Miles of farmland lie in every direction from the corner of Highway 18 and Highway 81 in Freeman, South Dakota. On the southwest corner of the intersection is a welcoming roadhouse called Meridian Corner. If South Dakota had an official restaurant, there wouldn’t be a better choice than this place, which is something of a museum for the old Volga (Russian-German) influenced cuisine of the Plains.
Meridian Corner offers a regional variation on the state’s most famous snack, chislic, which is fried meat on a stick. Around Freeman the skewers are lamb or mutton, never beef. Lamb is more flavorful and slightly more expensive than the more mature sheep, but both versions boast perfectly trimmed and cooked chunks of fried, unseasoned meat. It’s up to you to dress them with one of three spice shakers: traditional garlic salt, a zesty Greek seasoning blend, or house branded seasoning, which is paprika-laced seasoning salt. House seasoning is the most flavorful option, but it’s somewhat coarse, making it difficult to apply to the small cubes of meat. We like traditional garlic salt, which enhances the meat without overpowering it. You will be asked if you want fried onions with it. The correct answer is yes.
The second most famous Dakotan snack is probably flieschkueckle, which is a tiny meat pie. The version here is crisp on the outside and full of savory ground beef.
We also feel compelled to order a bowl of Nookla, a classic Dakotan dumpling soup. The pillowy, gnocchi-like dumplings float in a delicate chicken broth. This makes a satisfying accompaniment to the crispy fleichkueckle.
Tiger meat is an almost forgotten page from the Dakotan recipe book, Meridian Corner is one of the few places we know to taste it. It may be the only commercial kitchen that bothers to make it any more. Don’t be concerned about the big cats, though: Tiger meat is not the meat of a tiger. It is beef: spicy steak tartare served out of a plastic ramekin with saltine crackers. The seasoning is jarringly intense, with heavy notes of allspice and black pepper. Once we adjust our expectations, it’s so good that we only need a few crackers to devour the whole cup.
Frickles are an excellent rendition of fried pickle chips, tart and crunchy. They are proof that Meridian Corner doesn’t just do Dakotan classics well. It does everything well. Frickles come with a bottle of house made ranch dressing.
Meridian Corner food is made fresh and presented with pride by a friendly, knowledgeable staff who are happy to help decode unfamiliar local culinary secrets. We think it is one of the best culinary roadhouse experiences in the United States. More than that, it is the Rosetta Stone for the mysterious cuisine of the Great Plains. Get a beer, order everything, and eat as much as you can.