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Fine-tuning dining

DETROIT LAKES - Whether it's new ideas or new recipes, Michael Mercil is always cooking up something.

The chef, business owner and television host has been involved in the restaurant industry since he was a child.

His parents opened the Speak Easy restaurant in Moorhead

30 years ago. He and his parents opened the Speak Easy in Detroit Lakes seven years ago.

Three years ago Mercil (not the Mike Marcil, CEO of The Marcil Group Inc.) opened The Little Easy on the Green in the Detroit Country Club.

The seasonal restaurant is open to the public from mid-April through October and available for private parties in November and December.

It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with menu items ranging from burgers to Torinado Gorgonzola, which is beef tenderloins served over grilled Texas toast and topped with gorgonzola cheese sauce.

Q: How did you get started in the food industry?

A: I can remember busing tables during Mother's Day when I was 9 years old.

It's a family business. It didn't matter how old you were, they were going to make you work.

After that it was dishes. After that it was salads and then busing, hosting, waitering, bartending, cooking, baking - all of those things - there wasn't anything I didn't do in the business, including bookkeeping.

What is your favorite aspect of the business?

I have really taken a liking to the cooking.

I actually have my own cooking show on Channel 3. It's called "Easy Gourmet." It's on every day and people love it.

Tell me about your show.

It's a public channel.

What I do is I have four guests that I round up around town.

I prepare something that is either a new special at the Speak Easy or a new special at The Little Easy or something that I just think people should try at home.

Every other week I will record about three shows at a time.

How did it come about?

It was kind of an idea that I've always wanted to do and Channel 3, being local ... I just kind of pitched (the owners) an idea one day about doing a show and they came over one time and videotaped me and really liked it.

Every day someone stops me and says, "I saw your show, I love it."

It isn't one of those "blah, blah" shows that you see sometimes on public TV where the people are boring. We have cocktails and get kind of funny. By the third show, they're hilarious.

When is it on?

It's on 2:15 a.m. and p.m., 6:15 a.m. and p.m. and 10:15 a.m. and p.m.

It runs for a whole week.

What made you decide to open The Little Easy?

The board of directors of the country club was looking for a change.

So, they put it out on bids. Seven different businesses were asked if we were interested in bidding on the golf course. We won.

What are some of your more interesting menu items?

The two butter steaks. The butter steak medallions are very unique.

The summer shrimp, the Torinado Gorgonzola is another great dish.

All the sauces are homemade. We start with the best product. We start with the best possible meat we can get, the best possible seafood.

We have a macadamia-crusted grouper topped with a mango chutney, which is to die for.

A lot of times people are coming in between meals and they just want a little snack. We're designing a menu that works great for the type of service that is required out here. We have such a unique menu because we serve burgers and sandwiches all day if that's what they want.

How has business been going?

When we started the business, we had quadrupled it in one year. We've been staying very consistent.

But there's a lot of Fargo-Moorhead people that are so unaware of this location and they're always so scared to come to a country club because they think that you need a membership. This is completely open to everybody.

We've even started doing karaoke on Friday nights to try to get some of the bar crowd out here. We're going to do it right outside so you can sit at the tiki bar and sing your heart out.

The tiki bar seats almost 20 people and has the most magnificent view of the course.

How does the D.L. Speak Easy compare with the Moorhead restaurant?

The menus are very similar. They're almost identical, but one thing that we wanted to do different than a lot of the chains do is we wanted to give you a reason to try the other restaurant.

We had to go after the tourists. They wanted an awesome menu. They wanted incredible presentation. They wanted the food to be just out of this world. So we had to step it up a notch with some new items.

We bought the building over a year ago and totally remodeled the whole joint. We leased it for the first five years.

It's set up with banquets. We have a ballroom called the Ritz Ballroom with crystal chandeliers. It's decorated in the 1930s (style). It's just beautiful.

Moorhead (Speak Easy) is just an amazing place. The atmosphere, we can't quite duplicate because that place was set up to be a dinner theater with the different levels. We just have the one flat level. However, we've tried to make it unique.

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