I have a dealer in Fargo who - along with his wife - has turned me onto a number of great places to eat in and around the Fargo/Moorhead area. I was in Fargo for a late summer visit and I told them to find a place that we could go for dinner. He asked me if I was up for a little bit of a ride and I asked how far. He said, "Oh, a little bit over an hour." They wanted to take me to a supper club on a lake in Western Minnesota. I was up for the drive and we ended up out at Spanky's Stone Hearth near Frazee, MN, not far from Detroit Lakes. (see map)
Josh Hanson grew up not far from Spanky's Stone Hearth and had worked at a nearby supper club until it was eventually closed in favor of turning it into a convenience store. He went over to Spanky's and started there in 1995 working part-time. He went to college in nearby Moorhead, but came back home after finding that college just wasn't his thing. He came back to work at Spanky's full-time and worked his way up through the ranks. Hanson eventually took over the restaurant in 2005.
In August of 2010, a devastating fire that started in ductwork above the kitchen demolished Spanky's Stone Hearth. The fire took place during the busiest weekend of the year with a annual local celebration taking place at that time. Prior to the fire, Hanson was growing tired of the long hours of running the restaurant and had listed the place for sale. After the fire, the insurance company gave him two weeks to decide to rebuild or take a cash pay-out. Hanson took some time off to go on a solo hunting to Montana to contemplate his future. He decided that the restaurant - originally built in 1946 with an addition added in early 1997 - needed to stay open. He had 50 employees who were working for him and he decided to give it a go again and put his full effort into the place.
The restaurant was rebuilt and it reopened in May of 2011 with the full staff back to work as well as chef Jeremy Timm running the kitchen. Anthony Soland continued as the restaurant's general manager. (Hanson also owns the Skal Bar and Grill in nearby Vergas, MN which focuses on burgers and sandwiches as well as craft beers.)
Spanky's Stone Hearth is located just across a county road from Rose Lake, about three miles from Vergas. It was a beautiful evening and the lake was calm when we pulled into Spanky's. We didn't have a reservation and there was going to be a bit of a wait as the place was pretty full even at 7 p.m. on a week day. We ended up taking a seat at the bar getting a couple drinks while we waited for a table to open up. My dealer was drinking a gin and tonic, his wife had a mojito and I got a bottle of the Summit Extra Pale Ale. The front of the bar featured river rock inlays with wooden shelves behind the bar.
The showcase of the Spanky's is, of course, the stone hearth that was part of the original building in 1946. It - along with the fireplace in the new addition on the other side of the bar - were both cleaned and restored with a high-pressurized sodium bicarbonate after the fire in 2010. The main dining room featured a high wooden ceiling with wood log highlights and supports with pine wood from Montana. It definitely had a Northwoods feeling to the place.
We were seated at a table near the bar in the main dining room and given menus to look over. Our server, Lezlee, came over to greet us and check on our drinks. She gave us a couple of the highlighted menu selections for the evening which included an interesting item - the "Trust Me". They wouldn't tell you what it was until they brought it to the table, but to trust the chef that you'd like it. I'm not quite that adventurous, but it definitely intrigued my dealer's wife.
We started out with a couple appetizers - an order of onion rings and the mussels in a white wine/garlic butter and saffron sauce that was served with toasted garlic bread. The onion rings were beer battered and were just "all right", in my opinion. But the mussels in the broth were just something else. Now, I don't remember much about the mussels - they had to be good - but dipping the toasted garlic bread in the broth was absolutely fantastic. We made short work of the bread we were originally served and Lezlee brought out more of the toasted garlic bread for us. We got pretty full on that.
Before we ordered dinner, I took a wine list through the very surprising wine list - surprising in the number of wines they had to offer, but also with the very reasonable prices they were asking for the bottles of wine. I ordered up a 2009 bottle of Jordan cabernet that was priced about 30% under what I've seen it priced at other restaurants.
My dealer's wife was the adventurous one and she went with the chef's "Trust Me" choice that evening. It turned out that it was osso buco on a bed of a very interesting sauerkraut garlic-mashed potatoes. She was more than happy with the choice. Her osso buck was tender and flavorful.
My dealer - obviously watching his weight, I joked - went with the grilled halibut filet. He, too, went to with the sauerkraut mashed potatoes, not knowing that his wife would also get the same thing as her side. The halibut was lightly grilled and served with a lemon wedge and a whole orange slice.
I ordered up the ribeye steak, but it turned out that it was almost more of a strip steak as it didn't have a lot of marbling imbedded in the meat. I also got some sautéed button mushrooms to go along with the steak as well as joining the others in getting the sauerkraut garlic mashed potatoes. The potatoes were good, but I couldn't really decipher much of a taste of either the sauerkraut or the garlic. It could be that the two tastes canceled each other out, but it certainly gave me an idea to try in the kitchen at home at a later date.
The ribeye was very lean and not overly thick. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare and was very good. I was sort of surprised that ribeye didn't have that much marbling, but it was still very good in taste. I couldn't complain about anything.
I love supper clubs in the upper Midwest and Spanky's Stone Hearth may be one of the nicest ones that I've visited during my travels over the years. Looking out over the calm lake, the Northwoods ambiance, the fun and efficient service from Lezlee, and the very good food were all part of what made the visit to Spanky's Stone Hearth a memorable one for me. I couldn't thank my dealer and his wife enough for turning me on to another great place in the Fargo area - even though it is a 60 mile drive from Fargo to the lakes region to get there. It was definitely worth the trip.