Marshall, Minnesota: The New New York!

It was my 19th annual 29th birthday. We were driving to Marshall, Minnesota, to visit our good friend, Mike Schuler. We had arranged to stay in a luxury suite at a local hotel with a fireplace and Jacuzzi. In the past, I’ve written about my birthday trips to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Isla Mujeres in Mexico. The general message posting on my Facebook page regarding this year’s birthday retreat was: “Luxury suite—in Marshall?”

Photo by Chad Olson

The drive was uneventful and rather boring. We reached our destination, a Western Minnesota city (population 12,500), around 8 PM on the eve of my birthday. After checking in at the AmercInn, we opened the door to our luxury suite. My partner, Chad, and I both “wowed” at the expanse—about the size of the main floor in our home. It had a sofa on one side of the fireplace, and a handsome desk and reading chair on the other. A king-size bed was in the middle of the room, and the Jacuzzi in the large bathroom. We’ve stayed in a lot of suites throughout the world, but this was really quiet amazing.

After unpacking, and uncorking some champagne, we invited Mike up for gourmet snacks (Cool Ranch Doritos, corn dogs, red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting from Salut! on Grand Avenue) and libations.

The next day, Saturday, was my birthday. We wanted simply to “hang” in Marshall. I tuned in on the Internet to Italian Dance Network for some Italian techno dance music. It was a great inspiration while changing from my birthday suit to my just “hang” clothes. The day was relaxing and fun. After several “Jack and Gingers” (Jack Daniels and ginger ale), any day would be relaxing. It was the evening, however, that was such a hit.

Marshall owes much of its success to Schwan’s, the home-delivery and mail-order frozen-food and dairy-product company. The city is the home of founder Marvin Schwan. On March 18, 1952, 23-year-old Schwan packed his 1946 Dodge panel van with 14 gallons of his family’s signature ice cream to sell to rural residents of Western Minnesota. He quickly sold all 14 gallons—and the home-delivery company was born.

The evening of my birthday, I had a reservation for wonderful food, wine, and laughter at Landmark Bistro, a property of the Schwan Food Company. In a historic building that once housed the Atlantic Hotel (built in 1926), it now displays a Wood Stone gas-fired oven, a fireplace in the lounge, and some of the best food in Western Minnesota.

Chad, Mike, and I listened to Italian Dance Network while dressing to the nines to arrive in high fashion. We were out to impress Marshall. Why not? It was my birthday!

The interior of the restaurant was as impressive as the restored exterior of the old building. Beautiful original artwork hangs on the walls. The room, open and large, yet warm, was lit gorgeously.

Landmark offers a very good wine list. We ordered a Pinot Grigio (Coppola 2007 Monterey)—$8/glass; $40/bottle. Later, with our meal, we shared a Fontalloro Felsina (2000 Italy)— $70/bottle.

Because it was my birthday, it was nothing but the best—including the best comfort food.

For our appetizer, we shared Ginormous Onion Rings ($6)—extra-thick onion rings, battered, fried, and served with zesty bacon garlic sauce. It was a great start.

For the entrée, Mike and Chad—being original!—both ordered Grilled Chicken Fettuccine ($14). It consisted of fettuccine pasta tossed with wild mushrooms, broccoli, and feta cheese cream sauce, topped with marinated grilled chicken. I nibbled a piece of the chicken, and it was perhaps the tenderest I ever have tasted.

As I was the birthday boy, I picked one of the evening specials. The Seafood Platter ($28) offered eight grilled shrimp, six scallops, and one clutter of steamed crab legs.

With the chef’s choice of vegetable, and a trip to the salad bar, our group was stuffed to the gills.

Landmark Bistro offers excellent desserts, but I had a birthday cake from the producers, staff, and hosts of KSTP’s Twin Cities Live waiting for me back at our suite.

As we were leaving, the bartender offered us a Martini Flight—three colorful martinis, each made with Apple, Blue Curaçao, and Midori liqueurs.

To end this fabulous evening, it was straight to the Jacuzzi, with birthday cake and a couple bottles of champagne. I added Mr. Bubble to the water. Party: Part Two was off.

It may not have been the Caribbean or Hawaii, but I can’t remember a weekend of so much fun and laughter, or incredible food. Maybe it’s age!

John Michael Lerma is a local chef, author, and Food Network personality. His company Garden County Cooking offers cookbooks, cooking classes, consulting, private events, and culinary vacations to Italy and the Caribbean. Visit Check out his “Word of Mouth” blog under Extras at

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