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THE EATBEAT: Tasty eats await travelers in northwestern Minnesota

It would be hard for me say where the fish are biting best in northwestern Minnesota. But I can tell you for sure about a few of the many good places to eat along the way.

It would be hard for me say where the fish are biting best in northwestern Minnesota. But I can tell you for sure about a few of the many good places to eat along the way.

-- Maple Ridge Cafe, Fosston, Minn., (218) 435-2202:

I was traveling west on U.S. Highway 2 with my friend, Donna McEnroe (DM). We had lunch on our minds when we got to Fosston. Just off the highway, we saw the sign for Maple Ridge Cafe. We remembered it as the place where we once discovered German hamburgers. I could not wait to put in my order. I found the hamburger with sauerkraut in a nice, soft bun is still a great combination.

Maple Ridge Cafe is a small place that opens early for breakfast and closes after "dinner" about 2 p.m. It is run by Linda Nelson. While the cafe serves the usual run of soups and sandwiches, DM and I agreed it excels in bread pudding.

-- 71 Bar, 468 Bemidji Road N.E., Bemidji, (218) 586-2274:

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The greeting was so friendly that we knew the minute we entered the 71 Bar we would like the place. It was about 8 p.m. on a midweek evening in July. The crowd was thinning out, and we were quickly seated at a table for four.

My friends were looking for walleye. And they were not disappointed. I ordered a barbecued rib sandwich that turned out to be the best ever. The meat was tender and tasty and well-flavored.

The potatoes served were sliced so thin they seemed like chips, but they were unusually puffy. We thought they were excellent.

This is an everyday kind of bar and restaurant that buzzes when summer visitors are looking for places to eat around Bemidji. Although it has had a succession of owners, it seems to keep busy. It's a place where families sometimes gather early in the evening. We were amused by a sign on the wall that says, "Unattended children will be sold for bait."

Prices are moderate. My check for the sandwich and a glass of merlot was $11.43.

-- Raphael's Bakery Cafe, 319 Minnesota Ave., Bemidji, (218) 759-2015:

Summer wouldn't seem right without at least one visit to Raphael's for lunch. This downtown bakery is full to overflowing with customers well before the clock strikes noon. Most people go early to get a seat at one of the tables in the large cafe area that is adjacent to the bakery side of Raphael's.

Sandwiches here are served on a choice of the bread freshly baked on the premises. I chose a half-sandwich with ham on honey oat bread. It came in a basket with a few fresh cherries and chips. And lurking in the corner of the basket was a small frosted brownie. The check came to $6.50.

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The offerings vary. They always are pleasing and reasonable. We noticed on the menu that you can get two eggs and toast for $2.99. Coffee is $1. And pie a la mode and coffee is $3.25.

Raphael's is a longstanding business. The owners pepper the walls with homey, interesting photography. And the front windows have a collection of what must be the largest cookie jar collection in the world.

-- LDairy Queen, U.S. Highway 2, Mentor, Minn.:

The Blizzard is now 25 years old, and it's selling like hotcakes this summer at the Dairy Queen just off Highway 2. Customers also are calling for onion rings along with their burgers. On a couple of stops, I have found the food very good and the surroundings clean and inviting.

New owners since April are Bruce Roed, who used to be with the Grand Forks Fire Department, and his wife, Deb, along with their daughter, Cheri, and her husband, Pat Thompson.

Bruce Roed said chicken strips are the No. 1 seller -- along with "lots of shakes." The place is open from April to October and employs about 20 youth from the area.

Reach Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.net or call (701) 772-1055.

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