Last month, Think Tasty readers had the opportunity to choose the best restaurant in the Rocky Mountain region. With ten excellent restaurants from which to choose, it was a challenging decision. Until the last moment, patrons provided their votes and left comments praising their restaurants. When voting ended, the restaurant that earned the most votes was Pirogue Grille in Bismarck, North Dakota.
I was able to speak with Stuart and Cheryl Tracy, who own Pirogue Grille. This restaurant is almost five years old, having opened on September 20, 2005. For Stuart, this is another achievement in his career as a chef. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he has worked in the culinary world for 30 years. For Cheryl, this is her first venture into restaurant work. Stuart is the executive chef, and Cheryl kindly fills roles as needed, such as hostess.
Pirogue Grille is noted as having Midwest regional cuisine, which also could be called prairie cuisine. As Stuart noted, North Dakota is part of “the breadbasket of the world. We use beef, bison, and local lamb and pork. We have rabbit & venison.” He explained that proteins are what you’ll find regionally.
The menu has core items that don’t change; their regulars like that they can depend on finding their favorite items. However, that doesn’t mean that you will find the exact same dishes every visit. Stuart noted, “Seasonality shines in weekly specials.” Sauces and garnishes change. Desserts are updated constantly. Their breads, which are made at the restaurant, alternate between rye, white, flax, sunflower, and more.
Bread is not the only item that is homemade; most of the items are. Stock used at the restaurant is homemade. While that may not be surprising, this may be: they do their own charcuterie work. They make pancetta, sausage, bacon, sausages. They even make their own curry paste.
Of course, every location has its advantages and disadvantages. One benefit is that they are in North Dakota, a state that has a surplus in its budget. This means that the client base feels comfortable going out to eat. Another benefit is that they have local barley, flax, beef, barley; this location provides a nice palate of flavors to work with. A disadvantage to this location is that fish has to be flown in. Stuart is not a big proponent of doing sushi 1500 miles from coast.
From the poll it is obvious that Pirogue Grille has a loyal base of patrons. Stuart explained, “My first thought is the consistency they get. They consistency of the food, the cleanliness of the restaurant. The staff has been with us since the beginning. We don’t have peaks and valleys, it is the same this Friday and will be the same next month on a Friday. We put emphasis on our food and service.”
As our conversation was ending, I did have one final question, why is it named the Pirogue Grille? Stuart explained, “The pirogue is one of the vessels Lewis and Clark used.” Dining here should be considered a culinary journey to pirogue.