The Toasted Frog Continues to Bring Creative Food and a Hip Atmosphere to Downtown Grand Forks
By Marla DeFoe
Ask anyone from Grand Forks where you should go for dinner on a Friday night, and many will respond, “The Toasted Frog;” and it’s always followed by “and try the cheesy pickles.” The inviting casual atmosphere, colorful art, friendly service, and creative food choices have made The Toasted Frog a destination for nearly 17 years.
Nestled in downtown Grand Forks, The Toasted Frog is located in a building that was built in the 1880s. The eclectic ambiance and historical features combine for a unique dining experience. Colorful art by local artists line the original exposed brick walls, including paintings by manager, Jessie Thorson.
While chatting with co-owner Shawn Clapp, I asked him about the history of the iconic restaurant, specifically the unique name. “Kim Holmes, who I consider a mentor, and my dad were sitting around a campfire with me, and we were chatting about fun names for restaurants. We all claim that we came up with the name,” he laughs. “But I’m pretty sure it was Kim who came up with ‘The Toasted Frog’.” I told him one day I was going to use that name, and I filed a copyright the next day. Ten years later, the Toasted Frog opened.
Shawn considered Kim Holmes to be his mentor and friend, and he considers Kim’s influence to be a big part of who he has become as a restaurant owner. Shawn’s first experience in the food service industry was as a busboy at Holmes’ Sanders restaurant. “He always expected me to work hard, and I still do,” says Shawn.
So what makes The Toasted Frog so special? “The people who work here drive this place,” says Shawn. “They truly are a blessing.” Shawn considers all his employees a big extended family, and all have contributed to the success and uniqueness of The Toasted Frog. While talking about the food, Shawn mentioned the revamped Butcher’s Board, a collection of meats, cheeses, and other seasonal accompaniments. “Louie, one of our servers, wanted to try his hand at updating the appetizer. Now he comes in once a week and orders the items that will be featured on the butcher board,” says Shawn.
Jessie says that the same staff creativity can be found while exploring the cocktail menu. “We are known for our martinis, and there are so many different choices here,” she says. With over forty different martinis on the menu, ranging from the standard gin martini to unique creations such as the Ribbit and the Banana Cream Pie martini, there is a cocktail for every taste, and they are very popular with the customers. “Our bartenders have the best forearms in town from shaking martinis,” laughs Jessie.
Beyond the extensive martini menu, The Toasted Frog also offers over 100 bottles of wine, unique liquors, local and non-local beers, and the popular “Temperance Drinks,” which offer all the fun of a cocktail, without any of the alcohol.
When talking about the food served at The Toasted Frog, you cannot ignore the most popular appetizer on the menu, the cheesy pickles. Dill pickle spears wrapped in Havarti cheese and wonton wrappers, fried to crispy golden perfection, are a can’t-miss menu item. Shawn tells the story of how the cheesy pickles came to be a mainstay of the menu. “I was playing around with ingredients in the kitchen, and I passed a plate of the pickles to a few tables around the restaurant. Everyone enjoyed them, but said it needed a spicy sauce. So we added the sriracha dipping sauce.” Word spread, and everyone wanted them. So they became a permanent addition to the menu.
Other popular dishes include the fish tacos, wood-fired pizza, and wasabi mashed potatoes. Daily specials include a steak dish, a seafood dish, and a pasta dish. “Our seafood is flown in fresh overnight,” says Shawn. “It’s not often that living here people are able to order a fresh seafood dish.” Their daily pasta specials feature pasta from Three Farm Daughters, a locally founded pasta company. Their tomatoes and microgreens are sourced from Meadowlark Garden out of Park River, North Dakota. “We try and work with local growers whenever we can,” says Shawn. “Our herbs, mushrooms and other ingredients are all locally sourced whenever possible.”
Since opening its doors in 2006, The Toasted Frog has opened additional locations in Bismarck and Fargo. The menus at each location vary somewhat, but the theme remains the same. “American eclectic fusion,” says Shawn. Taking fresh ingredients and giving a twist to local American favorites has helped The Toasted Frog become the place for meeting friends, celebrating birthdays, first dates, and everything in between.
Jessie says, “We are so fortunate to have the most wonderful regulars. They thank us whenever they leave, which is so different than most restaurants.” Shawn adds, “The people, one hundred percent, are the reason we are so successful.”
While the regular customers drive the neighborhood feel of the place, new customers are welcomed daily, most by recommendation of locals and rave reviews online. “We love the new faces and new stories,” says Jessie. “We are super popular for 21st birthdays. Parents want their kids to have a good meal before they head out on the town to celebrate,” she laughs.
What defines The Toasted Frog are the people who walk through the doors. From the casual farmer looking for a pizza and a cold beer after a long day of work, to the couple dressed to the nines looking for a special meal to celebrate an engagement, The Toasted Frog caters to all. “The beauty of this place is that you can make it whatever you want,” says Shawn. “What you are doing defines who we are.” Customers are sure to find something familiar, and something a little more eclectic, with every visit to The Toasted Frog.
Creative. Consistent. Approachable. Customer-driven. All words that define this icon of Downtown Grand Forks. Stop in for a martini and some pickles. You won’t be disappointed.
// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here
From Issue 1, 2023
PHOTOS BY: Manstrom Photography