I’ve finally gotten around to talking about the best restaurant in Grand Forks and quite possibly the state.
The cost of a normal meal is steep and my wallet not exactly overflowing, but last night I made a reservation.
We had a seat in the front of the restaurant, near the bar. The floor of the restaurant, two-tone alternating wood planks, is very attractive and leads your eye to the back of the restaurant and the front of the open kitchen.
Sanders is the kind of place that harbors great help. There’s a bartender that has been there for years and years, along with numerous waiters and waitresses. Owner Kim Holmes, along with his cheery and booming voice, made his way around each table welcoming diners and thanking them for coming in. You don’t get that everywhere, and it’s just another thing that’s done at Sanders that has made the place so successful.
Not even the great flood of 1997 could keep the place down. It moved from Kittson Ave. to just south of 24th Ave. for a while before making a new home on 3rd St.
You might see other diners dressed in coats and ties or you could saddle up to the bar next to a guy in cowboy boots who looks like he just came home from the ranch. That’s the beauty of the place: It’s high-class food with a come-as-you-are vibe.
Most great restaurants now are shunning the stuffy service of a decade or so. Places that don’t make you feel welcome like Le Cirque in New York, where you might have a crappy experience if the maitre d’ doesn’t know who you are, are thankfully falling by the wayside. At Sanders, all you need is a reservation.
The staff is extremely well-trained, warm and knowledgeable. We were seated and asked if we cared for martinis. Normally they’d be a great choice, especially here, but we declined.
Bread was ready at the table and I could taste the freshness. Outside, it was crispy. Inside, a bit chewy and soft. The butter, something so simple, was delicious and saltier than you normally find. Sodium and fat are not to be avoided at Sanders. To me, it’s much better to give in and have a little excess, especially at a nice restaurant where the ingredients are top notch, rather than at a fast food emporium where much time could be saved by just having an IV drip of cholesterol.
I ordered a spinach salad that was on special. One of my companions had the cucumber salad. Both were out very quickly. Mine had calamata olives, thin slices of red onion, sliced mushrooms and a mild, creamy dressing. The olives and onions were the stars of the salad, battling each other on the stage, the olives bringing their salty brininess and onions their spicy, nose-clearing pungency. It was just a bit over-dressed for me, though.
Next were the entrees.
I couldn’t resist the special of bone-in pork ribeye served on sauerkraut with mashed potatoes and green beans. My dining mate got the BBQ buffalo ribs that came with vegetable slaw and garlic mashed potatoes.
I asked for the pork cooked medium and the chef did not disappoint. It was tender and juicy, so much so that I could’ve cut it with a fork. It was also expertly trimmed, with very little fat surrounding the pork. The grill brought its own flavor to the ribeye, along with a reduced sauce that I spooned onto the green beans and potatoes.
Mashed to a perfect, creamy consistency and containing enough cream and butter to offend your cardiologist, they were decadent.
The beans were cooked how I like them, just about as crunchy as they were when picked.
The BBQ buffalo ribs were smoked and came with a spicy chipotle sauce. I tried a piece from the end of the rack and found it to be overwhelmingly smoky, but another piece from the middle was beefy and spicy. I could’ve left the slaw.
One minus was that two of the four entrees at our table came out together and the other two a few minutes later. This isn’t a huge deal, but it is sometimes awkward as you stare longingly at your plate, attempting to shield your salivation from your neglected dinner mates.
Stuffed full but not done yet, we had the creme caramel. It arrived with fresh fruit and whipped cream on the plate, but I had to go straight for the custard.
It’s a good thing I wasn’t wearing a hat because it would’ve been on the ceiling. It was truly one of the best desserts I’ve ever tried. The delicate custard is so creamy and the caramel sauce extraordinarily sweet and rich. I’d suggest devouring the custard and sauce and then digging into the surrounding fruit. The contrast between them is overwhelming if you go back and forth, but if you eat them separate, the fruit will bring your palate back to earth after the heavenly, caramel-y custard.
Sanders lives up to its reputation as one of the best places to eat in the state. There are obviously other great restaurants in Grand Forks, Fargo and Bismarck. The Toasted Frog certainly deserves a spot in the top 5 and the HoDo restaurant in Fargo definitely should be considered. But, for the foreseeable future, Sanders will be among those very best.