Menno's Open Door
Bored with the homogenization of America’s restaurants? You’ll find culinary and cultural relief at the Open Door in Menno, where Rita Hoff has been serving German and farm country specialties since 1986.
Menno, a town of 780 in Hutchinson County, was settled by Germans from Russia. “We started getting requests for the foods we all grew up with,” Hoff explained. “Fleish kuchle is the favorite. It’s a big day when we serve it. I don’t think there is anybody who doesn’t show up.”
Hoff’s Tuesday menu always includes one or more German dishes. She bakes kuchen and donuts on Thursdays and serves a big buffet for the after-church crowd on Sundays. She and her husband, Jerome, alternate every Sunday: one goes to church and the other sets out the buffet.
The Open Door is a success story, but it would be hard to duplicate the décor or the entrees. A dry erase board of customers’ birthdays, recipe cards, a WNAX gas station sign, historic photos of Menno and an eclectic coffee cup collection that advertises current and long-gone local businesses all add atmosphere, but they’re just frosting on the cake.
The food is the essence of the Open Door. This is not a frozen-fries-and-burgers grill. Hoff makes each dish from scratch, and summer produce comes from local gardens. “One week we got a whole box of beans that didn’t sell at the farmer’s market,” she said. “It helps with expenses and it gives everybody a chance to eat fresh food.” She seems apologetic when she acknowledges she occasionally has to open a can of vegetables, or that she has been tempted to buy pre-made foods like most restaurants depend on these days.
“One time a salesman talked me into buying ready-made stuff,” she said. “Man, people noticed right away. They said, ‘You didn’t make your own macaroni salad.’ So I can’t do that anymore.”
Running a small town restaurant seven days a week is a challenge — even with donated green beans and plenty of happy diners. But Rita Hoff has good help, from her husband, Jerome, a county commissioner and a school bus driver, and several part time workers.
Rita and Jerome close the Open Door after the Sunday buffet and enjoy an afternoon to themselves. They often make a trip to visit their children in Brandon and Tea, and usually end up at a restaurant. We wondered whether the prepared foods were a disappointment. “If I can sit down and have someone wait on me I’m not real particular,” she laughed.
Rita’s Fleish Kuchle
Rita has been running the Open Door for over 25 years and said this is the perennial favorite dish. “It’s also the easiest to make,” she said. “You kind of enjoy making it more because they like it more.”
Her advice for first time fleish kuchle makers is to not use all the flour right away. “The dough will get tough,” she says. “Sometimes it takes a lot of practice with the dough to get it right.”
1 stick margarine
1 cup warm milk
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 cups flour — don’t add all
Melt margarine and cool. Add milk, baking power, salt and egg. Mix. Add flour (save 1/2 cup for working the dough).
4 pounds hamburger
Salt, pepper, chopped onion and seasoning salt to taste.
Mix meat mixture together after adding spices to taste. Roll out dough to thickness of pie dough. Cut into 4”x 4” squares. Put one heaping tablespoon of hamburger filling in center. Fold in half. Cut edges to seal. Fry at 350 degrees for 7 minutes.
Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the September/October 2011 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call 800-456-5117.