Restaurants we remember
By Rita Maisel
If it were not for the high banks of snow, we might believe the comments that spring might be arriving. In other words, today we have sunshine and hope it stays. Sunday is already scheduled for the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, and Lent officially arrived (on the calendar and in churches) on Wednesday. Rabbit and deer tracks change from day to day as the older tracks are covered with new snow, and new trails are blazed by the fur-coated hungry animals. Hardy runners in many layers are out trying the streets in preparation for possible runs or the future track season, and just this morning there was an announcement that some North Dakota golf courses promise to open by June. Hopefully there will soon be light at the end of our wintery tunnel.
Meanwhile, readers call with suggested story topics, and one of those suggestions again mentioned the Green Mill which has been the subject of previous columns. Long ago Langdon residents loved that restaurant on what is now Third Street, and there was a time when one fan suggested that instead of demolishing it, the city should have encased it in bronze and marked it as a historical monument. By the time of his suggestion, it had already vanished.
The Green Mill was opened by the Stearns family in what is thought to have been the 1920s with most of the family involved in its operation. They also had a band with Pa Stearns directing and at times providing humorous presentations by directing the band with a plunger rather than a baton. No, there did not seem to be any documentation that he had previously been a plumber. The Stearns family moved on to the Minneapolis area but the name, distinctive pale green and ivory décor, and a miniature windmill remained a popular place in Langdon. There were various owners down through the years with the Twaddle family taking over in the early 1950s. I did not find the exact date the building was demolished but do recall Denise Manson had owned the building after the death of her husband, John, who also owned the bakery next door. That business was not part of the present franchised Green Mill restaurants operating in larger cities, although I am told owners in both eras liked the windmill as part of their décor and advertising.
A young man who graduated from Langdon High School in the late 1930s was fond of the original restaurant, or maybe fond of one of the girls who worked there as a waitress, so after World War II James Hood Gardner went to college and earned his doctorate by writing a novel about Langdon’s Green Mill. Influenced to a certain extent by the author’s parents and a neighbor across the street, Ed Franta wrote stories about Hood Gardner (his chosen pen-name) and his book. We do not know if Ed ever read the original, but after many years and questions about this novel I wrote to the Iowa University Gardner had attended, and they copied his thesis at a price. I read the book as did Ed’s daughter, Rosemary, and I think Dixie Nelson who had once worked as a waitress there. There is a dim memory that the book may have been passed on to a member of the Twaddle family. The readers were interested in what Gardner had said about the town and the restaurant, but none of us would have recommended his novel as a best book of the year.
While thinking about this, the phone rang, and the caller from another part of the state mentioned a conversation with recent visitors to Langdon who had been unhappy with the lack of dining places in Langdon at the present time. What had happened to the long-ago restaurants they had expected to see? Possibly, like the Green Mill, they had aged and given way to other eating places. As we talked, the names of present-day places they might have found to visit grew longer and longer. In general, those places today are not the franchised names you might find in larger cities, but with local ownership they all have their own clientele and specialties. It is even quite possible that the under-construction, family-friendly addition to Sporty’s may, by spring or summer, be located almost on the spot where the old Green Mill once stood. In the meantime, Langdon offers the Country Inn, Johnny’s Angel at the Crossroads, Dairy Queen, At the Hop, Perfect Blend, Farmers’ Union, Bread Pan Bakery, Superpumper for fast food and pizza, the Eagles some evenings, Sporty’s at noon and for special events, and others. One of the others is the Senior Center which would like to know by 9 a.m. if a group wants to eat with them. The cost is reasonable, includes coffee (extra at many restaurants), and I have it on good authority (people who eat there regularly) that the meals are delicious. Many of these places list their menus in the newspaper so if you find a menu you like, feel free to take a friend for lunch of dinner. My apologies to any whose names I might have missed.
If your main interest is breakfast, motels often offer a continental breakfast, and there is coffee and a treat of some kind at several locations in Langdon as early as 6 or 7 a.m. Some of those places add in an old-fashioned farmer breakfast after sunrise. Guessing that the out-of-town visitors to Langdon might have been attending for a crop seminar or a sporting event, not all of the eating places listed above are open the same hours, but if you drive by a place with lots of cars- the food there is probably excellent. In addition, sporting events often have concessions available, and conferences may well have a meal or two included for visitors.
Several callers mentioned the books made into movies which were listed in an earlier column. Some liked the book so well they read it several times, and others liked the movie better. Having enjoyed reading an older book from that category a year or two ago, I tried to think of movies seen that might have come from a book and work backwards. What turned up were a movie from 1940 and another from 1971 based on older mysteries. I knew I had not read either book and did not remember the plots so am sure I had not seen the movies. The 1940 one was a movie with a murder so not the kind my mother would take her children to. In fact, that one had been on Lux Radio Theatre, a standard of Monday night radio programs from Canada, and what I did remember is being sent outside to play while it was on. What happened is the mysterious beginning had stayed with me all through the years so reading the novel will be done with the lights on and a whole different perspective. Before finding that book I had jotted down some titles where I did see the movie or did read the book so if other readers would like help in recalling that combination, give me a call, and I will share.