EUCLID, Minn. — I don’t remember what I was looking for. But there it was, a 2014 article from Food & Wine magazine on my computer screen, telling me about “The Best Ribs You’ll Ever Have in the Middle of Complete Nowhere.” Complete nowhere, I learned, was a small town called Euclid, in northwestern Minnesota, at a diner called the One N Only.
I’ve lived here for 34 years and had never heard of Euclid. Even more troubling, I was born in Kansas City, where barbecue is a passion. How had I missed this? The word “quest” came to mind.
Given the pandemic, I was unsure whether the restaurant was still open, so I called and spoke to Chris Weiland, the owner.
“Still open?” I asked.
“Are the ribs still as good?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said, then paused. “They’re better.”
I looked up Euclid on a map. Population 149. Ninety miles from home. Too far for the promise of an extraordinary meal? Not at all.
My wife and I invited some friends and we set a date. The drive, on a warm and sunny afternoon up Highway 75 was a reminder of how beautiful the Northern Plains can be. And there was the promise of good food ahead of us.
Chris knew we were coming. When we arrived, he said he’d reserved the best table for us, a window setting. There was even a little paper tent with a handwritten “reserved” on it.
Our server, Erin, was immediate and friendly. Of course, we ordered drinks and appetizers, shrimp nachos in a queso sauce, where the shrimp were the nachos, cheese potato wedges with bacon, and onion rings. It was all very good. Salads came in paper bowls and were mostly ignored because, well, it was salad. We were in the mood for theater.
Then came the meals and, as Erin delivered the plates, our table grew quiet. The prime rib was huge.
The ribs, covered in sauce, glistened in the summer light.
“Oh my,” someone said.
There will never be universal agreement on the perfect plate of ribs, but those served at the One N Only would come close. They are not showoff hot. They are mellow and sweet and tender. Every bite is a joy. There is something beyond the sweet, though. There is some kind of back-kick. Something that makes the palate want to linger or return. A smokiness, perhaps. And they did fall off the bone.
I asked my friends for evaluations.
“The sauce is abundant,” I was told. “They didn’t miss a molecule of meat with the sauce.”
“It’s a knife and fork plate of ribs.”
“The prime rib had a good peppery crust.”
“It’s good. It’s huge. It’s yummy. The prime rib was done to the right doneness. I don’t order a lot of prime rib at restaurants because I’m always disappointed, but here I’m not.”
My wife, Maureen, who has lots of Missouri barbecue history, said, “These are good! Not too spicy. Like candied bacon, in a way.”
“These hash browns are really nicely cooked,” one friend said. “They are crispy outside and buttery inside. They are exactly what I want from restaurant hash browns.”
“Which tells me,” another added, “they do really good grill work here.”
Erin, our server, confirmed the recipe is a secret.
“The barbecue sauce gets a lot of compliments and Chris will not tell anyone the recipe. I’ve tried,” she said.
“Pretty much everything he makes is his recipe,” she continued. “Homemade fries. Homemade potato salad. The garlic mashed potatoes are his. Everything.”
After dinner, I spoke with Chris in the kitchen as he plated a serving of pasta Alfredo with onion, Cajun sausage, pepper, a beautiful creamy sauce, and then plated a grilled sandwich, never missing a step.
“Did you go to cooking school?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “My parents bought this place when I was 12 or 13 years old. It was mostly a grocery store then. I bought it when I was 25. I’m 44 now. We started out with a bar. Then the smoking ban happened and I started getting more into food. It took off from there.”
“This is not stuff you just do,” I said.
“A lot of research,” he said. “The first ribs I ever made were not very good. I studied the internet. Eventually we came up with the recipe we have now. It’s been the same recipe now for over a decade.”
“It takes two days to make these ribs. They are marinated, boiled, chilled, baked. I can’t say beyond that,” he said.
“If no one else can cook the ribs, aren’t you trapped in your own kitchen?” I asked.
“We go on vacation in December,” he says.
“You mean somebody else has cooked your ribs?”
“No. We have a three-day supply. I make all the sauce before we leave. Then no one can have ribs until I get back.”
I imagine an entire town waiting, peering with anticipation down the long view of Highway 75. Yes, the food is that good.
When we left, ample leftovers secure in the back seat, the drive home was even prettier. The meal was worth every mile.
W. Scott Olsen is an author and professor of English at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.