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Area Dining: The Black and White gets a gold star

The signature crab cakes at A.T. Black & White are pan-fried and served with spring mix greens and drizzled with a chipotle ranch dressing. Jeremy Millsop / Brainerd Dispatch 1 / 4
The A.T. Black and White garlic Cheesy Burger is the best selling burger, according to the menu. It's a one-third pound hamburger topped with a garlic cheese spread on a pretzel bun. The picture shows a half serving with a special order of onion rings. Jeremy Millsop / Brainerd Dispatch 2 / 4
Duck Wontons from A.T. Black & White in Little Falls are filled with duck confit, hot pepper bacon jam, corn and cream cheese and served with a sweet chili sauce. Jeremy Millsop / Brainerd Dispatch 3 / 4
The coconut curry shrimp lettuce wraps feature shrimp, onions, peppers and a homemade coconut curry sauce with fresh jicama slaw. Jeremy Millsop / Brainerd Dispatch 4 / 4

LITTLE FALLS—A casual day trip for a hike at Charles A. Lindbergh State Park in Little Falls turned into a surprising gourmet adventure.

Despite a loose itinerary, the day was executed in style thanks to a visit to A.T. The Black & White located on First Street in downtown Little Falls.

On a normal trip to Flyer country, a sporting event or a Pine Grove Zoo visit would be on the docket, but a dining experience was the goal and that's what was accomplished in this 1931 building that started as a hamburger shop, according to the restaurant's website.

The outside facade isn't attention-grabbing, but one step inside and patrons are flown to a unique and unexpected environment. It was a late Saturday afternoon and all the smaller tables and booths were filled.

A green, neon-lit AIRPORT sign dominated one wall, while murals of Little Falls and its past occupied the other. Old brick walls, hardwood cabinetry and tables and old books adorned the rest of the building for a warm, welcoming feel.

Then came the menu.

The Black & White is open for breakfast from 7-11 a.m. and all day on Sundays, but being late afternoon the dinner menu was in hand.

Choices were abundant, but being the first visit it was prudent to try as many things as possible. The appetizer menu was hit hard with orders of duck wontons, signature crab cakes and a coconut curry shrimp lettuce wrap.

Upon getting approval for the visit, a burger order was made mandatory and so a garlic cheesy burger with onion rings was also requested.

The newest of eight owners in the 82-year existence of the restaurant are Tomas and Amanda Zimmerman. They boast six expectations on a visit to their eatery, according to their website. The first is a beautiful atmosphere followed by a variety of micro-brews, innovative menu options, historic setting, friendly service and more.

All were accomplished as soon as the appetizers hit the table.

Eight homemade wontons filled with duck confit, hot pepper bacon jam, corn and cream cheese were served around a small bowl of sweet chili sauce. The smoky flavor was accented by the heat of the hot pepper and crunchiness of the wonton.

The crab cakes were appropriate in size and served with a spring mix of greens and a chipotle ranch dressing.

The final small dish of lettuce wraps was filled with not only shrimp, but a wonderful flavor combination from the onions, peppers, homemade coconut curry sauce and a delightful jicama slaw. The contrast of hot shrimp and the cold slaw wrapped in the lettuce was a nice reprieve from standard, deep fried and battered appetizers.

The burger was a one-third pound and topped with a garlic cheese spread on a pretzel bun. The saltiness of the bun worked well with the garlic cheese and the burger was prepared to perfection. Served with onion rings, that can also be found on the appetizer menu, the main course was a comfort food hit.

Other menu options included four different wraps that featured southwest chicken, turkey and wild rice, blackened shrimp and a chicken artichoke wrap.

Five different salad options were available with the Southwest Chicken salad being the best seller.

A number of interesting salads and burgers pepper the menu from a smokey beet Reuben, an olive burger, black bean burger, turkey artichoke, guacamole burger and a shrimp burger. There's also the option to build one's own burger along with the usual fan favorites.

Pasta, walleye, salmon, scallops, steak medallions and carnitas tacos are available on the entree menu that starts at 5 p.m. to close. Each dish comes with a special hint of uniqueness like the apricot risotto that accompanies the almond-encrusted walleye or the porcini salt-encrusted salmon over a bed of zucchini noodles tossed in fresh pesto.

Nightly specials are available and a frequently changing beer and wine menu is also advertised on the menu.

If it could be possible to have room remaining, a dessert menu included carrot cake, beer brownie sundae, creme brulee, strawberry rhubarb crisp and a Black & White Express, which is a dark chocolate mousse covered in dark chocolate ganache with a strawberry sauce, whipped cream and a white chocolate garnish.

It was a dining experience that hit all the right flavor notes in a historic town that offers many things to do before and after the meal.

Jeremy Millsop

My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.

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