dip Stick, Monkey Wrench, Harley and The Cadillac.

In this area where the lake is a hot spot, fast food beckons tourists. There is a Paul Bunyan Sub Shop, Erbert and Gerbert's Sandwich Shop, along with a place called Hurricane Grill and Wings.

 

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Raphael's Bakery & Cafe

319 Minnesota Ave., Bemidji

• Telephone: (218) 444-BUNS.

• Owner-operators: Brenda and Ray Sweeney.

• Hours: 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday.

• Seating: 85.

• Average check: $7 or $8.

• Report card: With its freshly baked bread, buns, rolls and pie, Raphael's Bakery Cafe is a gathering place in downtown Bemidji. Prices are moderate. Service is friendly.

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