Appetites: Potato cakes and camel meat stand out on trip to Grand Forks

Fries on a plate
A plate of potato cakes served with aioli from Ely's Ivy in Grand Forks, N.D.
Courtesy of Amy Rea of Heavy Table

If you’re road tripping this summer, you may be looking for good eats beyond the Twin Cities, and there’s always a hidden gem if you know where to look. Guidebook author Amy Rea recently spent 24 hours in Grand Forks and wrote about it for foodie newsletter Heavy Table.

She shared her adventures with Tom Crann for a special On the Road edition of Appetites. 

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. Click on the audio player above to hear the interview.

What brought you to Grand Forks?

Well, a year ago Heavy Table sent me up there to check out Molly Yeh’s new restaurant Bernies. While I was driving around the area, I kept seeing all these other restaurants and coffee shops and thinking there’s more here than Bernie’s. There's something else going on here.

What is the must go place in Grand Forks?

I love to Darcy’s Cafe, which has been there for generations. The locals love it and they put out a really mean breakfast. It’s really top-notch diner food. But if you’re looking for something more sophisticated, there’s a restaurant called Helix that’s doing more of a trendy mixology at the bar and high-end upscale ingredients.

And then everything in between, including a place called DogMahal that has, I want to say, three dozen different hotdog options for lunch. They have everything from the classic Chicago with the neon relish and the sport peppers to one that had salsa verde on it that was really very zippy and fun to eat — pretty much anything you can think of.

And if people are traveling with young picky eaters, they also offer a little buffet that has things like mini corndogs, and just plain old grilled hot dogs. They also sell records.

They sell records and you can eat a hot dog while you're browsing?

Exactly. It’s a really fun place. And of course, given the fact that they have vinyl for sale, they’re playing really fun music the whole time. It’s just a very eclectic offering.

Four beers in glasses
A flight of regional beers from northwest Minnesota and northeast North Dakota at Ely's Ivy in Grand Forks, N.D.
Courtesy of Amy Rea of Heavy Table

On your trip to Grand Forks, what was your most memorable dish you ate?

Ely’s Ivy had an appetizer that is basically a take on French potato cakes. They turned them into these giant rectangular, almost candy-bar-sized hashbrowns. They’re crispy on the outside, but on the inside they’re all melty and tender and they came with an aioli that was really garlicky and lovely.

What surprised you most?

I saw some ingredients that I maybe didn’t expect. At Ely’s Ivy, they have a camel burger.

Where do they source the meat?

I don’t know. But you know what, there is a really excellent meat shop in town that’s been around for 60 years. So for all I know, maybe they have connections with someone down here because there are restaurants here in the Twin Cities that sell camel-related foods too.

What’s your pitch to people who are skeptical when they get outside the 494/694 beltway about what they’re going to be able to eat?

Things have changed. If you haven’t been driving out there in the last decade, or if you’re just used to staying on the major highways, you’re missing a lot. There is a lot going on out there.

And it can be anything from the decade old diner that is still putting out really stellar diner food to — especially because there have been so many immigrants that have come into these communities for agriculture — we’re starting to see some really excellent Mexican and various forms of Asian restaurants that are popping up that are doing really good work.