Fargo remains one of my all-time places to travel to for my work. I have a good dealer there - Arctic Audio - and I wish I could get up there more often. But since it's 600 miles from my home in the Quad Cities to Fargo, it's not easy to get up there all that much. I could fly up, but Rod, the owner for Arctic Audio, is pretty easy going and he's not too needy. He's just thrilled that I make it up to see him just once a year. On this particular visit this past fall, I took Rod and his wife, Ellen, out to dinner at a place that she highly recommended - Green Market Kitchen in downtown Fargo.
Green Market Kitchen is a restaurant that features house made foods featuring locally grown and organic items. The chef, Andrea Baumgardner, believes in using quality ingredients with a flair for creativity and serving it to those with a passion good food. The menu features a number of house made breads and soups, local or Midwest area cheeses, meats, and produce. Green Market Kitchen also does catering for small parties and events.
Andrea Baumgardner is a native of Fargo who went away to learn how to be a chef. She returned in 2002 to become the chef at the Hotel Donaldson, a European-style boutique hotel in downtown Fargo. Wanting to return to her roots, so to speak, she was looking to do something more with organic foods. Peter Kelly was a childhood friend of Andrea's who had moved back to Fargo from New York City to care for his ailing mother. Together, the pair opened up the first Green Market Kitchen on NP Ave. (short for Northern Pacific, but all the Fargo locals just refer to it as NP Ave.) in 2006 and sold locally grown produce and meats. Still trying to find their way with their fledgling business, Andrea and Peter closed the doors of the NP Ave. business and looked for a new location.
The second incarnation of Green Market Kitchen was a deli at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo. Open six days a week from 11 a.m to 2 p.m., they quickly garnered a reputation for good tasting organic and locally grown foods. Andrea was also doing some catering at this point and more and more people began to clamor for the two to open a full service restaurant.
In 2010, along with partner Steve Heiland, the group opened the present day location on 4th Street North in downtown Fargo just a couple blocks from the Minnesota border (see map). It's not very large - it only seats around 40 people - and while Baumgardner does her magic in the kitchen, Kelly and Heiland are busy waiting on tables, cleaning up dirty dishes and making sure everything is OK in the dining room.
We came in and spied an empty four seater table in the middle of the dining room. We were getting ready to pull up a chair and Ellen looked down and saw that there was a "reserved" sign on the table. She said, "Oh! This is reserved!"
Peter Kelly (who is a neighbor and a good friend of Rod and Ellen's) came over and said, "Yeah, let me put you guys somewhere else." He scanned the room and all the larger tables were taken and the four-seaters that were empty weren't cleaned off yet. He said, "Yeah, go ahead and sit here. I'll put the reserved table at one of the others after I clean and set it up."
Rod and Ellen introduced me to Peter and he said, "Oh, wonderful! I hope you enjoy our food." He was immediately likable.
Ellen raved about the food at Green Market as we were perusing the menu. She said, "They have the most outrageous bread here. They have these flax seed crackers that are just to die for." She suggested we get a cheese tray to get as an appetizer.
I looked through the very small wine list and saw that they had a bottle of Jordan Cabernet for $65 bucks. Wow! $65 bucks? There are restaurants who have that same bottle for $120 to $130 bucks. I immediately signed up for a bottle of that for the table.
Peter brought out the cheese tray and it featured four different types of house made breads - including the flax seed crackers that Ellen raved about - and four different Midwestern cheeses. There were various fruits on the plate, as well. It was a nice opener to what promised to be a great meal.
Looking through the menu that evening - which changes almost daily depending upon availability - I noticed a number of interesting items including 28 day dry-aged/grass-fed North Dakota ribeye steaks, walleye cakes with a remoulade sauce, 1/4 roasted free range chicken, vegetarian lasagna and a lamb/turkey burger. There were a number of vegetarian and gluten-free offerings on the menu. Usually, I find the food at a place like Green Market Kitchen to be bland, but Ellen and Rod assured me that this was not the case with Andrea's cooking.
Peter came around and announced that the ribeye was sold out for the evening. It was only 7:30, but they had a big rush on it earlier. Well, that pretty much put a kibosh on what I was going to have, so I had to go to Plan B. He was telling me about the stromboli - a homemade Italian sandwich that featured Genoa salami, capacolla and prosciutto baked inside the bread with cheese. Along with the heirloom tomatoes, chard and thinly sliced parmesan cheese salad, I got that.
Rod opted for the lamb/turkey burger and got a bowl of the homemade lentil soup. Ellen got the walleye cakes with the remoulade sauce. She also ordered up a bowl of their homemade heirloom tomato soup. And for good measure she also ordered some of the homemade spaetzle and, on urging from Rod, she also ordered the duck fat potatoes. Oh, yeah - duck fat fried potatoes. She said, "The portions aren't that big, but big enough that we can all do some sharing. Sort of like tapas."
We blew through the bottle of Jordan while we were having our cheese plate and I ordered another one from Peter. He came back and said, "Ah, we are out of the Jordan. You took the last bottle." Somewhat crestfallen, I took a look at the small wine list and tried to decide what to get. Peter suggested a zinfandel from out in California somewhere. I'm not all that familiar with zin's, but we did get a bottle of that (appreciably cheaper than the Jordan) and it was good.
As Peter was opening the bottle of the zinfandel wine, he remarked, "Honestly, we've had that bottle of Jordan for six months. I'd marked it down to get it out of here." I appreciated the good deal on a great wine.
The salad was very good (below left). I guess I didn't know heirloom tomatoes could be small like cherry tomatoes, but I wasn't complaining. The greens were fresh and the thinly sliced parmesan was a delicious touch. So far, so good on the meal.
Rod said that he didn't care for his lentil soup, so he and Ellen traded. He liked the tomato soup better and they ended up just sharing back and forth. That was kind of the signature of the dinner.
Peter brought out the main entrees and I really didn't know what to expect from my stromboli. But the sandwich was cut into long slices with the ingredients embedded inside. An olive/caper/anchovy tapanade and a whipped tomato puree sauce was served with the stromboli. The tapanade was a wonderful topping with the moist and overly flavorful bread. I had more than enough to share with Rod and Ellen.
Ellen's walleye cakes were also very tasty. They were small, so a couple bites could finish them off rather easily. The remoulade sauce was homemade and some of the best I'd ever had. It was tangy, but didn't overpower the overall taste of the walleye cakes.
Rod's turkey/lamb burger was laid inside a focaccia bun that had been sliced as a pocket. He'd offered me a bite of it, but I declined. I'm not big on lamb and I don't care for turkey burgers. Besides, between the main entrees we had, it was more than enough.
Oh, and I almost forgot about the sides! How could I forget about them because they were probably the highlight of the meal. The duck fat fries aren't pictured here because we literally inhaled them after Peter brought them to the table. They were cut into small wedges and had that great duck fat taste to the outer shell with a great potato consistency inside. The spaetzle, also, was outstanding. It had chunks of fried potatoes (probably also cooked in duck fat) and fresh parsley throughout. It got to a point that we all were just using the spaetzle bowl as one large community offering.
Before we left, Andrea Baumgardner came out of the kitchen to talk with Rod and Ellen. She's strikingly tall and thin with close cropped red hair. We all liked our meals very much and she was overly happy.
Organic and/or locally grown restaurants are now the rage across the country. While I've eaten at a handful of "farm to fork" restaurants over the past year or so, I'd put Green Market Kitchen up against those I've tried in much larger metropolitan areas. That's one of the great things about Fargo - they have some interesting restaurants up there. It continually surprises me with how cosmopolitan the area can be and how good some of the restaurants are. I may have to start going up to Fargo two times a year. But never in the winter...
(Update - Sadly, I've been informed that Green Market Kitchen closed their doors at the end of March 2013. It's my understanding that Andrea and Peter were burned out from the success of their restaurant that they needed to take a step back. I hear a number of people in the Fargo area are bummed with Green Market Kitchen closing and I can fully understand.)