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THE EATBEAT: Land of Paul Bunyan around Bemidji offers good eats

There's none of that "Please wait to be seated" stuff on a sign in the entryway. No, indeed. At the new Minnesota Nice restaurant in Bemidji, the sign at the door says, "Come on in and have a seat." This is a homey place located at 414 Beltrami Ave.

There's none of that "Please wait to be seated" stuff on a sign in the entryway. No, indeed.

At the new Minnesota Nice restaurant in Bemidji, the sign at the door says, "Come on in and have a seat."

This is a homey place located at 414 Beltrami Ave. N.W. It's right next to the New China Cafe and across the street from the Headwaters Science Center.

It was opened in December by Jeanette Proulx, who is living out her dream of owning a restaurant. As a child, she would play restaurant with five brothers and one sister on rainy days. And, she says, they would quit when they ran out of ice cream.

Proulx, 63, worked at Countryside restaurant for 10 years and then last year was able to get a Small Business Administration loan approved by her banker.

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"They don't care what you cook," she says. "They just want to make sure you make money."

She is the scratch cook in her own restaurant, with two sons doing a lot of the broiler work. They turn out mashed potatoes and gravy and roast beef, pork and turkey. She makes pies, rolls the crust and all. And she uses the old-fashioned recipe with lard. I noticed an inviting sign for fresh raspberry scones.

Minnesota Nice is a restaurant with a homey ambience. It's painted in soft green and white. There are American flags all around and a shelf of cookbooks for browsing.

She serves soups, including chicken dumpling, wild rice and vegetable beef. She makes a lot of sandwiches and says chili sells well even on a hot day. It comes with corn bread shaped like a little loaf of bread.

It is unique restaurants such as Minnesota Nice that make a trip to the Bemidji area most interesting. Food makes or breaks a day of vacation time.

Bemidji has its share of franchise-type restaurants, the kind you find almost anywhere. But on summer trips to the land of Paul Bunyan, I have found the true flavor in places such as Slim's, where you get magnificent hamburgers; TJuan's, long known for Mexican fare; and Tutto Bene, where you can eat fine Italian food before a performance in Paul Bunyan Theater.

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-- Dave's Pizza, 15th Street and Irvine Avenue, Bemidji.

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With family members earlier in July, I enjoyed a great taste of Bemidji in Dave's, which is slightly off the beaten path but still draws a crowd many evenings. Dave's, now run by Pete Fenson, has been around since 1958. They don't take reservations in Dave's, but if you get there around 5 p.m., you should be able to get right in. We didn't have a problem gathering eight grandchildren and six adults around a big table at 7 p.m. July10.

The pizza is excellent with no oily or greasy quality and flavors that blend well. The service was Grade A. And Dave's seems like the right place to eat pizza with its soft lighting, series of booths, tables and nooks. Dave's offers an appropriate selection of wines and beer.

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-- The Logging Camp, 15073 County Road 18, Park Rapids, Minn.

To kids, a restaurant usually is a place to eat chicken strips and fries and see if they can wangle their way into having pop instead of milk. A restaurant is a restaurant. But The Logging Camp is different. It makes a lasting impression with its lumberjack meals. Located on a large acreage near the Potato River, it opens at 7:30 a.m., serving an all-you-can-eat breakfast at $7.25 for adults and $5.25 for children. Dinner is served from 1 p.m. until closing.

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Raphael's, 319 Minnesota Ave., Bemidji.

Ask me where I would like to meet you for lunch in Bemidji, and I will tell you Raphael's. This pleasant bakery, with all of the tantalizing smells of baked goods, draws a full house during the noon hour, and that is testimony enough for the quality of the food. Raphael's is a bakery on one side and a cafe on the other. Bread is thick and fresh. And the wild rice bread is a signature item. Sandwiches are garnished with potato chips. You also get an almost unheard of relish dish with carrot, radish and maybe celery. The wild rice soup is thick and satisfying. Grandson James, 7, was fascinated by all of the cookie jars in the window.

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When you buy anything from the bakery, you know it will be good. That's the way we felt when my daughter ordered a cake for a birthday party. It was a chocolate cake with a thin, delicate white frosting. The cake was dense and delicious and a cut or two above cakes you order just anywhere.

Reach Hagerty at mhagerty@gfherald.com or (701) 772-1055.

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