Lakeside Hangouts: Dent eatery specializes in variety of pickled fare
DENT, Minn. - If visitors in Minnesota lakes country find themselves in a pickle about where to feast on some local yet nontraditional fare, Terry and Sharon Baumgart have a solution.
The Vergas residents have owned and operated The Pickle Factory Bar & Grill here for four years - and they've made it their mission to offer a menu unlike others around.
"We go out of our way to do something different," said the Baumgarts' 22-year-old daughter, Haley Frost, who's worked as the factory's chef since before she graduated high school.
The rustic-style restaurant is housed in an 1800s-era schoolhouse literally just off the beaten path of Otter Tail County Highway 41, north of the Silent lakes.
The locale offers traditional staples - like pizza, burgers and sandwiches - all with an innovative twist borne from the Baumgarts' secret family recipes, Frost said.
But her parents' creative juices didn't start with the restaurant.
The Baumgarts have been dreaming up homemade mixtures for years in a manner some say they perfected: pickling.
In the basement of the restaurant, the Baumgarts store the 150 varieties of pickled specialty goods they make - including vegetables, condiments, jams and desserts.
The delectables are all made on site using produce mostly grown and plucked by hand from the 2-acre garden out back, Frost said.
Some of the more unique options for sale include candied cucumbers, strawberry-jalapeño jam, grape applesauce and strawberry margarita ice cream topping.
Prior to 2007, the Baumgarts' pickling hobby had boomed from a flea-market favorite into a hot commodity, Frost said.
Her parents considered expanding their home kitchen to keep up with the demand, but then the opportunity arose to purchase the former District 66 Supper Club, where they worked, Frost said.
Now in the Baumgarts' hands, The Pickle Factory blends the spirit of a family restaurant with their pickling passion - giving yet another new life to the former schoolhouse.
Despite some additions, the restaurant still retains the original infrastructure of the schoolhouse - including the bell (which now clangs out of tune, revealing its age).
The Baumgarts manage the restaurant and oversee pickling production while Frost holds domain over the kitchen when she's not in class at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
"It's a big sense of pride," Frost said of the restaurant. "I see myself being here as long as my parents have it."
Frost and her parents experiment with the different cuisine they offer in the restaurant - but at the heart of it, Frost said, they stress quality, fresh ingredients and creativity.
For instance, patrons can start off with deep-fried pickles or green beans and then order a burger with their signature hot mustard or homemade BBQ sauce.
With all the choices available in lakes country, the Baumgarts said they understand the need to one-up their game against their competitors.
"We go in the opposite direction," Sharon Baumgart said. "We want to be different."
Frost joked with her mother about the endless hours and effort put into The Pickle Factory. Baumgart merely nodded in agreement and smiled.
"I love the challenge of it," Baumgart said, adding that "the people that you see - whether it's the regulars or the people who are just passing through - it really makes it worth it."