The well-known and historic institution, Whitey’s in East Grand Forks, reopened late last year under new ownership and with a remodeled interior. The old management closed up after service and food slipped drastically. But there is still work to be done at the new Whitey’s.
The area near the iconic horseshoe bar has been remodeled, but has unfortunately lost its character. There’s a drab-looking “game room” next to the bar and I believe they took out a wall to open the dining area near the bar more open.
The area closer to the river used to be a back bar and had some booths, tables and chairs. It was a casual place to grab a beer. But now it’s been converted to a “fine dining” space with white tablecloths and no bar space. When a friend and I sidled in last weekend, we asked to be seated at the “back bar” but were told that it was all converted to fine dining. I was a little disappointed.
But we grabbed a side booth at the other end of the restaurant, lured in by the happy hour special of $2 domestic pints. Having had a few brews here a week prior, I quickly found the premium beers came with a premium price tag. But $2 for a pint of Bud Light is a good deal. Plus I had been wanting to try the new menu for months.
My first reaction at my perusal of the menu was that many items were severely overpriced. For instance, the shrimp entree consists of five “succulent shrimp served deep-fried or grilled over rice pilaf with garlic lemon butter.” Five shrimp for a whopping $19.99. Granted, you get a choice of two sides including Au Gratin potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes, baked potato, French fries, sweet potato fries, vegetable of the day, cottage cheese, rice pilaf, soup or house or Caesar salad.
Those sides also come with other entrees like the baby back ribs, stuffed pork chop, cedar plank grilled salmon, or the prime rib (served only Friday and Saturday).
We were seated quickly. Service overall was fine, but could have been more attentive.
We ordered the mini mac, crab cakes and Philly cheese steak.
The food was out relatively fast and presentation was pretty good, but the Philly cheese steak sandwich could have looked better.
Digging in, we found the crab cakes to be mushy, on the inside and out. Ideally, there should be a slight crunch on the outside, with a nice warm, crabby inside. A good cake should also be coarse, with big lumps of crab. This iteration was mushy and over-seasoned with black pepper. The mayo concoction squirted over the cakes tasted of nothing and thus brought nothing to the dish. The corn, red pepper, green pepper and onion mix that was dolloped in between each crab cake was cold on the plate from the start and tasted exactly like one of those steam bags of vegetables you throw in the microwave but I hope I’m wrong on that.
The Philly cheese steak sandwich had very little cheese, the steak was a bit chewy and the whole thing was under-seasoned, but the fries that came with it were warm and crispy. They had a slightly sweet taste to them that I found odd but good.
The definite highlight of the entire meal was the mini mac, a smaller version of the mac and cheese entree. If you’ve had the mac and cheese at the Blue Moose, this one is very close to that. But the Whitey’s version brings bacon to the gooey goodness. The appetizer portion is surprisingly big. The dish packs a heavy hit of garlic in powder form, I believe. If that’s the case, it would be better if real garlic was used. Using garlic powder, or other dried or powdered spices, is a shortcut but it isn’t a deal breaker. The mac and cheese is definitely something to order again.
I had high expectations for the new Whitey’s. Unfortunately I found there is still some work to do. I would go back just to explore the menu some more. But some of the charm of the place was lost in the remodel. I miss the dark wood and soft lighting. It seems the new Whitey’s is trying to be something it isn’t.
If prices were to come down, seasoning on the food checked and a few changes made to the interior, Whitey’s could draw diners for years to come. I really hope it does. Having a Whitey’s with a few areas to improve on is much better than having no Whitey’s at all.
Whitey’s Cafe / 121 Demers Avenue, East Grand Forks, MN / (218) 773-1221