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Marilyn Hagerty: Grazing is an adventure in the Bemidji area

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BEMIDJI -- Summer is not complete for me without a visit to Bemidji. And a visit to the Bemidji area offers adventures in eating in the land of the lakes and pine trees.

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• Raphael's Bakery Cafe, 319 Minnesota Ave., Bemidji, (218) 759-2015.

Raphael's is an obligatory stop during my annual summer visit to Bemidji. As a bakery and cafe, the place is large and inviting with the world's largest cookie jar collection displayed in the front windows.

Some customers do breakfast at Raphael's because of its inviting bakery and cafe ambience. For years, I have enjoyed stopping for lunch at this place on trips to the land of Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox. It is a tradition and a place where you are likely to run into other people you know with Grand Forks backgrounds.

Raphael's usually is full to overflowing by noon. The sandwiches have a homemade quality about them with freshly baked bread. There is a hearty, homemade soup. Nothing too fancy. Just good food.

My turkey sandwich was made with "real" turkey baked in the house, not the kind that is rolled and pressed and sliced. The sandwiches are served in a basket with a lot of small, crisp chips. There are raw vegetables and olives on the tables for nibbling.

On the day in late July when I visited Raphael's with a couple of friends, there was pie made with locally picked raspberries. The restaurant stays about the same, but it keeps up with the times. Service is good, but slow when the staff seems almost overwhelmed clearing tables and seating customers. The lunch rush usually slows after noon. There is little to criticize in this homey place with good food and reasonable prices. The only criticism might be the minimal quality of the tableware.

• Ranch House, Highway 371, four miles north of Walker, Minn. Reservations appreciated: (218) 547-1540.

There was Elvis Presley music, the tablecloths were checkered red and white, and when three of us were seated in the Ranch House on a summer evening, we had the feeling of being back in one of the supper clubs that are fading from the dining scene.

The Ranch House has been around since 1979. It is the home of the giant popover, and we thoroughly enjoyed them with butter. The place is large with three dining areas that come together beyond the bar and the entrance. The salad bar is centrally located. There are booths that resemble covered wagons.

We were impressed by our server who was efficient, professional and low-key. She did not keep asking how everything tasted. The walleye she brought out was some of the best we had eaten. The steak was — well, all right. And the spaghetti was better than expected. The onion rings were fabulous.

All in all, it was a pleasant experience. We appreciated the water glasses on the table and the water in a nice carafe. The price was medium-high for these times.

I liked the checkered tablecloths. I was bothered by a little fly. I think it is the grandson of Philip, a fly I met up with in Walker a couple of years ago.

• Sparkling Waters, 824 Paul Bunyan Drive, S., Bemidji. Reservations; Phone: 218-444-3214.

The perfect three course lunch for $10 was featured on the menu at this restaurant nestled across the highway from the lake in Bemidji . The restaurant has an inviting, upscale decor. And we were attracted to what is called the "perfect three-course lunch for $10" when three of us stopped by on a beautiful summer day.

The first course was bruschetta or coleslaw. The second was crabcake and wild rice or prime rib with asparagus and mashed potato and the third course was creme brule or truffle.

At first, I had the feeling I was at one of those spas where they starve you to death. It didn't take long to realize that, though sparse, this is a very satisfying meal.

The restaurant is relatively new to the dining scene in Bemidji. Its location across from the Double Tree and Hampton Inn is a plus. It is also near the Sanford Center which houses conventions as well as Bemidji State University hockey games.

The restaurant is operated by Reva and Doug Howe who seem to be around and checking with customers. Reva told us they owned a Mr. Steak restaurant on the same location 35 years ago.

She said the happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. with free appetizers provides good business for them every day.

There is an upper level where diners can look out over Lake Bemidji at night. Dinner prices range from $21 for pork chops to $49 for steak and lobster. Choices run the gamut from pasta at $18 to lobster tail for $42. Walleye from Red Lake is featured in six different versions. Walleye almondine is listed as pan-fried with toasted almonds for $22.

Hagerty is a columnist with the Grand Forks Herald. She became a viral sensation with her review of the Olive Garden.

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