Food is only the beginning
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About 45 minutes north of Grand Forks in a town 15 miles off the highway, stands a café in the middle of a farm town.
The St. Thomas Café is the only restaurant in the sub-1,000 person town of St. Thomas, N.D., but it might as well be the town square.
Every day, the people who live in the humble town gather for lunch at what they call “The Café.” The old waitresses welcome everyone who walk in the door with a greeting and a large cup of ice water.
The atmosphere is similar to that of a family reunion. Everybody knows everybody and conversations cross tables and sometimes across the entire restaurant.
The first time I went to the St. Thomas Café was completely by chance. For the first date my girlfriend, Rachel, and I went on, we decided to go driving on the highway and see what we could find.
We saw an exit sign for St. Thomas and decided this would be the town where we’d stop for lunch. There has to be food there, right?
After driving on the country road for about 10 minutes, we became suspicious about the town’s actual existence. We would ultimately drive into the town, and about 12 blocks later drive out of it. Turn around, go back and look for signs of life.
On the one road that leads out of the town was the one restaurant: St. Thomas Café.
When we walked in, there was only a group of men sitting around a table in an otherwise empty place. They were just as confused as we were.
With no one else there, the waitress had more than enough time for friendly interrogation.
As time went on, the place began to fill with the town’s people. Workers on break, retirees grabbing lunch and even students from the school down the street swung by during their lunch period. We were witnessing small town, USA.
As for the food, it’s a classic diner with a plethora of options. If skeptics are wondering if the food is worth the drive, yes it is. Just like a family reunion, they will fill your plate more than you asked for.
There’s the one-page menu with breakfasts, burgers, sandwiches, turkey and potato dinners and “American Fries.”
At first glance, I thought they were french fries that hadn’t reversed their name change since “Freedom Fries.” Turns out, they’re basically hash browns. Don’t stereotype small-town patriotism.
If you want to pay, bring cash. That is all they accept.
The café is a big deal in the town and going there earns you an impressive in-town reputation.
While we were touring the school, the tour guide would introduce us to teachers and would footnote our visit to the Café, surprising and immediately earning the respect of the faculty.
The memory amongst the waitresses is impeccable, and I understand that this is an unorthodox compliment for a restaurant review.
Allow me to explain. When you find a restaurant you like, you go back to it. Right? Well, the same logic can be applied to the St. Thomas Café.
For Rachel’s and my one-year anniversary, we returned the café. Upon arrival, the same waitresses from the year before said they remembered us, as well as others who would join the town for lunch.
A restaurant isn’t just a place to eat when you’re too lazy to cook. It’s a place to gather friends. It’s a place to learn about a town. It’s a place you take your girlfriend to every year.
In St. Thomas, the Café is more than just a restaurant. The spirit of the town is in those walls.
If you go, bring a map and a friend. You’ll need both.
Jacob Notermann is a staff writer for the Dakota Student. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org