This is an especially intriguing venue because of the locale—overlooking the 28,000-acre Potholes Reservoir, which attracts duck hunters in droves every fall. And don’t forget that Grant County goose gunning is among the finest in the state. MarDon’s Beach Bar and Grill, which is open seven days a week, is but a single component of a much larger package at this all-in-one business venture. The availability of overnight lodging turns this place into a veritable duck camp during waterfowl season. Included are a motel, cottages, tent camping sites, a recreational vehicle park, marina, tackle and gift store, general store, and guide service. MarDon, a past Ducks Unlimited Silver Teal award winner, is unquestionably the largest operation in this article. The restaurant features daily specials, and the focal point is a fireplace, which adds to the atmosphere after a long day on the water.
Hunt and Harvest Cafe
Hunt and Harvest Cafe’s Judy Murray wanted to know where all the duck hunters came from. So she bought a leather-bound journal and placed it near the cash register. No one is forced to sign, but during the past six years, waterfowlers from up to 20 states have done just that, along with international gunners from New Zealand and France. Hunt and Harvest Cafe is located in the state’s northeast quadrant near the Dave Donaldson/Black River Wildlife Management Area, which covers approximately 25,000 acres. This cafe opens for breakfast at 6 a.m. The Duck Hunter’s Special includes eggs, meat, hash browns, a biscuit and gravy, and toast. If you’re really hungry, ask for the Big Breakfast, which features a plate-size pancake. The half-pound burger is the most popular lunch choice, but on Fridays you may want to try the catfish. The two dining rooms seat 68, and during hunting-season weekends, it’s not uncommon for both rooms to be full.
Chat and Chew Cafe
Wing, North Dakota
Perched on Main Street in downtown Wing (population 119), the Chat and Chew Cafe opens at 6 a.m. for duck and goose hunters visiting the heart of the Prairie Pothole Region. Waterfowl season, in fact, might be the busiest time of year for owner Shirley Nagel, who took over a landmark eatery and renamed it 15 years ago. This cafe seats 40, but an overflow can be accommodated by simply opening the door to the adjoining Wing Hotel. Lunch specials vary daily, but may include a roast beef plate, macaroni and super salad, pork roast, pork chops, or whatever else strikes Shirley’s fancy. Dinner is also available. Wing will celebrate its centennial in 2010, and in case you’re wondering, no, the town’s name did not originate from waterfowl, but rather a pioneer settler, Charles Wing.
Sportsman’s Inn and General Store
The lure of hunting Canada geese on the Eastern Shore has long been a part of the fabric of North American waterfowling. This region is one of the true classics. So it’s no coincidence the folks at the Sportsman’s Inn open their doors for breakfast at 4 a.m. during hunting season, often hosting 70 gunners a day, and more on weekends. Lunch may be just as popular, with hot turkey, roast beef, meat loaf, and other blue-plate specials on the menu. You don’t have to look far for wildlife art, which adorns the walls. This place was known as Vonnie’s for more than 30 years until ownership changed hands in 2004. While the old attached sporting goods store is now closed, there is a general store offering standard convenience products, highlighted by a selection of homemade pies.
The Cattails Bar and Grill
Under new ownership the past two years, Cattails has evolved into a duck hunter’s dream lunch and dinner stop. And why not? The theme is north woodsy, which perfectly fits the Midwest sportsman’s lifestyle. Wildlife art is everywhere, including an extensive display of Ducks Unlimited prints. A special meeting room upstairs—appropriately named The Blind—can be reserved for private functions. Hunters are bound to like the camouflage chair covers in The Blind. Faux ducks fly from the ceiling here, and the entryway’s wooden railing is emblazoned with the DU logo. Lunch? There is a variety of soup and sandwich choices, or you may want to order the fried walleye, a local favorite. Cattails offers seating for 80, and the tables have cloth covers, so be sure to leave your muddy boots outside.