Brainerd, MN – September 17, 2012
“Let’s see what we got,” Jess said.
She led me out of the bar and through a pair of swinging doors into the back of The Chap, a restaurant on the outskirts of Brainerd down County Road 3.
The kitchen glowed bright and alive. Her dad moved from one spot to the next, opening bins and chopping fruit, as he prepped food for the day. He smiled and waved us past a wall of ovens, grills, and fryers to the refrigerator’s large silver door. Jess threw it open and we walked inside. For someone who’d been eating macaroni and cheese for a days, it felt a bit like walking into a bank’s vault with an empty wallet.
“Whatever you want,” she said, handing me a box. “Take it.”
Cinnamon buns and pans of lasagna hung in racks. Blocks of cheese and boxes of fresh fruit lined shelves next to bags of carrots and broccoli. A tray of chicken waited for the oven along with a platter of wild rice.
I’ve resupplied in strange places before–small gas stations, a barrel of extra food someone had left, a post office in the middle of nowhere–but I’ve never even been inside a restaurant’s freezer before and certainly not with a box and an invitation to fill my kayak with whatever I wanted. I hesitated, not sure what to do, so Jess started piling things in for me.
She’s a traveler, home for a bit, but once you travel like her, you never forget what great food can do for your spirits. Where I was shy, she was bold, stacking enough food in the box for a week, filling it with bags of cinnamon buns and wild rice, a tray of bread and sliced turkey, carrot sticks and cups of ranch dressing, thick slices of lasagna, stacks of crackers, a block of cheese, and chunks of cantaloupe.
Jess looked in the box for a moment and ran back into the refrigerator.
“Frosting,” Jess said. “You need frosting.”
She pulled out a giant bowl and poured cups of frosting in a bag for the cinnamon buns. She might as well have spooned out happiness.
“That should get you a bit of the way to Minneapolis,” she said.
Her dad came by to grab something and check our progress.
“You sure you don’t have any way to keep things cold,” he asked. “I could make something, whatever you want.”
Jess shot him a look.
“Dad, it’s a kayak,” she said.
“What if we froze it solid?” he asked.
I shook my head and he looked deflated, like he wished he could do more, like opening up the restaurant’s freezer and handing me an empty box was something anyone would do for a stranger. He sighed and went back to the kitchen to continue prepping for the day, but somehow a bag of fresh-baked cookies found their way into the box before I left, stuffed full of chocolate with a crisp edge and soft middle.
They’d keep for days, even in a kayak, until I ate the last one, returned to macaroni and cheese and dreams of the freezer in the back of The Chap.
If you’re ever in Brainerd, MN and want some delicious food, stop at the Chap (their burgers are fantastic, but sadly cannot be transported for days down the river on a kayak!). Here’s their website: http://thechaprestaurant.com/