A local’s guide on where to eat in Fargo: Spider Johnk

As a young man (forty years ago) I worked in the food and beverage industry. Bartender, bar manager, restaurant manager (badly) I learned everything I needed to know about life through that experience. Human relations, psychiatry, how to read a P&L statement, a great deal about marketing, and a huge appreciation for an F&B establishment when they are run right. It’s almost like watching a well-choreographed Broadway musical.

And I would argue if you want to hire the kind of people that can take your business forward then hire someone who has been a server. They learn to think on their feet. They learn to diplomatically sooth an irate customer’s feelings. They collaborate every day with a team of professionals and much more. They generally have a great deal of empathy.

But the most important part of the experience is what it taught me about customer service. That’s how I judge every establishment I frequent. After all, with most food sourced out of the same distributors dining is differentiated at the outlet by who’s in the kitchen facing the grill and who’s on the floor facing the customer. They need to deliver good food and great customer service.


1. Mezzaluna

Six years ago, we started a group named The Mezzalunatics. Tired of waiting in line, we made a standing reservation for 5:00 p.m. every Friday. Think of it as an open house table where everyone is welcome to stop by. Between eight and a dozen people on average have been there every Friday ever since.  Great service and apps. There is a perception that Mezz is too schmancy. Just not true. Prices are comparable to many other places and like I said, the service is killer as are the Happy Hour apps.

2. Dempsey’s

On a day to day competitive level Dempsey’s consistently has some of the best servers in town. And Bert and Klaus have developed what I think is the best and most diverse bar food menu anywhere. Not to mention they are champions of live music. All kinds. A very smooth operation thanks to the always moving and watching Fonder. If you are like me, periodic fuddy-duddy who is sometimes hesitant to try something new I implore you to check out Dempsey’s. You will not be disappointed.

3. Rustica Eatery & Tavern

Rustica has great pizza and fine dining as well. Your choice. But the staff is really welcoming and they work hard to insure you have a great experience. Chef Eric once took seriously a remark I made about missing rutabaga and did almost a full week offering the best rutabaga side dishes I have ever had. Like I said great customer service.

4. The Old Broadway

The queen of Broadway for over 40 years under the watchful eye of Warren Ackley and his business partner Randy Thorson. Always innovative and reinventing while maintaining consistently great food for lunch or dinner. Still the classiest and most interesting atmosphere. Great customer service.

5. Doolittle’s

I walk through the doors of Doolittle’s and get high off the perfume of rotisserie chicken. I always say I am going to hold back a little but of course I don’t and then eat the whole dealio. Guilt follows along with the urge to have dessert. Great customer service with the bonus of a deep menu.

6. The Lake Park Café (just down Highway 10)

This selection was discovered through my old friend Vince Lindstrom (founder of the FMCVB); he hails from those parts and is a frequent flyer at the café. And likes to take pictures of his food. This is strictly a breakfast appointment (never had lunch there so I don’t know about that).

Careful on the hours of operation, they close at 11:00 a.m. on Saturdays and noon on Sundays (to serve the church crowd). I suggest you aim for before 10:00 on either day. The omelettes (any size or flavor) are stellar. The hash browns are the star of the show. The secret won’t be shared by the chef but they are perfect in color and flavor. Don’t forget to order the thick-cut bacon.

Customer service is great and sometimes sprinkled with a few hons and dears. Love this place. P.S. The cook/owner has a great background story but if he’s busy you won’t hear it. And chances are he’ll be busy.


Like I said earlier, being in a well-run establishment and observing passionate and engaged people is one of my favorite and most entertaining things I can do. Weird huh? The guts and stamina required to get into and survive in the business is unbelievable. While these are just my choices there are literally hundreds to choose from and I doubt I will get to them all. I don’t get out much.

About the Author:

Spider Johnk is a born and raised FM life long resident with a 40+ year career in advertising creative service, design and strategy…”And someday artist.”