EMBARRASS- Hell didn’t freeze over, but the weather certainly didn’t cooperate as staff from Hell’s Kitchen came to Embarrass to dish out their famous pancakes to a sold out crowd of over 600 area residents.
Fresh from digging out after a February storm dumped over a foot of snow, Embarrass’s Timber Hall was a bit spare on parking space.
Roland Fowler said the township scrambled to get the area cleared of snow in anticipation for the crowds, and gusty winds meant crews were back on site first thing Saturday morning, to remove snow that had driifted back in overnight.
The event was a fundraiser for the Embarrass Region Fair Board and Embarrass Region Volunteer Fire Departments. The two groups co-sponsor monthly pancake breakfasts, the first Saturday of every month, throughout the year. But scoring the services of one of Minneapolis’s most unique eateries was a fortuitous stroke of luck, facilitated by social media.
“I was watching the news in early January,” said Pat Forciea, one of the owners of Hell’s Kitchen, and they said that the low that night in Embarrass was expected to hit -37. Forciea also read that someone had calculated that the current temperature in Winnipeg was actually colder than the surface temperature on Mars. He quickly realized that the temperature in Embarrass that night would dip much lower than Mars, and on a whim he posted an offer on the restaurant’s Facebook page, inviting anyone from Embarrass to Hell’s Kitchen for a free breakfast that next morning.
The offer soon went viral, Forciea said, garnering 70,000 views within a day, and attracting nationwide media coverage.
And folks in Embarrass did get wind of the attention. Jeannine Bjornrud sent a message to the restaurant saying that it was quite a drive, and asked if they would consider coming up to Embarrass, and cooking breakfast there, and soon plans for a local fundraiser were born.
When they agreed, Embarrass volunteers sprang into action.
“We weren’t going to give them a chance to back off,” said Embarrass Clerk Diane Nelmark. “It was game on.”
The logistics proved complicated. While Timber Hall was certainly big enough to host the meal, there wasn’t nearly enough griddle space to feed the expected crowds. A first printing of 400 tickets was sold out within two days, and eventually another 100 tickets were printed to insure that all the locals could get into the event.
“Our biggest problem was getting enough griddle space,” said Nelmark. The problem was solved when Kenny Adams, the owner of the Country Kitchen restaurants in Virginia and Hibbing offered to lend portable griddles. The owner also brought seven cooks along, to help cook the pancakes.
“This did start off as a lark,” said Hell’s Kitchen owner Mitch Omer, who was suited up in Embarrass Fire Department turnout gear as he signed special Embarrass editions of the Hell’s Kitchen cookbook. Each cookbook was stamped with the insignia of the Embarrass Fire Department, and the bottom corner of the title page was literally singed, using a small torch. Mitch was signing each book in red, fitting to the restaurant’s theme.
Omer was clearly enjoying his time in Embarrass.
Northern Comfort Bed and Breakfast had donated lodging to the crew of seven who came up from Minneapolis.
“I’ve been to bed and breakfasts all over the country’” he said, “But I just love this place. It’s like out of a movie.”
Others in the community also pitched in for the fundraiser. Zup’s of Babbitt donated enough bacon to feed 500, T & C Storage donated the coffee, Dahl’s Dairy donated milk, butter and creamer. Embarrass Vermillion Credit Union donated the tickets.
And on the day of the fundraiser, everything was working smoothly. There was a group waiting at the door at 9 a.m., but after that it was a steady stream in the door, with virtually no waiting for a warm plate of lemon-ricotta pancakes topped with sliced strawberries, and a side of bacon.
Embarrass’s favorite weather guy Roland Fowler visited with residents at Timber Hall, while waiting for his turn in line. Tickets had been sold with specific times for entry, and Fowler’s wasn’t until afternoon.
Five hundred tickets were sold in advance for $7 each, and another 100 or so were available at the door.
“This is just amazing,” said Fair Board member Ami Keene. “We never have enough money for the work needed at Timber Hall.” She noted that the fair is run on all volunteer labor.
“We need to keep improving Timber Hall so we can continue the legacy of the fair,” she said. The extra fundraising boost comes at a perfect time. The fair board is facing a higher than expected heating bill this winter, and is midway through a project to add propane heating to the hall, to reduce future costs..
The pancakes got rave revews from residents, especially from Jeannine Bjornrud, whose dare had brought them to Embarrass in the first place.
“The lemon flavor is wonderful,” she said, “and they are light and moist.” Others at the table tried to figure out the recipe, so they could serve them at home. But actually, anyone wishing to get the real recipe just had to purchase a copy of the cookbook, and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of all the special edition Embarrass books was also being donated to the fire department.
Bruce and June Wilson had driven to Embarrass from International Falls, just for the event. They had learned about it after spending a weekend at Northern Comfort, on their anniversary. The couple, who were married at the Laskiainen in Palo, have been spending their anniversaries in Embarrass. Bruce is a retired fire fighter.
“This was a worthwhile fundraiser,” he said. He said he was impressed that the idea of the fundraiser was followed through on.
The event attracted mostly a local crowd. Tickets had sold out so fast that there simply weren’t spaces available for many who wished to attend. The Babbitt Girl Scout Troop 1298 set up a table and were selling Girl Scout cookies, and local entrepreneurs Ryan and Emily Quick were selling newly-designed Embarrass-themed t-shirts.
Jeremiah Johnson, from Cook, was lucky enough to score tickets for himself and his three-yer-old daughter Madeline. Johnson’s grandfather, Leonard Johnson, was a founding member of the Embarrass Fire Department, and he was happy to support the cause.
Everyone had high praise for the Hell’s Kitchen staff, who braved tough winter roads to get to Embarrass on Friday.
“They were fabulous guests,” said Northern Comfort owners Pam and Kathy. “They were very down to earth and interested in learning all about Embarrass.”
Hell’s Kitchen owners Mitch Omer and his wife Cynthia were spending a second night in Embarrass, and this time they were being treated to breakfast. Pam and Kathy were planning to serve a tomato-spinach frittata, home-fried sweet potatoes, and berries with mascarpone. Kathy said she was only a little bit nervous about cooking for these professional chefs.
A large group of volunteers including township officials, fire department members, and fair board members, also helped out at the event.
The special edition Embarrass Hell’s Kitchen cookbooks will also be sold online at their restaurant’s website. Hell’s Kitchen has been a fixture in downtown Minneapolis for years. Located in a basement location off of Nicollet Mall, the restaurant boasts of having “damn good food,” and area food critics have agreed.