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The Fork: Welcoming diners of all kinds

By Lisa Young

Date Modified: 02/24/2014 11:22 PM

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NEW LONDON, Minn. — New London, with its artists, boutique shoppers, lake visitors and day trippers, was just crying out for a restaurant with conscience AND comfort food; a little gourmet without seeming out of reach or being out of pocketbook, according to New London native Cindy Swenson.

So Swenson and her cousin Suzanne Ziebarth came to the rescue, opening The Middle Fork Cafe last fall on the banks of the middle fork of the Crow River. The cafe focuses on made-from-scratch cooking, avoiding fried foods altogether. The Fork, as the two affectionately call their restaurant, is where diners of all stripes can find something for them, from coffee drinks and hearty lunches to decadent desserts and flavorful wines.

"A lot of people are asking for healthier options," Ziebarth said. "We're developing and adding as we can. We work really hard at trying to keep it fresh.The word is out that we have good food."

When the restaurant first opened, the community's response was so overwhelming Swenson and Ziebarth didn't have time or energy to throw a grand opening for their restaurant until late January. They're thinking of throwing another one when it's finally warm enough to open The Middle Fork Cafe's deck and fire up the grill.

So far, customers are loving the cafe's cowbody quiche, which includes lots of onions and bacon, and loaded hashbrowns at breakfast. The grownup grilled cheese and homemade soups are tops at lunch. Chef Barb Kotten cooks up dinners Thursday through Saturday, often featuring flatbread pizzas and pasta dishes along with the regular menu. Kotten creates a daily Hot Pick lunch special that have proven popular as well, ranging from stuffed pork tenderloin to chicken enchiladas.

"Sophisticated rustic" guided the pair as they began decorating The Middle Fork. Light fixtures that have been in the building for decades remained and tables made from barn rafters were added, as were heavy textures like stone.

In the past several months Swenson and Ziebarth have been working closely together, the two have found their skills and abilities compliment one another more than they imagined.

"We get excited about different things," Swenson said. "We ground each other, too."

The Fork aims to serve as a community gathering place beyond the food they serve. Local artists' work is displayed on the cafe's walls. Pastry chef Fernanda Letelier Herrera recently hosted a how to class featuring the restaurant's top dessert: strawberry pavolvas. It went over so well with attendees that not one, but two more how to classes are in the works.

The Middle Fork Cafe is open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and is closed Sunday.