Boondocks offers friendly service and great homecooked food
By Carol Stender
Date Modified: 06/14/2012 2:55 PM
Location: 201 Jefferson St. S., Wadena.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays; and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.
Customer favorite: The baked chicken dinner served from 11 a.m. until close Thursdays and on Sundays. The chicken receives Boondocks' special blend of spices, is browned, then baked. A meal is complete with homemade mashed potatoes, coleslaw and a dinner roll for $6.50. Sunday dinners are also a hit. Chicken and six other specials are served: smoked ribs (smoked at the cafe;) deep fried shrimp; deep fried cod; ham steak; Swiss steak; meatballs; and herb-roasted pork. Sunday meals are $7.95 or less.
Contact: Dale and Michele "Shelly" Salge at (218) 631-1353.
WADENA —Dale and Michele "Shelly" Salge traded one commitment for another when they sold their Brooten dairy farm for a Wadena diner in the early 1980s.
It was a tough time.
"There were a lot of people who got out of dairy farming then," Shelly Salge said.
Together with Dale's parents, Frank and Eleanor, the couple purchased Eileen's Kitchen, which they later named the Boondocks.
The elder Salges had operated a cafe in Brooten for several years.
The younger Salges started the new cafe on April 15, 1984, Shelly Salge said. The former owner, Eileen Westergren, worked with them for two weeks and taught them day-to-day operations.
It was a good business. The kitchen was small and there were 60 chairs for customers. The Salges changed locations once before purchasing Wadena Cafe. They gutted it and redesigned to create a large kitchen and ample seating.
At Boondocks, cooks hand-peel spuds for mashed potatoes.
A customer favorite is the baked chicken. It is coated in a special blend of spices developed by the Salges. It's browned, then baked. It's featured as a Thursday special from 11 a.m. to close. The special is served with mashed potatoes, coleslaw and a dinner roll for $6.50.
The chicken dinner is also one of seven Sunday specials that include smoked ribs, deep-fried shrimp and cod, ham steak, Swiss steak, meatballs and herb-roasted pork.
Beer-batter walleye is the Friday night special; it's served with soup, salad or coleslaw, toast and baked or baby red potatoes for $8.25.
Breakfast is served from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and features hand-grated hash browns and omelets.
Two to three breakfast specials are offered every morning, ranging in price from $4.30 to $6, she said. Skillet meals include hash browns topped by an omelet.
The Salges offer "The Big Jake," named after one of their sons. It is a 2 1/2 pound burger with bacon and cheese, served with soup, salad or fries. The hamburger is just that, a burger with a slice of ham topped with three cheeses. The Salges also offer other sandwiches, including bacon, lettuce and tomato, egg salad, tuna salad and a club.
All soups are made from scratch, Shelly Salge said. A highlight is the noodle soup featured on Mondays. Dale Salge makes homemade noodles.
Five years ago the couple added barbecued ribs, prepared in the cafe's smoker.
Boondocks offers a senior meal program through Lutheran Social Services.
Dale's father died 11 years ago and his mother helped at the restaurant until two years ago, Shelly said.
"It's the people that keep us going," Shelly said. "I like the people from the customers to our employees. The employees are friends as well as employees. Being part of the community is also important. We didn't realize how much that mattered until after the tornado."
A June 17, 2010, tornado struck near the Salges' home. They live only a few blocks from Wadena High School, which was severely damaged by the twister. They received no damage to their house, but, because electricity was off, the couple found friends who would take the children in while the couple went to the restaurant to check out the business. It was unscathed, but decisions had to be made. Should they or shouldn't they open for business the next day?
It was a tough decision, Shelly said. In the end, they decided it was important for the community to have a gathering place. The couple contacted employees and, when they opened, people came, sharing stories of survival and telling tales about the destruction.
That's what it's all about, she said. It's family.