The corner of 45th Street and 17th Avenue South in Fargo is a hot spot for new chain eateries (three restaurants and a coffee shop have opened in the last few weeks) but if you continue just a few blocks west on 17th Avenue, you’ll find one of my favorite homegrown lunch spots, Cracked Pepper.
This cozy little neighborhood restaurant appeals to both foodies and the hometown cafe crowd by balancing imaginative, fresh ingredients with classic comfort food.
Cracked Pepper is mere feet from Home Depot, tucked into the corner of a mixed-use building in a residential area. But it’s just far enough west that most out-of-towners never stumble upon it — which is good news for those of us in the neighborhood.
It’s a nice place to grab a home cooked meal. Just get there early — they’re not open for dinner. (Or supper, depending on what you call the evening meal. In the Midwest, it can vary!)
The food at Cracked Pepper is simple, hearty and made fresh daily. The menu rotates every day, but there’s always a choice between several panini, wraps, sandwiches and soups.
The sandwiches are served with chips, but you can upgrade to a combo for an extra $3.00. This gets you a cup of soup or salad and a “lunch dessert” — a smaller portion of something sweet to top off your meal that’s not usually on the regular dessert menu.
When I last got the combo, they served this German Chocolate cake. The desserts always come in these teeny little dishes, which totally bring me back to the Lutheran church basements of my youth.
You can also find some pretty spectacular baked goods at Cracked Pepper, like this thick, chewy Monster Bar that my toddler and I devoured in about 10 seconds. You’ll find lots of other bars, cookies and other goodies under the glass cases on the counter, all of them Grandma-approved, Betty Crocker-inspired Midwestern classics.
And the bars are only 2 bucks!
Cracked Pepper has an abbreviated menu, but you’ll always find a few vegetarian-friendly options listed. The restaurant rotates several entree-sized salads and meatless wraps and sandwiches.
Some of these are suitable for vegans and some are not, so it’s worth checking out the menu ahead of time if you have special dietary needs. (See the bottom of the post for links.)
On weekdays, check out Cracked Pepper’s Daily Special. It’s all hearty comfort food like lasagna, meatloaf and hot beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes on white bread. It’s also one of the only restaurants in town where you can score a Midwestern classic, a straight-forward, completely non-ironic hotdish.
The specials are served with salad, bread and Cracked Pepper’s lunch dessert, and they’re a steal at $7.95.
On the weekends, the special is replaced with an Egg Bake (never a quiche — they don’t go for fussy labels here) and served with fruit and something sweet from the bakery.
But just because it’s comfort food, don’t think it’s unimaginative or bland: kale, butternut squash, multigrain flatbread, havarti cheese, hummus, swiss chard and quinoa have all appeared on recent menus and chef Angeline is always experimenting with new combinations.
You’ll also find the occasional nod to the region’s German heritage, with bratwurst, knoephla soup and cabbage dishes popping up on the menu from time to time.
There’s a steady stream of business people on lunch break moving in and out, but the crowd in the tiny dining room (just seven tables and counter seating for ten, plus a few odd stools for overflow seating if needed) is mellow and unassuming.
You’ll find a mix of retirees sipping coffee, singles at the lunch counter and families pushing tables together. And there’s a patio out front where a few brave souls can get a little sun during these last few warm days of fall.
And despite the dining room’s small size, people linger. It’s just that kind of place.
There are lots of little clues that tell you that this is the kind of place where you can stretch out and stay awhile: the fireplace, the farmhouse table with mismatched chairs in the back, the selection of toys for the little ones and the coffee and water set out on the counter so customers can grab a refill as they chat.
It’s also the only restaurant I’ve ever seen where there’s a guest book by the front door — hometown hospitality at its finest.
4955 17th Avenue South
Bus: Route 16
Monday – Thursday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
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