I was in Fargo early last fall on my annual trip across North Dakota to see my dealers up there. One of my dealers in Fargo always has a great place in mind where to go out for dinner and one place was a small restaurant that was transformed from a coffee house into an upscale restaurant in 2014 and was owned by some people that he knew. We ended up at Luna for dinner that evening.
As I said, Luna started out as a small coffee shop in a strip mall along S. University Dr. in Fargo. (see map) It was next door to Bernie's Wine and Liquors, a popular spot in Fargo for wine connoisseurs and was run by Bernie Ness, Jr. and his children, including Nikki Ness Burglund. In addition to running the wine shop at Bernie's, Nikki Burglund also wrote food reviews for a small regional paper. She bought the small coffee house that had been around for over 20 years in February of 2014 with the idea of transforming it into a unique restaurant that still brewed gourmet coffees in the morning, but would also offer a wide variety of cheese that could be paired with the wines sold next door. But she also wanted an upscale restaurant with an ever-changing menu that featured fresh and locally-raised food.
Nikki Burglund initially partnered with Peter Kelly, a local Fargo man I've met on a couple of occasions and the former co-owner of the popular Green Market Kitchen that featured farm-to-fork fresh foods that unfortunately closed in March of 2013. Kelly helped Burglund with the Luna concept and eventually became the first cheese monger at the restaurant/cheese shop/coffee bar.
But Burglund's coup was getting James Beard Award-nominated chef Ryan Nitschke to join her at Luna. Nitschke was the long time chef at the Hotel Donaldson in downtown Fargo and won numerous local and regional awards including two AAA Four Diamond awards for his work in the HoDo kitchen. A Fargo native, Nitschke went through the culinary program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead, then worked as a chef for corporate restaurants around the Fargo area, eventually hooking on with the Hotel Donaldson before leaving in 2013.
The first thing you see when you walk into Luna is the large refrigerated case loaded with different types of artisan cheese. While Peter Kelly is no longer associated with Luna, they still feature a number of cheese from local and Upper Midwest dairies.
The coffee/alcohol bar is prominent in the larger of the two dining areas. They have a nice wine list and their selection of craft beers was also impressive. For coffee, Luna sources their organic beans from Peace Coffee and Up Coffee Roasters in the Twin Cities. Luna also offers a wide variety of loose leaf teas they get from TeaSource also in the Twin Cities.
We sat in the dining room with bar area that evening. Our server for our visit - Anna - came over to drop off menus and to take our drink order. I got an Oskar Blues IPA to start out with, but I switched to a Decero Malbec wine when I got my main entree.
The dining room was well-lit and I thought it was a little sparse on the atmosphere. Other than the oil paintings done by local artists on the wall, the dining room seemed a little drab. The tables and chairs were sturdy, but "plain-Jane" in their appearance. Still, it was comfortable enough to enjoy the evening.
I also liked the sense of humor shown at Luna. I got up to use the restroom and on the door of one of the restrooms was the sign shown above right. I got a chuckle when I saw the sign, something I'd never encountered before.
The first thing we had to do is get an appetizer plate. They had three choices - a meat plate, a pickle plate and a cheese plate. While I wish they would have been able to combine all three, we decided to go with the cheese plate that evening. They had a camembert cheese from a dairy out of Mankato that evening along with an espresso smoked cheese that were both delicious. Olives came with the cheese plate along with some outrageously tasty smoked almonds. Out of everything on the plate, I think I liked the smoked almonds the best and I don't really care for the taste of almonds.
After the cheese plate, I ordered up a bowl of Luna's lobster bisque. It was a puree of lobster, crab and shrimp in a light cream sauce. I thought I tasted a hint of squash in the bisque, but Anna told me afterward that it didn't have any squash in it. It was very enjoyable.
But the star of the start of the meal were the delicious chive and cheddar cheese popovers they make at Luna. They were crispy on the outside with an airy center core. The pronounced flavors of the cheddar cheese and the chives baked into the popovers was a great taste combination.
Anna brought three to the table and my dealer was gracious enough to let me have two. "I get them all the time," he said as he waved the second one toward me. "They're delicious!" I couldn't have agreed more.
Luna serves dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday thru Saturday and the menu will sometimes change daily depending upon what they have fresh that evening. For dinner that evening, they had entrees that included a buttermilk-fried Amish chicken served with a sweet and sour lemon sauce; baked walleye with a potato puree; braised beef lasagna; and a cavatelli pasta dish with lobster mushrooms in a spicy tomato sauce.
My dealer went with the duck breast that Luna procures from Wild Acres Farms, a purveyor of farm-raised chicken, turkey, duck and pheasant located in Pequot Lakes in north central Minnesota. The duck breast was sliced and served with a beet and crème fraîche, paired with sumac herbs, wild rice and a lavender honey. He thought the duck was just outstanding.
For some reason, I was thinking about getting the spicy cabbage and potato beef pasty - a true Upper Midwest meal if there ever was such a thing. But I ended up getting the smoked New York strip steak that came with chanterelle mushrooms and a burrata cheese topped with squash blossoms. They source their beef at Luna from the Prairie Rose organic farm located in north central North Dakota. The beef was lean, juicy and very flavorful. It easily cut with a knife and it had wonderful texture to the beef. This was an outstanding dinner.
My dealer's wife joined us late as she had a prior commitment and she had the apple and gruyere cheese crisp dessert as we sat and caught up on life. When Anna asked me if I wanted any dessert, I told her that all I wanted was more of the smoked almonds. She said, "I don't know if we have any more. He doesn't make them every day and when he does he doesn't make a lot." However, she later came out with a small bowl filled with smoked almonds. "I'll have to charge you for them," she warned. I think that they charged me $5 bucks for the bowl, but if she would have said they were $20 bucks, I would have thought about it for a moment and still taken them. They were that good.
Fargo continues to amaze me with the number of good restaurants in the city and Luna was absolutely no exception. While the atmosphere didn't quite meet up with the level of the food that was served, it was still a fine meal. The service we had with Anna was professional, friendly and competent. Everything we had for food that night was thoroughly enjoyable. I wanted to make it back to Luna the next morning for some espresso, but I didn't have the time. But there will be another trip to Fargo later this year and I'll be sure to stop back in at that time.