Summer is defined by foods that divide into two camps — fresh fare, like salads and grilled fish, and comfort foods, the usual round-up of ribs, burgers, brats and deep-fried anything on a stick. At Chet’s Lakeside Inn, summer is defined by its version of the ultimate comfort food — fried chicken.
Located 13 miles north of Alexandria on Lake Irene, Chet’s is a seasonal restaurant, closed six weeks in the winter from the Saturday before Christmas to a few days before Valentine’s Day. This year is its 56th season.
Chester Hjelm spent much time during his childhood cooking for a large family alongside his mother. Their favorite food? You guessed it… fried chicken. During that time he developed his own recipe, which he calls Swedish chicken. What makes it Swedish? “Chester was Swedish and very proud of it,” says Cheri Tomford, Chester’s daughter.
From an early age, Chester’s kids pitched in at the restaurant, learning to cook his fried chicken. Although Chester passed away 18 years ago, the restaurant continues to run as a family business under the ownership of his wife Charlotte and help from their daughter, son-in-law (bartender), and nephew (head cook).
During the season Chet’s serves chicken dinners to loyal regulars — one couple eats there every night at the same table — as well as to visitors to the area. Some diners come in once per year when they spend time at their nearby cabin. “They often ask to be seated at the same table they ate at last time, and most of the time I can remember where that was,” says Tomford. “We get to know the customers like they are family.”
But about that chicken…
Although deep fried to a golden hue, Chet’s chicken is served without even a hint of greasiness. Instead, the wafer-thin skin is light and crisp, encasing the generously plump, moist meat. The quarter portion of meat (choose white or dark) is plenty, but some diners choose the half-chicken portion (white, dark, or mixed) planning to take home leftovers.
Dinners are served with choice of potato and unlimited trips to the salad bar. Plates can be piled high with iceberg lettuce and all the toppings including potato salad and coleslaw, with a side of chicken noodle soup and, of course, whipped chocolate mousse for dessert. For the lighter appetite, baskets are an option, which come with just a choice of potato.
The busiest nights are Friday and Saturday, but visiting on a Sunday, when the restaurant runs its quarter chicken ($9) and half chicken ($11) specials, is a clear value play.
Chet’s Lakeside Inn
15681 County Road 102 NE
Parkers Prairie, MN 56361
OWNER: Charlotte Hjelm
HOURS: 5-9pm Wed-Mon
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: No
ENTREE RANGE: $10-15