Bernie's portrait - Molly Yeh & Nick Hagen
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Molly Yeh's Guide to Minnesota

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Bernie's owners Molly Yeh and Nick Hagen 
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Molly Yeh's Guide to Minnesota

By Andrew Parks

Considering she’s the daughter of a Grammy-winning clarinetist (John Bruce Yeh) and studied percussion at Julliard’s prestigious music school, it’s hard to imagine how Molly Yeh went from being on the fast track to hallowed orchestra halls to hosting one of Food Network’s most popular shows (“Girl Meets Farm”). 

That is until she explains how she ended up embracing the early days of recipe blogs with her own riffs on Midwestern classics (including quite a few creative takes on hotdish) and her family’s Chinese and Jewish roots (scallion pancake challah, braised brisket with quinoa risotto, everything bagel mac and cheese).

“One of the things that got me into food was sitting at the back of the orchestra, waiting a really long time for my one cymbal note,” explains Yeh. “It made me very antsy. And since I needed something creative to fill that time, I started thinking about food.”

Her future in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, began to fall into place when Yeh’s husband — Nick Hagen, another Julliard graduate — started thinking about leaving the big city behind for a full-time gig at his family’s sugar beet farm near the North Dakota border. Since her own family is from the Chicago area, Yeh also was eager to recalibrate her life on a personal and professional level.

“I visited Nick’s farm once, took a look around and was like, ‘Yep, this is the place for me,’” says Yeh. “After six years of living that New York lifestyle, we thought, ‘You know what? I think we’re ready to embrace our inner homebodies and be closer to our families.’”

Bernie's in East Grand Forks

Bernie's in East Grand Forks  / Andrew Fisher

She continues, "Living here has been as inspiring and energizing as I’d dreamt it would be.”

No kidding. Aside from running the popular site My Name is Yeh, writing several best-selling cookbooks (“Molly on the Range,” “Home Is Where the Eggs Are”) and starring in 12 seasons of “Girl Meets Farm,” Yeh has finally unveiled her first family affair: Bernie’s, an East Grand Forks café named after the couple’s daughter (Bernadette), Hagen’s great-great grandpa (Bernt, a Norway native who founded the family farm) and Yeh’s great grandpa (Bernard).

Now that she’s been an honorary Minnesotan for more than a decade, we thought we’d ask Yeh what some of her favorite spots are throughout the state, starting in her adopted hometown.

Blue Moose Bar & Grill - East Grand Forks

Blue Moose Bar & Grill / Visit Grand Forks

WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT IN EAST GRAND FORKS

We have some great restaurants near Bernie’s. The Blue Moose has a walleye sandwich I really like. And Mike’s Pizza is thin, crispy and cut into little squares. There are a couple of places in Chicago that do a very similar thing — crunchy, cracker-y crust pizza that’s underrated compared to deep dish. Since the slices are so small, you can eat more of them.

My taste has changed so much over the years, especially when it comes to certain textures, but I’m a when-in-Rome type of person. If I’m in New York, I’m getting a New York slice of pizza. And if I’m in Chicago, I am getting the deep dish. Here, I’m all about leaning into the square-cut, crusty style of pizza for sure.

Molly Yeh kitchen portrait

Molly Yeh in her home kitchen  / Channel and Brett Quernemoen

WHY YOU SHOULD SWING BY ITS GROCERY STORE 

Hugo’s is actually pretty awesome. They have a pretty extensive selection of ingredients and local specialties like lefse, lutefisk and Swedish pearl sugar. Before I moved here, I had to order that online; here, it’s at the grocery store down the street.

Whenever I’m developing recipes for my cookbooks, I like to only use ingredients that I can find easily, whether it's in my local grocery store or something I could find easily online. The concept there is, ‘If I can find it easily, then anybody in America can.’

The Tamarac bog trail at Bemidji State Park

The Tamarac bog trail at Bemidji State Park 

THINGS TO DO IN BEMIDJI 

We love to go to Bemidji every summer. There are some great places there we always return to, like the Minnesota Nice Cafe — the first place I had wild rice pancakes — and Lake Bemidji State Park. I don’t camp, but we like to go on little hikes to work up our appetite.

Our favorite trail is the bog walk; it goes through this really cute swamp area, and it’s not physically difficult at all. It’s perfect for little kids like ours. 

For the most part, Bemidji is the perfect getaway for us, where it feels like we’ve driven away from East Grand Forks, but it’s not so far that the kids are going to totally freak out. It’s a really nice mix of stuff to do in nature, and then you can walk around the streets downtown and go to all the little shops there. Chocolates Plus is really tasty, and there’s a co-op which we love (Harmony), and ice cream. 

Paul and Babe welcome visitors to Bemidji

Paul and Babe welcome visitors to Bemidji

Another place in Bemidji that I absolutely love is a hot dog stand called Lucky Dogs. It’s so good. They have a bunch of different kinds of hot dogs with crazy toppings, and a really good mac and cheese. It’s mostly outdoor seating, too.

We go back to Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge time and time again. It’s a perfect place for families, and Dave’s Pizza is nearby. They also cut their pizza into little squares, so it’s perfect for leftovers. We’ll put it in the refrigerator at our cabin, and then we’ll have a couple squares late at night.

Bemidji is not overwhelming either. You can get everything you want to get done, done in two days. You don’t have to feel like you need to be there for a while to take it all in. It’s a great summer weekend trip.

Minneapolis restaurant serves four plates of Vietnamese food on a wooden table

Try the Vietnamese street foods at Hai Hai restaurant and bar in Minneapolis / Matt Lien courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

MORE PLACES IN MINNESOTA YOU SHOULDN'T MISS 

There’s this really great place in Euclid, Minnesota, called One N' Only, which has good ribs and walleye. It’s about 20 or 30 minutes away from us, and in the middle of nowhere — this house in a town of 100 people.

I am obsessed with Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth. As a Jew who used to live in New York, their smoked fish is some of the best smoked fish I’ve ever had in my life. I love them. We even use their whitefish at Bernie’s.

One of the best meals I’ve ever had was at Hai Hai in Minneapolis. I dream about their crispy rice salad. It’s incredible. I’m also a big fan of Young Joni. I went there once, right around when it first opened. I think my pizza had broccoli and almonds on it; it was so good.

We went to Saint Dinette more recently, and their fried bologna sandwich was delicious.

Andrew Parks

Andrew Parks is a senior digital strategist at Explore Minnesota. His previous work including copywriting and content design for such clients as the Michelin Guide, Apple, Food & Wine, Condé Nast Traveler, Bandcamp, AFAR, Bon Appétit, and Red Bull.