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April 27, 2008 / Tony

Dinner at John Alexander’s

I have often remarked to myself that there was no restaurant in the Fargo-Moorhead area that I thought was in completely in line my likes and dislikes.  To be sure, there were restaurants that I enjoy in this area, namely, Grazies, Jade Dragon, Passage to India, Sammy’s Pizza, and Sushi Time.  But while all of these restaurants have good food, they weren’t places that I really wanted to go to more than once or perhaps twice a month.  I enjoyed them but there was not a true synergy between myself and the restaurant.  That is, there wasn’t a place in town that I felt that if I were to open a restaurant, this is just how I would like it to be.  I think this feeling is gone now that I’ve enjoyed John Alexander’s in downtown Moorhead. 

John Alexaner’s is part of the burgeoning Fargo-Moorhead restaurant empire that includes Juano’s and a Latin themed bar.  It has been open since January of ’08 and it has a delightfully small and focused menu.  It offers a number of appetziers, a few saldas, some burgers, a couple of pastas,  grilled cheese sandwiches, steaks, and a Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich.  The idea, which I think is brilliant, is to take familiar dishes and elevate them slightly to the point where they become just about fine dining.  In doing so, the restaurant manages to skirt the lines that separate fine dining and American casual dining. 

The interior of the restaurant echoes this “skirting” theme by being sleek and cool enough to pass off as a nice dining destination while maintaining a casual atmosphere with details like paper napkins. 

As far as the food quality goes, I thought it was spot on.  The first thing I tried was the beer battered cheese curds.  Here’s how they served them:

They were very, very good.  The breading was crisp and just a bit bitter from the beer.  The cheese inside was perfectly gooey and full-flavored.  I really can’t think of having any better fried cheese curds in my life (and I’ve lived in Wisconsin before).  The accompanying sauce was called a “white ketchup” which, to my palate, meant that they mixed ketchup with mayonnaise.  The first bite seemed a bit odd because it tasted (unsurprisingly) a lot like tartar sauce but as I ate more of it, I began to see why the sauce was chosen.  It was to be a milder ketchup as the cheese curds, while being pretty flavorful, just wouldn’t stand up to a full blast of tomatoey ketchup.  Hence, the cutting it with a blander ingredient-mayonnaise.  It was a very good idea and indicative of the care the restaurant takes in its dishes.

My entree was a duck breast covered in a port suace with dried cherries, apples, and mint.  It was served with asparagus and mashed poatotes.  Here’s a picture:

This was a very good but not quite perfect dish.  The duck was nice and was served just under medium-well.  One could have hoped for a bit more crisp on the skin.  The sauce was a fascinating combination of flavors.  The port reduction was nice match with the fruits but the mint was, well, a wow ingredient.  At times, I loved it and at times, I really didn’t care about it.  The chef placed full, fresh mint leaves in the sauce which presented a texture contrast (nothing is quite like chewy leaves) and a very big flavor punch whenever one of the mint leaves hit your mouth.  It did finish the sauce intelligently as it balanced out the acidity and strong flavors of the port but it seemed to come at a pretty high cost.  If anything, mint was too aggressive of a flavor for this dish, especially in the amount given.  But, I really am nitpicking here.  I really did enjoy the dish.

The sides were good and great.  The mashed potatoes were the great part.  Made of red potatoes, they were silky smooth and exceptionally buttery.  Major kudos to the kitchen for that.  The asparagus was just too crisp tender for my liking but not very far off the mark. 

I really look forward to my next visit to John Alexander’s.  The prices are great, it has a nice, affordable wine list, and the bartender’s are knowledgeable and helpful.  Exactly the kind of place where I would be happy to spend some well-earned dollars. 

John Alexander’s address is 315 Main Avenue, Moorhead, MN 56560.  And it’s phone number is 218-287-5802. 

ADDED:  The Fargo Forum has an online review of this restaurant

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12 Comments

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  1. DocMara / Apr 27 2008 9:57 pm

    Surprisingly, I loved the food there too. I like the fish and chips, the salad (with dried cherries and blueberries), the salmon, egg, and caper sandwich, and the curds you mention. I’ve been there twice and am hooked.

    Have you been to Usher’s House? They have a wonderful tuna napolean (with Sriracha, sweet potato puree, seared pepper tuna, balsamic reduction, and fried wontons).

  2. Jascha / Jul 12 2008 6:07 pm

    Hi again! 🙂 I visited the John Alexander’s last night-I tried Ribeye steaks, their special Shrimp Thai salad, and Apple pie. My friend tried Tuna special with mango and pomegrante reduction.
    * Steak – maybe Sirloin would have been better. It tasted really good, but the texture was a bit too chewy/ they did not ask me how I wanted my steak cooked. But it was not salty, flavor was really nice.
    * Salad – it was a bit off and on.. had too much lime taste and too many cucumber pieces. But very fresh, very nice flavor if not counting the lime.
    * Apple Pie – the best apple pie ever! Really nice dough (more like tart than pie), and fresh apple taste without much “goo” or much “sugary-ness”
    Tuna looked great, too.
    The only not-good item:their breads. They were soggy and not crunchy/ not tasty. Butter that came along with the breads were good ,though.
    Will definately visit again. I hear their Sunday brunch is really fabulous.

  3. Stubro / Sep 24 2008 4:42 pm

    I tried JA’s recently and honestly was greatly disappointed. I had what I thought would be a simple rib eye steak. Instead it proved to be a challenge to try to eat in that it was overcooked and was possibly the chewiest thing that I have had since I was a kid with a mouthfull of Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum.
    So, thinking anyplace can have one thing go wrong, I was offered a taste of one of my guests grilled tune – absolutely the wrong decision! I still can’t get that horrid taste out of my mind.
    I seriously doubt that I will ever go there for an evening meal again, though the bar did have a certain appeal.

  4. Tony / Sep 26 2008 12:20 pm

    I’m sorry that you had such a poor experience Stubro. I’ve went back another time. While it wasn’t as good as the first time, I still thought the food good and the service excellent.

  5. Alysia / Jan 1 2009 2:03 pm

    My boyfriend and I went for a New Year’s Eve meal and it was TERRIBLE! His steak was sent back twice because it was very underdone. I was only able to eat a bite of my stuffed mushroom although I did eat the pasta and creamed spinach. We had had lunch there before and loved it but I really don’t think we’ll ever visit again. Even the service was awful. It took nearly 3 hours and we took our desserts to go!! For the money we spent I would expect outstanding service and wonderful food.

  6. zipity / Jun 15 2009 9:44 am

    My experience was similar to Alysia and Stubro. I had a New York Strip, and it was not even half as good as the meat I get at Hornbachers. Plus, none of the entree was served piping hot. It was as if it had been left to sit for 10 minutes before it was brought to me. The service was slow, and inattentive. If I’m being asked to pay $30+ for a meal, I expect everything to be right. Never again…..

  7. MJBS / Aug 11 2009 3:20 pm

    TERRIBLE FOOD. The burgers do not have an option to be done the way you want it. They can only be done well done! What kind of chef would only do meat well done unless it was a bubba burger from the frozen section of the grocery store (which actually taste better than the burger I had at John Alexanders). What about the warm olive and feta and bread plate? Its like the chef went and scooped some grocery store olives (pits IN), put them in the microwave and got a block of feta and coursely chopped up cold feta. Not to mention the “bread” which was actually those wafer crackers you can buy at the grocery store. The appetizer was $10.50…that’s crazy! I will never recommend eating here, nor will I ever visit it again myself.

    • D. Stevens / Aug 2 2010 1:07 am

      As a culinary school graduate and 12+ year veteran of the restaurant industry, I can understand your issue with not being able to specify the temperature to which you would like your burger cooked. However, the biggest consideration that a lot of small, stand-alone places have is this: If you get sick off of the food, regardless of any mandatory statement on the menu, you aren’t going to come back. Ground beef, as an item that is ground and mixed, has a much higher risk of food-borne illness than steak. With a steak, any bacteria that is present is killed in the cooking process, whether you want it well-done (a mistake, with most cuts of beef, in my opinion) or Pittsburgh Rare (charred on the outside, bloody on the inside.) With ground meat, however, any bacteria that is present on the surface is mixed throughout, increasing the likeliness that you might get sick from it. The easiest way to prevent this is to serve ground meats to an internal temperature of 165F (or medium-well.) As a trained chef, the ONLY way that I would feasibly and willingly serve ground meat cooked to temp at any restaurant I might run or own is if we were grinding the meat in house on a regular basis (say, every other day.) Past that, I’d have to go with a similar decision. So, to answer your question of “what kind of chef would cook meat well done”, I think I can honestly say that “any chef worth his salt would make the health of his guests his primary consideration – and refuse to serve anything that might potentially make his guests ill.”

      As for the rest of your issues, I can’t comment as I don’t work at JA’s.

  8. Jake H. / Oct 28 2009 10:52 am

    I recently ate here and I agree 100% with all the other comments given on this blog. I had a burger and an appetizer and my wife and I shared the appetizer and burger. The waiter saw that we were eating the same burger and a $4 dollar charge was added to my burger for a “second plate”. What the H*** is that all about? The bread, or should I say crackers, was also terrible and didn’t come out until we got our entree.

    Doolittle Woodfire Grill in Fargo off of I-94 takes the cake for best quality food in the Fargo/Moorhead area, and is more conveniently located. The menu selection is always amazing and the food quality never fails.

    • Maddie / Sep 27 2011 10:24 am

      I do aggree that the food is good at DooLittles however one time when I was there we were sat in the bar by where the servers pick up there drinks and it was not good. We waited for a long time to be waited on and we could hear the conversations of the servers. These were very unpleasant, they were talking about who had slept with who and who has a sexually transmitted disease. Needless to say it was not a good conversation to hear while trying to eat. We did make a formal complaint to the resturant, however we never did hear anything back.

  9. Rachel / Dec 15 2010 4:56 pm

    I have eaten here a number of times for lunch as I can walk to this location. Because of the atmosphere and prices I expect a quality meal. Yet everytime it seems that when I order anything with melted cheese, it has been prepared too early and allowed to cool before being served. Once when I commented that serving a hot cheese appetizer at the same time as the main dish (fish and chips I think) was not OK, they did comp the appetizer. Today I ordered a salad(the JA, which was good)and sandwich named Spanish something, the server had to ask if I wanted my entree at the same time as the salad. After I finished my salad, my entree arrived on time – but cooled down with congealed cheese – and no apparent “drizzled” honey. Something is wrong here.

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