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THE EATBEAT: Southgate's consistent meals make dining a sure bet

When you eat something that tastes good to the last bite, you want to try it again. And that's the way I felt about the Wild Enchilada Plate ($6.99) I had in Southgate Casino Bar & Grill on New Year's Day. My oval-shaped plate came with two c...

When you eat something that tastes good to the last bite, you want to try it again.

And that's the way I felt about the Wild Enchilada Plate ($6.99) I had in Southgate Casino Bar & Grill on New Year's Day. My oval-shaped plate came with two corn tortillas filled with beef, topped with red gravy, lettuce, cheese, onions and tomato as well as a serving of rice and refried beans.

All in all, it was a most tasty and satisfying meal.

I was with a group of friends who gather every New Year's Day to set up a football pool and have lunch in Southgate or "The Gate," as some call it. There were maybe a dozen of us, and we ordered a variety of items off the menu including Walleye Sub ($7.79) and Chicken Quesadillas ($7.95).

The service by Cindy Conley was super. She is one of the most experienced servers around Grand Forks and has a way of keeping everyone happy. She helps with training of the staff of servers in Southgate.

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Though the place is basically a casino and bar, the food service has become a big draw in recent years. Some people like to go there to play bingo and have a meal. While it is far from a white tablecloth operation, the food is nicely presented and hot plates are underlined with straw plates. Water is served with ice in large, sturdy glasses.

On a second visit to Southgate, I was picking up a Reuben sandwich on marble bread ($6.99) to go and struck up a conversation with Gordon and Mary Jane Klabo (GK and MJK), who had ordered Beef Sirloin Tips, a specialty of Southgate served with mushrooms, green pepper and onions with garlic toast and rolls. You also can get them with creamy red potatoes at prices ranging from $7.95 to $13.95 depending on the size and combination you order. GK and MJK wisely split an order and know what they are getting.

The consistent quality of food is what brings people back. And Southgate has a first-rate kitchen, where fresh ingredients are used to prepare food. The celery, potatoes, carrots and celery are cut up in the kitchen. And Scott Doyea, the head cook, makes his own noodles for soups.

Southgate basically was a bar until 1994, when food service was added to create another dimension. And the business has grown with it, although the owner, Bob Montgomery, said the food business has its ups and downs with new places opening all the time.

To meet the competition, Montgomery says his staff tries to create new items and add specials. Right now, there's a new Italian sandwich being featured. And the sirloin tips are on special at half-price during happy hour on weekends in January.

Southgate runs a bus to UND hockey games, and it brings in customers who often split orders of lavosh or tips. More so, Mongtomery says, on Friday nights, when there isn't as much time for hockey fans to cook as Saturdays.

With its food service, Southgate has upgraded its appearance. Two years ago, a brick front was added. Last summer, an outdoor patio was added. Montgomery says it was quite popular until the bees took over late in the summer.

The interior is lively with beer signs and television screens. There is a large bar and casino area and a long, narrow area mostly, but not exclusively, for eating. This area is carpeted in a floral pattern with light wood wainscoting on the walls. Tables vary in size and some are elevated.

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The pluses in Southgate include the kitchen and the very good restrooms.

On the minus side, there is a smell of smoke wherever you sit, even though it is less obvious when you are away from the bar and casino and in the eating area.

Many of the items on the menu are fried, but there are plenty of wholesome lowfat choices. The menu is straightforward and fairly easy to understand, but it has some misspellings, such as sourkrout for sauerkraut and chipolte for chipotle.

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

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