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Gabe, left, and Eloise Valentino have made downtown Montevideo a popular dining destination since they opened their restaurant, Valentino's American Restaurant, in 1997. Eloise brought the culinary skills to the business, while it was Gabe's carpentry skills and penchant for collecting things that made possible the interesting and attractive décor. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

Valentino's packs a punch on Main Street Montevideo

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business Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

MONTEVIDEO -- Midwestern girl goes to California, waits tables and gets discovered.

It makes for a great story in Hollywood, but on Main Street Montevideo, it makes for something much better: Terrific food and an extraordinary place to enjoy it.

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It took the meeting four decades ago of Eloise (née Sherod) and Gabe Valentino at a chain restaurant in Santa Barbara, Calif., to make possible Valentino's American Restaurant in downtown Montevideo.

Since 1997 the downtown restaurant has been treating customers to everything from pies and baked goods to homemade soups, chicken cordon bleu, prime rib sandwiches, zesty salads and the restaurant's storied ribs.

Virtually every day's menu offers something new. "We're always trying new things,'' Gabe said.

"Exquisite'' is how the Minnesota Country Mouse blogger -- who likes to feature unique places to visit in western Minnesota -- described the fare and décor of the restaurant after her visit a couple of years ago. The restaurant tends to generate lots of chatter on Internet blogs, which may help explain why the Valentinos are always surprised by how many people they don't know in their restaurant's seats.

"We get a lot of travelers here,'' Gabe said.

It took some traveling to bring the two owners here, too.

Eloise had gone to live with her sister in California after graduating from high school. She met her husband to be while they both were employed at the same restaurant. Four years later they were married, and Gabe had already made up his mind. He was never going to work in a restaurant again.

They made Montevideo their home, and Gabe found his calling working in the construction business owned by his father-in-law. Later, he became a superintendent with a Twin Cities-based construction firm, where he worked for 28 years, commuting home to Montevideo on weekends. (He recently retired from the position.)

All this time, Eloise refined her culinary talents. She worked at Brookside Manor and cooked for the Red Owl store and Hotel Hunt before making her reputation. She made the Chippewa County courthouse cafeteria one of the community's most popular lunch time dining destinations as its cook for 11 years.

She brought her skills downtown when she and her husband purchased a 1960s vintage café on Montevideo's Main Street in 1996. Before opening it up, they decided to start over. Gabe gutted the building.

There was a line of people waiting for the doors to open in 1997; they expanded within four years.

The restaurant features everything from models of wooden sailing ships to turn-of-the-century-styled lamps and windows.

The wandering eyes stop once the food arrives, as it remains the table fare that wins praise. Yet while they are proud of the fare, the Valentino's have one rule: "We don't call anything the best around here,'' Gabe said. "We just say it's good.''

They credit much of their success to having lots of good help around them too, including two chefs who love to create new dishes and family members who are employees.

The restaurant serves full breakfast and lunch menus, with operating hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. It will be open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays from the first weekend in November through Mother's Day.

Valentino's also serves grooms dinners and other private events, as well as hosting its special dinners. It's probably known best for the ribs it serves on special occasions. The hickory smoked and apple smoked ribs were developed by Gabe and take fours days to prepare for the plate from curing and seasoning to cooking.

Yes, there are pasta dishes and Italian foods, but the proprietors had to change the original name "Valentino's'' to "Valentino's American Restaurant'' to make it known that the restaurant features a varied and changing menu.

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