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Lakes Area Dining:

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

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
(218) 855-5856