Wednesday, April 3, 2013

adventures in Morris: the food edition.

As you probably recall, I went to college in a small prairie town in Minnesota called Morris. Its population hovered just above five thousand, and the nearest town with any substance (“substance” being a Target) was forty-five miles away.

In a small town such as Morris, the restaurant choices were fairly limited. For its size, though, Morris had a respectable amount of chain restaurants: McDonalds, Dairy Queen, Subway, Taco John’s, Pizza Hut, and Pizza Ranch. If you wanted something a little less greasy and with a little more character, your options narrowed significantly.

This coming weekend is UMM’s annual Jazz Fest, which is a HUGE DEAL. It’s three days of concerts and workshops, and high school jazz bands from all over the Midwest come to learn and perform. The UMM jazz bands perform in the evenings, along with whatever famous jazz musicians have been selected as the guest artists that year.

But that’s not why we go to Jazz Fest. We go to Jazz Fest to see all of our jazz friends, wander around the town and the campus, and feel really old. Besides seeing our friends, the best part about Jazz Fest is getting to eat all the Morris food that we loved so much in college. In preparation for Jazz Fest, let me tell you about my five favorite Morris restaurants.

Don’s is the Holy Grail of Morris food: difficult to get to (because of their crazy hours), but absolute delight when you do. Don’s boasts typical greasy diner food, and you always smell kind of gross when you leave, but believe me when I tell you it’s worth it. There are three things at Don’s that I love the most: their toast, their grilled cheese, and cheese curds. 
The toast is renowned far and wide, and it's even inspired tshirts: note the shirt my sister is wearing in the first photo. It’s thick and homemade, and it’s the best bread you’ve ever tasted. The grilled cheese sandwiches are so good simply because they’re made with Don’s bread (and extra cheese, of course). The cheese curds are heavenly: made with white cheddar, like the best cheese curds are. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I sometimes have dreams about Don’s food.  

The Common Cup.
The Common Cup is an adorable little coffee shop downtown (well, downtown for Morris, anyway). I worked there during my senior year, and besides the six am report-to-work time, it was delightful. Like all good coffee shops, they had comfortable chairs and a fireplace, and you can always find a herd of college students drinking the house blend and doing their homework. The Common Cup also had sandwiches and wraps and all sorts of local ingredients, so it was perfect for the hipster-centric UMM. They would have daily food specials and soups, and there would always be some sort of special drink to go with whatever holiday or event was coming up (for example: they had quadruple-shot espresso drinks on sale around finals time each semester). The Common Cup is where I learned that you can make scrambled eggs in the microwave (!!!) and that chai tea – if you get the right kind brand (Oregon Chai) – is AMAZING. Plus, Rose (one of the managers) would make chocolate cheesecake from time to time. I repeat: chocolate cheesecake.

Bello Cucina.
If you know anything about Italian grammar, you’ll know that the name of Morris’s only Italian restaurant is grammatically incorrect. We must overlook that fact and concentrate instead on the food. Bello Cucina didn’t open until my junior year at Morris, and it was (and still is) the only restaurant in Morris where you can go on a real date. It’s where my friends and family went to celebrate major events – we went there after Jazz Fest, after my senior seminar, after graduation, and after I made a presentation about my internships to the graduating art history seniors. After my senior seminar, my parents took a handful of us to Bello Cucina, and my mom and I ordered raspberry margaritas. Sounds good, right? Well, these were on the rocks – not blended, as we wimps prefer – and STRONG. So watch out for their drinks, but trust me when I tell you to go all out with their tiramisu.

The Met.
The Met is a sleazy bar in Morris that is famous for Quarter Taps: every Thursday night from 9pm to 10pm, plastic cups of skunky beer are a quarter apiece. As a member of the “if it doesn’t taste good, I’m not going to drink it, and I don’t care if it’s only a quarter” club, this is not why I’m telling you about the Met. I’m telling you about the Met because of Cheap Burger Night. Every Wednesday after 5 o’clock, you could get a burger and fries for $2.50. They weren’t the greatest burgers in the world, but for $2.50, they were damn good. James and I went to cheap burger night on many a Wednesday during the two years we dated in Morris. Wednesday nights were “work on the newspaper until the wee hours of the morning” nights, so James and I had to eat our burgers in a hurry. But they were (relatively) delicious and totally worth the extra hour or so I spent at the paper making up for lost time.

Last (but in no way least), I give you Jose’s. Jose’s opened in the Morris mall in the summer between my sophomore and junior years (they’ve since moved, thankfully). The Morris mall was (and probably still is) just pitiful: basically two floors of junky shops and a lot of empty space. There was a dinky little clothing shop there for a while, along with this questionable-looking jewelry repair kiosk and a Christian bookstore. The salon where I got my horrific fishtail haircut was in that mall, as was a martial arts/dance studio. The Christmas decorations stayed up year-round, and I’m pretty sure the schizophrenic guy who wandered the halls lived in a storage closet there. Plus, Jose (yes, Jose was a real guy!) was rumored to have spent some time in prison for beating up his girlfriend (who worked at the counter and was always super angry), but that’s just a rumor. Anyway, Jose’s is where I had my first quesadilla, and we (quesadillas and I) have been inseparable ever since. 
My parents love Jose's, too!
Jose’s also made these delightful dessert chips: tortillas fried and then coated with cinnamon and sugar. Before he developed a sense of culinary adventurousness, my brother Mitch once ordered a hamburger at Jose’s… and it was the most ridiculous thing we’d ever seen.
It was this overdone hunk of ground beef on a gigantic crusty bun – but I guess that’s what happens when you order a hamburger from a Mexican restaurant! Oh, and the best part about Jose’s? They’re open until 2 am on weekends! For Morris, that’s a huge deal.


So those are my five favorite places in Morris to eat. I would highly recommend patronizing one (or more!) next time you’re in Morris. And who knows? Maybe I’ll see you there!


  1. My first encounter with cheese curds was with you guys at that bar in that town in South Dakota near that lake (I'm sure you know where I'm talking about, right?)

    1. Of course! Pier 81 at Lake Poinsett - it's still there, and it's got a killer Sunday brunch. :)