Geez, Even Fargo Has Gone Upscale

Fargo, N.D., doesn’t have a great reputation, which is exactly why my 13-year-old and I decided to visit.

Perhaps best known for “Fargo,” the Oscar-winning 1996 film noir by the Coen brothers about a kidnapping gone wrong — the movie ends with a body in a wood chipper — the city has been struggling to recover its reputation ever since. The TV series inspired by the film, recently renewed for a fifth season, didn’t help.

My older daughter, Anya, and I spend our free time watching true-crime documentaries and listening to the local police scanner (we’re crime fanatics through and through), and I thought Fargo would be the perfect place for us to bond over gruesome wood chippers, potential body snatching and all the gore that went into our favorite film.

We had plenty of expectations: It would be a very sleepy community that says “geez” in every sentence, has lots of diners and lots of farmers. And while the police scanner in Fargo may not be very active, it could have some interesting stories (fingers crossed, we said).

In 2002, the city launched a master redevelopment plan with projects spanning 15 years, including massive tax incentives to reinvest in downtown Fargo and totally restore Broadway (the main downtown street). A 2017 plan outlined strategies to bring additional housing and businesses, and to turn some streets into pedestrian walkways.

The entire downtown — about 100 blocks — has been transformed from plot after plot of surface parking lots and vacant buildings to an area sporting boutique stores, James Beard-award-winning restaurants, a popular university and a community plaza.

In the last four years, more than $300 million in public and private investments have reshaped Fargo. Fargo now looks like a mini-mix between Toronto and Madison, Wis. It’s filled with coffee shops, one-of-a-kind stores, local food and bizarre attractions — perfect for a weekend visit.

And my 13-year-old’s verdict: It wasn’t at all crime-laden, sadly. But she was so focused on shopping, that she nearly forgot to listen to the scanner.

Anya has shopped in Paris, London and New York. And here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: She now prefers the stores in Fargo to those anywhere else in the world. They’re relatively inexpensive, they’re quirky, and you won’t find duplicates anywhere else.

Those looking for shopping could spend all day on Broadway. Downtown Fargo doesn’t have chain stores, so Broadway is riddled with small boutiques selling everything from kitschy souvenirs to high-end clothing.

Mr. Nitschke, a Fargo native, received a James Beard best chef in the Midwest nomination and two AAA Four Diamond awards. The highlight of the menu is the cheese plate, which is large enough for two; it’s stinky, varied, and comes with domestic and imported selections. The dinner menu rotates frequently, but everything is caught, killed and milked locally, if possible.

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