Wampach's (Shakopee, MN)
Diners used to be the most important restaurants in America.
For infrequent celebrations you went to a supper club, but for a basic hamburger, chicken dinner, or two eggs sunny side up, the diner was where you ate. Diners were once everywhere, offering homemade meals because there was no other option.
Nowadays, family diners are being exterminated by chain restaurants. The corporate dining experience is predictable and acceptable, and lots of people appreciate that. It is admittedly handy to know that the same meal you can get in your town is available in Montpelier or Kalispell. But we want to support those remaining eclectic independent diners. We accept the risk of a lousy meal for a chance at a real homemade one.
All of which takes us to Wampach's in Shakopee. It is a small restaurant, decorated more for utility than fashion. The walls display local art and crafts, which are for sale. Area high-schoolers wait tables at night. And most everything is homemade.
Take the onion rings. They're huge, thick slices of onion, sweet and steaming hot. The batter is great, each ring being a crisp brown piece of irregular shape. Perfect onion rings, the homemade ones, are never perfectly round.
For dinner, there are several good choices. Try the walleye. Unlike the breaded, deep-fried walleye we're used to seeing, this one came lightly fried in a little oil, and the portion was huge. Barbecued ribs came with four huge meaty bones and their own sauce. The chicken fried steak was surprisingly good -- we loved the country gravy. Avoid the meatloaf, which lacked flavor of any kind. Order the liver and onions if you want to scare your children.
Soups change regularly. The ham and cabbage soup was very good, filled with chunks of ham, carrot and potato, but the bean soup was gluey with too much cornstarch.
The American fries, thin-sliced potatoes cooked on the grill, had just the perfect crispy bits and edges. Get the country gravy if you order the mashed potatoes. Unfortunately, the baked potato tasted like it had been sitting around for too long.
We love the pies: strawberry-rhubarb, red raspberry, apple and pumpkin, all available with a scoop of ice cream.
Wampach's half-pound hamburger was wonderful, but the cheese the kitchen uses isn't very good, so skip the cheeseburger. There are also sandwiches galore, including fish, club, Reuben and chicken varieties. Breakfast is available anytime.