This post originally appeared in the February issue of After5, the entertainment newspaper for the upper Red River Valley. You can see the whole issue here.
What does Grand Forks really need?
Maybe some bikes for rent downtown? An outlet mall on the south end? Another Wal-Mart?
I can take or leave any of these, but what I think the area really needs is an Indian restaurant.
Sure, we’ve had a recent explosion (compared to 10 years ago) of Asian restaurants here and that’s a great thing. Places like Little Bangkok and Drunken Noodle in East Grand Forks and Shing Ya in Grand Forks have expanded the culinary options for us northern Red River Valley residents.
I grew up here and can remember when you couldn’t get even a sub-par piece of sushi. Now look at us.
But we can do even better.
If you haven’t tried Indian food yet, you’re missing out. It’s a mix of textures and spices that’s different from anything else in Grand Forks or East Grand Forks. Plus, you can eat with your hands, or at the very least scoop up the deliciousness with naan, a baked flatbread that is sometimes cooked in a Tandoor, or clay, oven. There’s a great Indian place in Winnipeg that I highly recommend called East India Company. It’s a buffet-style restaurant serving some of the absolute best Indian food I’ve ever had. If you’re up north sometime, check it out.
Longtime Grand Forks residents might remember a place downtown called Noel’s Cuisine. If my memory remains intact, they served mostly Pakistani food but were unfortunately shuttered by the great flood of 1997.
My dad would take my sisters and I there and we, being young kids, would hate the food except for a golden, syrupy desert I wish I could remember more about. I’m sure if the place was still open, it would be great. Kids just don’t do that well with ethnic food. Heck, I remember one time we went to Sander’s when it was off of 24th Ave. S. after the flood and my parents ordered me a very expensive entree of prime rib that I turned my nose up at. I digress.
Fargo has a few different choices for Indian fare like India Palace, Passage to India and Karma Indian Cuisine. I have yet to try any of them, but I’ve heard good things.
But what I wanted to get at with this is that, while food in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks has come a long way, there is still room for improvement. We can either welcome more and more chain restaurants or choose to support the small, family-owned places that have character and warmth you just don’t get with a national conglomerate.
Places like Noel’s where it was just a family running the place. Or Babylon in downtown Grand Forks, which also has unfortunately shut down. Yes the service may have been a bit slower than other restaurants that have 25+ staff members, but you’re choosing to support that family and keep them in business. Noel’s was run by, I’m assuming, Noel. If I remember right, he was very helpful and welcoming, not in a hurry to turn a table. He would talk to my family for quite a while, answering our questions about his homeland that we were unluckily naive about.
You don’t get those kinds of experiences in chain restaurants.
So what would make me infinitely happy would be to have a cozy, local restaurant open up somewhere in town and serve home-style Indian food. If you’re skeptical if you would like it or not, I’m fairly positive you would. While the restaurant business if all-too-cutthroat and it may take a few different places coming and going (like Babylon), eventually one would gain enough of a following to remain viable. It just takes us. We need to really examine what kind of establishment we want to support.
I hope to see, in 10 or 15 years, little places on every corner serving Tibetan, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian or any other kind of ethnic food.
Once you expand your horizons, it’s hard to go back to the same old stuff you grew up with, let alone fast food and chain food that’s common.