[Chef Sara Watson & Terri Trickle]
Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography
When childhood friends, Sara Watson and Terri Trickle noticed The Pickle Factory near Dent, Minn., was up for sale, they couldn't resist the challenge. Despite the odds of opening a restaurant during a pandemic, the two were determined to redesign the historic schoolhouse into a dining destination. Keeping it casual for the area's lake patrons, they worked together to create a bar and menu that would pay homage to the building's past, explore fresh fusions, and delight their guests with nostalgic offerings. If you're ready to get a higher education in culinary studies, raise your hand and find your seat at Blackboard.
Recipe for Success
While Chef Sara Watson is well known for her past successes with Mosaic Catering, Mezzaluna, and Rustica, May 29 marked the day she would embark on a new adventure with longtime friend, Terri Trickle. Together, they spent nearly the entire month of June remodeling the old schoolhouse and designing an eclectic bar and dining experience, unlike anything in the area. This time, Sara's husband, Chef Eric Watson, is staying out of their kitchen, remaining as the Executive Chef at Urban 42 and Delta Hotels by Marriott Fargo. While Trickle and Watson are both Moorhead residents, their commute is made easier with frequent visits to their family's lake homes just a couple of miles from Blackboard.
Opening their doors in late June, Blackboard has quickly found an appreciative following with patrons traveling from around the lakes area and making the hour trip from Fargo-Moorhead. Since their soft opening, the line to get in has been out the door, with guests safely distanced near the bar, in the seasonal porch, on the deck, and in the yard.
While some of the menu's offerings are reminiscent of Chef Watson's favorites, many are brand new and ever-changing fusions. Her focus has always been on fresh, high-quality ingredients, but this time, she takes a more casual, Midwestern approach, changing the menu often to accommodate seasonal produce and locally-sourced meats. While following the state's guidelines, they can't yet adorn the tables as they'd like to, but guests are more than happy with the beauty arriving from the kitchen.
For Watson, her Midwest twist on old favorites includes a buttermilk fried chicken breast with dill aioli, a not-so-basic burger, and savory sandwiches like the open-face tuna and artichoke melt, The Italian, and open-face roast veggie melt. Starters offer nostalgic "Lunch Lady" favorites like K's Pretzels and house-made french onion dip, the Crock au Lil' Smokies with BBQ sauce and pickles, housemade mozzarella sticks, or fresh-cut sweet potato fries with maple marshmallow fluff. Make sure to try their "School Lunch Lady" Pizza - made Caprese style or with your choice of roasted poblano pepper and chorizo.
Prefer a picnic-style dinner on the patio? Try their Sweet BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich with creamed corn, tobacco onions and Blackboard Slaw. On the lighter side, Blackboard offers a Maple Chicken Salad Croissant, Roasted Beet Salad with Gorgonzola, and Roast Chicken Caesar Salad with house-made croutons. Finish your night out with sweet treats from the candy shop or try one of their homemade desserts like the Espresso Cream Frosted Chilled Brownie, Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich, and Fresh Summer Peach Crumble with Ice Cream.
new arriv als to the menu:
New Arrivals to the menu:
Caesar Salad Wrap, Pork Picadillo Stuffed Onion, and the Birdseed Turkey Burger with wild rice, pepitas, cremini mushrooms, toasted almonds, sunflower seeds, Boursin cheese and black beans.
If the Door's Open, the Bar's Open!
At the bar, Trickle serves a specially curated selection of wines, chosen with the expertise of Fargo sommelier, Jean Taylor. You'll also find a large selection of beers and signature drinks like the Blackboard Bloody Mary.
Since their opening, Trickle and Watson have made a point of keeping Blackboard cozy and casual, leaving fine dining in the city. "It's not fine dining at all; it's a bar on the side of the road on Highway 41 in Otter Tail County. It's a nearly 100-year-old school building and all we really did was remove a lot of stuff, paint and clean everything," said Trickle. "The only thing we've added is better glassware and equipment. I'm really grateful that in the midst of a pandemic, we didn't lose hope and lose sight of the idea that something really joyful can come from something so difficult."
Trickle also works at Minnesota Public Radio and has a background in painting, construction, and remodeling, so she was able to manage all of the restaurant's renovation. Her dad, Dave Trickle, visits nearly every day to assist with any additional fixes that may arise.
Her husband, Drew Sandberg, provided his own photographic artwork for the walls - all imagery found in Otter Tail County. Once they are more established, Watson and Trickle hope to continue the remodel to the finished basement, providing even more indoor seating.
"It's been a lot of hard work, muscle, music, and a few tears," said Trickle. "When we first started, Sara and I just looked at each other and said, nothing ventured, nothing gained! I love seeing how proud our kids are. Our husbands and families have been so supportive, and all of our kids have helped out in some way, fixing things, working in the kitchen, doing dishes, and bussing tables when we need an extra hand."
With Blackboard's beautifully wooded backyard, deck, and covered porch space, locals have been eager to visit; especially on Thursday nights for live music. Due to the guidelines on limited seating, they don't take reservations, but they can offer groups catered or hosted events in the porch and yard. Right now, they are only using the immediate portion of the yard, but Trickle and Watson have plans in place to expand further out, redesigning the property's shed and additional landscape to create a sweets shop, bar, and garden backdrop for weddings and tented events. Next summer, the county's new bike trails leading through Maplewood State Park will be completed at the edge of their property, so the shed may also serve as a water station and quick stop sandwich shop for hikers and bikers.
Blackboard will be open year-round, with plans to host an array of events like karaoke nights, bingo and raffles. In the midst of summer, Trickle and Watson have already envisioned Blackboard as a winter hotspot for snowmobilers and cross-country skiers alike. They are also in talks with the property's neighbors to host horse-drawn sleigh rides around the lake, through the woods, and back to Blackboard for their signature hot toddies.
With Blackboard already thriving, their team is on the grow and hoping to expand their hours soon. They are currently hiring for all positions, creating a unique experience to work beside one of the region's most celebrated chefs, in the heart of lakes country.
For more information, contact:
Catering & Hosting: firstname.lastname@example.org
Midwest Nest Magazine is a monthly print and digital publication that focuses on culture around the upper midwest.