Over the past weekend, my wife and I brought my parents up to their summr home on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. For an early Father's Day, we treated them to dinner at Whistling Bird in Gilbert -- unquestionably the most "daring" restaurant on the Range.
Although the menu is rather extensive, this restaurant is known for its Caribbean dishes. The restaurant occupies a storefront on Broadway, a wide street running throught the heart of Gilbert. Greeting you on either approach on Broadway are flags from around the world. There is a bar entrance facing Broadway, and a dining room entrance from the parking lot. The interior is rather dark but gets brightened up with splashes of color. There is an enclosed "porch" dining area that is light and airy. No smoking in the dining room, but smoking is permitted at the tables in the bar.
When we were seated, the first thing I noticed was the card on our table that advised us the table had been reserved again at 8:00 (it was now 6:30). This made me not want to order an appetizer or dessert. We were also greeted by Toney Custis, the owner. Toney is from Jamaica (or he fakes it well). He welcomed us, explained how the Jamaican dishes are prepared, and offered us samples of the evening's special. He also checked in two more times to make sure everyhting was fine.
Our server was very attentive. But I also mention her because of her Northern Minnesota dialect. My mother's family is from the Iron Range. And if you've ever seen the movie "Fargo," I can assure you that the Minnesota dialects in that movie were a compliment to my relatives from the Iron Range. You betcha.
Although there was somthing for every palate on the menu, we all ordered Jamaican. My wife and father ordered the jerk chicken, my mother the jerk platter (chicken, pork, and shrimp), and I ordered the special - a pork prime rib with citrus and fig sauce. The jerk dishes are marinated in jerk seasoning then grilled. They also come with a side of jerk spices for the diner to do as he or she wishes. Sides are rice, beans, and fried corn bread. Soup or salad accompanies the meal.
I had the Caesar as my salad option per the recommendation of our server. It had a slight tang, and fortunately was not swimming in dressing. The dressing could've had a slightly stronger flavor, but that's being too picky. My pork was extremely tender, and was a two-rib portion served unseparated (yes, about 3 inches thick). The sauce was sweet with just enough acidity. It was not a spicy dish. I did get to sample my wife's chicken, which was moist and flavorful. The jerk spices were more about flavor than about heat. I was hoping my mother were share one of her jumbo shrimp, but when I went to ask, she had already devoured them all. They looked wonderful for the brief period I saw them.
Whistling Bird has a full liquor license. We all secided to try one of the fruity, froo-froo drinks, and they were fine. The wine list has about 10-15 red and white labels that are easily recognizeable, mainly Californian. But if we wanted a wine not on the list, Toney informed us he had some Romanian wines. We stuck to the froo-froo drinks, and I also had a Red Stripe beer. The beer list is larger than the wine list, and had plenty of domestic and imported choices.
Prices were average for the Twin Cities, probably a bit high for the Iron Range. The jerk chicken dishes were $14, and the platter was $20. My pork dish was $18. But all did come with soup or salad. We were presented with a tempting dessert tray, but all took a pass. The entrees with salad were plenty of food.
We paid and were free from our table by 7:55.
For those looking for something different from a franchise, supper club, or fish fry eatery on the Iron Range, I'd suggest giving Whistling Bird a shot. Reservations are recommended.