(Not your) Mom’s Diner

What does mom’s cooking mean to you?

To me, the quintessential smell of home is a juicy beef roast that’s been slowly cooking all day, filling the house with that unmistakable aroma. Or what we called Norwegian meatballs. Plump, flavorful meatballs would sit in a cream sauce for hours. We’d eat them with potatoes.

When I was looking for some home cooking recently, and actually bringing my mom along, we headed to Mom’s Diner in Fargo.

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It’s a smaller place at the corner of University and Main Avenue. As far as I can tell, Mom’s, Dad’s Roadside Eatery and Tailgators Sports Cafe are owned by the same people. Or are at least connected.

Mom’s is an everyday diner, with pies and pastries up front, packs of gum and mints to buy if you need them.

The place is clean, the service attentive. The food, though, was disappointing.

I wanted made-from-scratch potatoes, home-made gravy and the like. But I unfortunately found food that is institutional in its quality and with prices that didn’t match.

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I decided ordering a Reuben sandwich would be a good benchmark with which to judge Mom’s on. My mom got the hot hamburger sandwich plate. Two cups of coffee too, please.

Ugh. The coffee. Just from the color of it when your pour it into your cup, you can tell it’s not great. While this may be the standard strength in small-town North Dakota and Minnesota, I need something stronger. It was a small step above hot water.

What I found odd was the abundance of advertising in the small space. On the back wall, two huge flat-screen TVs cycle through still images of local businesses. A laminated “trivia” pamphlet sits on each table. They’re mostly conveyors of yet more advertising. I’m not sure what the aim of the owners is… to make good, homey food for your customers or to treat the restaurant like a giant billboard?

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My spirits were lifted when a hot bowl of knoephla soup arrived, the opener to my sandwich. It was a creamier version than some I’d seen and was a little bland. Some salt and pepper woke it up. It was made correctly, with dense little dumplings and bits of potato. You can tell this German soup was meant to fill you up for cheap back in the day. And it was filling.

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My Reuben was on nicely toasted and buttered rye bread. The corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing were all there. But the beef was overshadowed by the big flavors of the other ingredients. The portion of the corned beef just needed to be bigger, and the sandwich would be a winner. At $8.59, I expect a bit more.

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I tried my mom’s dish and found the mashed potatoes to be likely of the boxed variety and the gravy equally institutional. But the hamburger patty on the sandwich that was doused in gravy was seasoned nicely. It’s obviously fill-you-up food, with plenty of starch.

So this lunch ended up being around $20.

I would really only return to Mom’s Diner for some breakfast. Those items seemed to be more reasonably priced.

Maybe next time I’ll try Dad’s.

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