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lifestyles Brainerd, 56401

Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

PINE RIVER — Prepare yourself for my foray into slogan writing.

“Bites Grill & Bar: no flash, all flavor.”

I’m not holding my breath for advertisement agencies to call, but that sums up my impression of Bites Grill & Bar south of Pine River.


I visited the eatery owned by Mary and John Zesbaugh, former owners of Manhattan Beach Lodge, on a busy Friday before Pine River-Backus hosted Pillager in a high school football game.

The large wood-sided building contains a bar area, dining room and banquet room and it was abuzz with business.

With a rustic northwoods decor, the dining area was warm and filled with smiling faces as the servers catered to the customers.

A first impression of the menu is expansive. The numerous options are broken into categories. For instance, there are two appetizer sections: Bites, for sampling, or sharables, for possible sharing.

I selected the walleye cakes, which were grilled and served with a lemon wedge and remoulade sauce. Visually unspectacular, the two cakes were filled with large chucks of walleye. It was the most expensive appetizer at $8.95.

Also sharing that price range are the chili nachos, spit-roasted chicken quesadilla and seafood-stuffed portabella. Other sharables include ricotta, oven-dried tomato and basil bruschetta, rib sampler and beer-battered portabella slices.

At $2.95, the Bites include: pot roast, Italian meat loaf, pork tostada, steak, smoky tuna, reuben or barbecue chicken.

Soups and salads are available as is a long list of sandwiches that range from $6.95 to $10.95.

There’s the Carolina pulled pork barbecue; Baja chicken wrap; shore lunch, which is a pan-fried walleye with American fries and sliced tomatoes; southwest sirloin steak; a Tiger burger — an homage to the local high school team — and the Patriot burger — a tribute to the rival high school south of the restaurant.

A pasta menu runs from $14.95 for a smoked salmon pasta with wild mushrooms, asparagus and penne to a $17.95 Mahi-Mahi mushroom pasta.

The most expensive item on the regular menu is the $21.95 Southwest ribeye steak, a 14-ounce char-broiled piece of meat said to be a lake country favorite for more than 20 years.

Other entree items are the Yankee pot roast, dry-rubbed pork brisket, chicken, honey-pecan crusted walleye and a St. Louis style barbecue pork ribs.

What’s unique about Bites is the “Weekly Whiteboard Specials.” An ever-changing smaller menu includes a cocktail, a bite, soup, sharable and dinner item of the week.

During my visit, one dinner item on the whiteboard was a beef braciole, which was a pounded sirloin stuffed with Parmesan, parsley and egg, slow braised in a red wine Marinara sauce and served over creamy polenta for $15.95.

It sounded good and tasted better than expected, but it lacked visual appeal.

That is my only knock on Bites, but I can’t be too critical because I would order the same dish again. After all, there is something to be said for substance over splash.

JEREMY MILLSOP, food writer, may be reached at 855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at