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HOMEMADE GOODNESS: High Noon Cafe serves up tasty fare

GRAFTON, N.D. -- Roast beef and mashed potatoes piled on a slice of bread and covered with thick, brown gravy. Smooth, creamy beer cheese soup served piping hot from a kettle bubbling on the stove. Tangy lemon pie piled high with fluffy meringue.

GRAFTON, N.D. -- Roast beef and mashed potatoes piled on a slice of bread and covered with thick, brown gravy. Smooth, creamy beer cheese soup served piping hot from a kettle bubbling on the stove. Tangy lemon pie piled high with fluffy meringue.

Combine that food with a friendly staff who know most of their customers by their first names, and it's no wonder that tables at the High Noon Café in the Grafton Curling Club still are occupied well past 12 on a weekday afternoon.

But while the café's recipe for success may be simple, it is not an easy one to cook up. It takes good old-fashioned common sense, gumption and a lot of elbow grease to keep old customers happy and bring new ones into the café.

Though the café only is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays, owner Sandy Schrank's days are much longer.

Busy days

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"I get here at 6:30." Her days at the café usually end about 4:30 p.m., except for Tuesdays when the café serves a steak supper for the men's curling night.

Schrank arrives about a half a day ahead of her first customers because she makes much of her food, including her daily specials and baked goods from scratch.

Each day Schrank bakes at least four dozen buns, three pies and a batch of homemade soup. She also cooks daily specials such as the potato hamburger hotdish she served on a recent Wednesday.

"The best-selling soup is dumpling. The best-selling pie is lemon. Hot beef, I would say, is our best-selling special."

Most of Schrank's menu specials and soups vary from day to day and week to week, except for Friday.

"It's kind of the history of the building; they always have had old-fashioned tomato soup on Friday."

The Grafton Curling Club and its restaurant were built in the late 1960s. Schrank has operated it the last nine years, the first several with a cousin and the last few on her own.

Customers

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She and her employees have built up a loyal clientele at the café, serving a lot of "regulars."

"When they walk in, we start cooking their food. We know what they want." Schrank, who grew up on a farm near Minto, often uses her mother's and grandmother's recipes at the café. But don't try to pry one out of her.

A few years ago, after Sports Illustrated magazine mentioned the café's beer cheese soup in an article about curling, she got calls from people in several states asking her for the recipe, Schrank says.

She turned them down.

Next month, Schrank and her employees are preparing for a big wave of business. From the end of February through the end of March the restaurant will be open full days because the club is hosting tournaments, including the Mixed World Curling Championship.

Tournament time

During tournaments Schrank will be putting in longer hours -- and making more homemade buns.

"During bonspiel we've got buns rising all over the place. We have them on top of the pop machine, in the office," she says.

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"March is insane," says Jackie Lee, one of Schrank's employees. The curling tournaments can draw people from all over the world.

"When we have the bonspiels and people come, it's fun. We had ladies here from Scotland," Lee says.

"They wanted a spot of tea," Schrank says.

Schrank's food is a big draw for the Grafton Curling Club, says Al Presteng, curling club manager.

"That's why people come here; because of the homemade pies, homemade soups. It really helps when we have our bonspiels to have somebody who can cook.

"It keeps the interest in the club.

"She's the best."

Ann Bailey is Recollections editor. Reach her by phone at (701) 787-6753, (800) 477-6572, ext. 753 or e-mail her at abailey@gfherald.com

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