When Stephanie Miller was a little girl, her grandmother would delight her with freshly baked butterhorns. The fluffy pastries were the old Midwestern matriarch’s specialty. Stephanie learned how to make butterhorns just like her grandmother, measuring amounts of butter, kneading dough, and carefully rolling them into their signature crescent shape with her tiny hands until she learned the trick exactly. Butterhorns symbolized family love to Stephanie, and their creation kept her in the kitchen where she continued learning new ways to delight her family herself. Many Midwestern grandmas such as Stephanie’s have seen that their families are well-cared for in a similar fashion, with small protégés under their arms to carry the fire on for them for long to come.
Stephanie went on to culinary school where she studied French techniques (she will tell you that using lots of butter is the best technique that they have), work in an Italian restaurant, and serendipitously fall in love with Shane Cornelius, a man versed in running every aspect of the front side of a restaurant. Now married, Stephanie’s and Shane’s potent combination of talent are behind the Butterhorn, downtown Bismarck’s best bastion for gourmet cuisine.
“We want our restaurant to truly reflect North Dakota, as well as to serve only the best food,” said Shane. “Fortunately, doing both is as simple as sourcing ingredients as locally as we can. Nearly all of our vegetables come from local farms, so they reflect our terroir and are fresh as can be. You can really taste it when a vegetable has been pulled out of the ground only an hour ago.”
Butterhorn combines Stephanie’s culinarian background with their respect for what makes local food great. Their cavatelli with pork sausage, parmesan dust, and fennel pollen was perfected during Stephanie’s Italian restaurant days, and brings neighboring Iowa’s best-known specialty to their tables. Their walleye cakes pay tribute to the area’s most beloved game fish, and honors it by letting its delicious natural flavor shine through with the accompaniment of some remoulade and grilled lemon. In their mission to keep great cuisine accessible, Butterhorn also offers a juicy cheeseburger on a homemade brioche bun with freshly julienned french fries. “We cater to both the formal business luncheon crowd as well as we do the flip flops and pint of beer weekenders,” said Stephanie. “We offer something just right for every occasion and taste.”
Of course, Butterhorn couldn’t very well do without the flaky bread things they’re named for. Although she has tweaked her recipe ever so slightly since childhood, Stephanie makes a fresh batch of butterhorns daily for the restaurant’s bread service. As with everything else she serves, only the butterhorns of the day make it to guests’ tables. The rest are transformed into bread puddings that would curl your toes, or breadcrumbs for the fried delectables.
Great food demands great booze. Butterhorn’s eight beers on tap change regularly, and offer North Dakota’s, Minnesota’s, and Shane’s native Montana’s very best brews. Their bar manager is a connoisseur and a mixologist, and uses only freshly squeezed juices in combination with the restaurant’s own triple sec, sour mix, limoncello, and more to create cocktails you’d like to slip into like a warm bath. Their enormous wine cellar stores bottles from France, Australia, Argentina, Italy, and other far away places, providing the next best way to travel the world short of buying a first class plane ticket.
Beneath their main dining room, Butterhorn keeps a private banquet hall for guests celebrating special occasions. It’s done up in high 1920s speakeasy style with exposed rafters, stone work, vintage wallpaper, velvet drapes, and an enormous sliding barn door for privacy. This rustic space shares a glass wall with Butterhorn’s wine cellar, so picking the right bottle of red to toast the evening is as satisfying as choosing a puppy in the window.
The sense you get while dining at Butterhorn is that it’s a family restaurant — in more ways than one. The synergy between Stephanie’s kitchen and Shane’s dining room shines through in everything that their restaurant does, from their warm, earnest ambiance to their inspired dishes. They keep their menu short and best suited to the current season, so you may see what they’re serving at any given time at butterhorn210.com. I advise that you honor the Bismarck area, its peerless ingredients, and, above all, the tradition of grandmas teaching little girls how to cook with a visit there soon.
By David Scheller