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It's been closed for 11 years, but customers of a Dilworth restaurant can't stop talking about that food

It was known as Cully's, then Willy's, but whatever the name, some food lovers still remember their homestyle dishes.

willys
Willy's in Dilworth, Minn., in March 2011 shortly before it closed.
Forum file photo
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DILWORTH, Minn. — The old saying might be “an elephant never forgets,” but I think it's taste buds that don't forget.

The other day, I was scrolling through the Facebook group “If you grew up in Moorhead, then you remember" when I saw a post someone made about Cully’s restaurant (later Willy’s) in Dilworth, right on Center Avenue/Highway 10, just east of the Hi-Ho.

The restaurant opened in the early 1930s as the Dilworth Cafe. Then it became Durhams, then Savard's, then Cully's, and by the 1970s the popular neighborhood restaurant and bar changed its name to Willy's. It closed in 2011.

Cullys.jpg
A couple believed to be Carl “Cully” Bergquam and his wife, Laura, in front of their restaurant at 112 Center Ave. in Dilworth, Minn., in the 1960s. The restaurant would be sold and renamed Willy's in the 1970s.
Contributed / Clay County Historical and Cultural Society / Clay County Archives

No matter what it was called, people on this particular Facebook thread couldn’t stop talking about the great atmosphere and the delicious food served there. In fact, the thread took off like a locomotive.

(Get it? That’s my attempt at a shoutout to anyone who went to Dilworth High School back when they were the Locos.)

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READ MORE: Dilworth fixture Willy's closes

Anyway, the conversation turned to how the mom and pop restaurant was the place to go for families or even on date night.

“My dad proposed to my mom there in the late '50s,” wrote Karen Mortenson Sprattler.

Carol Tungseth Collins wrote, “It was the place we ate at when we went out! Spaghetti, salad with French dressing and chocolate milk. Auntie Dorothy worked there so I’m sure she made it better! I will always love Cully's!”

That spaghetti Carol mentioned seemed to be mentioned by a lot of people, and so did the “melt in your mouth” garlic toast.

Other items mentioned as favorites at Cully’s/Willys? The liver and onions, ribs, veal cutlet, onion rings, hamburgers and hash browns in a cast iron skillet.

“What I wouldn't give to have the recipe for those hash browns and one of the well-seasoned pans to fry them in,” wrote Sprattler.

Others clamored for the recipe for the French dressing Collins mentioned.

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Well, I aim to please, so we’re reprinting both recipes here. Different versions of the French dressing recipe were submitted by several people, all of which could be authentic. But Karen Jacobsen, who happens to be one of my favorite co-workers at The Forum and a regular customer at the restaurant, found a recipe Forum columnist Bob Lind had printed a few years ago. She made it in her kitchen and said it is exactly what she remembers from Cully’s/Willy's. I made it in my kitchen. While pretty sweet, I still think it was tastier than French dressing from a bottle.

The potato recipe is a little more iffy. Here's the deal: many people remember the potato dish as being served in a big patty. Some say it was made with shredded potatoes, others claimed the potatoes were cubed. But all agree they were prepared fresh in the kitchen with a lot of butter.

Also, while some liked the good, old-fashioned hash brown and butter dish, others said they liked it "Lynonnaised," which basically meant made with caramelized onions. I think I'm with those people, so the recipe below includes the caramelized onions. However, this recipe works just fine without onions. Just a note from my attempt at making the dish: I didn't have fresh parsley, so to add the pop of green, I just cut up some green onions.

While Willy’s is no longer in Dilworth, at least your taste buds can pretend it is.

PRINT: Click here for a printer-friendly version of these recipes

French Dressing
The French dressing served at Cully's (later Willy's) in Dilworth was homemade with ketchup, vinegar, sugar, onion and more.
Tracy Briggs / The Forum

Cully's Homemade French Dressing

Ingredients:
20 ounces ketchup
1 cup white sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
½ cup white vinegar
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt

Directions:
Combine ingredients in blender and mix well. Serve with french fries or whatever you like.

A variation on Cully's-Willy's potatoes
A slight variation on the potatoes once served at Cully's/Willy's in Dilworth. The Lyonnaise potatoes call for lots of butter and caramelized onions.
Tracy Briggs / The Forum

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Lyonnaise Potatoes a la Dilworth

Ingredients:
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled (either cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, shredded or cubed)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 small onions, thinly sliced (leave out if you like)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped, or chopped green onions (use the green part)
Kosher salt

Directions:
If you're making the sliced potatoes or large cubed potatoes, you'll want to do a quick boil on them first. Cover potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil and let simmer until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain completely. If using potatoes that are shredded or cut into small cubes, you won't need to boil ahead of time. If you use frozen hash browns, thaw until they're room temperature.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet until shimmering, and add 1/2 potatoes and 1/2 of the onions. Let cook until potatoes are starting to crisp and the onions are golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rest of the butter, oil, potatoes and onions and continue to cook, mixing until all onions are softened and browned, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle in the parsley or green onion for color.

Remove from heat and serve. If your potatoes are shredded, you might be able to flip them out of your pan in a big patty.

Tracy Briggs Back Then with Tracy Briggs online column sig.jpg
Tracy Briggs, "Back Then with Tracy Briggs" columnist.
The Forum

Tracy Briggs is a News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 30 years of experience.
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