By The China Insight Restaurant Review Committee
For 50 years David and Helen Fong's Minnesota-friendly Cantonese restaurant has been a home away from home for the south metro society. Opening in 1958 as a small carryout operation, Fong's has grown into a landmark with several, all family-owned, locations. With this great presence in the Twin Cities, the China Insight Restaurant Review Committee decided to check out the Fong community and cuisine. The committee recognized that David Fong’s restaurants are neither the latest nor the most authentic cuisine now emerging from China and arriving in the Twin Cities. However, it must be recognized that for a whole group of Minneapolitans, this is what they know and love that comes from China - both the Fong family and the Fong restaurant gastronomy. And there is nothing inauthentic about this successful family with friends and customers that are loyal in their patronage and generous with their praise of this beloved all-American Chinese family.
The longtime residents of the south side recall the humble beginnings of what was Fong’s Chow Mein in a strip mall in the small township of Bloomington, beginning in 1958. There were only four items on that premier menu and the restaurant was take-out only: chow mein, fried rice, egg rolls and egg foo young. In those early days, Mrs. Fong would give free almond cookies to the children who accompanied their parents for the take-out order. Although David Fong’s is now closed on Sundays, back in the day, Fong’s Chow Mein was the weekly after church dinner for many Bloomington families. Memories of steaming hot white rice, generous scoops of chow mein over crispy noodles, and egg foo young slathered with gravy bring luscious memories to those who grew up with this tradition.
In 1966 David and Helen opened up the full service David Fong's Restaurant at its present location just down the street from the original location. They have never looked back. Their children and grandchildren have grown up learning the value of hard work and the opportunities to thrive and succeed in Minnesota. When one enters the restaurant in Bloomington, one immediately notes the involvement of the Fong family in the local community by the many posters, news releases, and photos lining the walls. The Fongs have an extensive history of support for community organizations; this includes youth sports teams, business associations, and service groups.
When the China Insight Restaurant Review Committee arrived, the first comment was, “David Fong’s has a killer atmosphere, like a comfy shoe!” The strung lights, traditional red and gold décor, homey multi-generational clientele, and experienced service-oriented staff won everyone over immediately. We were a team of six, so we ordered a variety of items that we all tried and reviewed.
Our choice of appetizer was the sampler tray with butterfly shrimp, cream cheese wontons, chicken drummies, egg rolls, and BBQ riblets. We noted that the drummies were deliciously juicy, the butterfly shrimp were overly breaded, and in general, these items reminded all of the upcoming Minnesota State Fair.
During our dinner, several reviewers ordered exotic drinks from the bar, such as a mai tai and a plantation punch. We noted that the drinks were very generously poured and refreshing. One was plenty for the entire evening.
The seafood delight was very fresh with crisp vegetables and robust seafood. The sauce was light and allowed the taste of all of the ingredients to shine through.
The chicken almond ding was also fresh and cooked-to-order with crisp vegetables and generous portions of lightly stir-fried white chicken meat. This is a very traditional dish for American-Chinese restaurants, and done right, it is a crowd pleaser. This night the dish definitely drew praise.
“Won’t you take me to Chinatown, NOW!” was the reaction to the Chinatown steak. Everyone fell in love with this David Fong’s signature dish. The steak had a gentle melt-in-one’s-mouth tender flavor, as it had been grilled “just-so”. It was perfect! The Cantonese do have a way with light sauces and perfect grilling, stir-fry, and steaming.
The orange chicken was moist and subtly citrusy with delicate chicken chunks. The flavor was not overly sweet and the dish was not overly-cooked. This dish is highly recommended.
The chicken chow mein, a throwback to the 50’s, was the least popular dish for this young crowd, even though it is highly popular for both eat-in and take-out at David Fong’s. Over the years, it is their most popular dish. Our very young Chinese national who had just arrived from Shanghai could not believe that this chow mein could actually be labeled Chinese. Oh well, times change – that was then and this is now. (It is noted, however, that this Chinese national later said that his favorite of all of the restaurants he visited his first month, was David Fong’s. He loved all of the other items he tried and the fun family atmosphere was the absolute best. He just could not understand the chow mein.)
Finally, we had been told that whenever a radio talk show does call-ins for the best cheeseburger in the Twin Cities, David Fong’s always comes out #1. “Really?” – we wondered... “A cheeseburger from a Chinese restaurant gets top ratings from callers? How can this be?” We had to find out, so we ordered one and what a great surprise. It was absolutely FONG-tastic! Our lovely waitress, Christina, then brought out the accompanying french fries and again, we were united in being blown-away impressed! Amazing! Everyone at our table said it was, yes, the best cheeseburger they had ever had – and we were by-and-large Americans raised on cheeseburgers. Incredible!
Believe it or not, the best was yet to come that evening at David Fong’s. After our dinner, our group moved into the next room for Tuesday night old-school family-style karaoke. “This is the type of karaoke that frames any good indie movie with the added spice of Chinese food. It creates an exciting and enjoyable evening with those who love to hang around together,” commented one of the committee members.
We hobnobbed with the regulars and found that the locals at David Fong’s are very friendly and would visit with us. One gentleman said he started coming at age eight with his father, and still comes twenty years later, every Tuesday and Thursday night. “If you are looking for a younger crowd,” he said, “come on a Thursday night. However, the talent on Tuesdays is better.” These patrons went on to expound on the good food and the great drinks, but by far, they said, “the atmosphere at David Fong’s is unmatched in the Twin Cities.” Another patron added that stepping into David Fong’s is like stepping into a long lost Bloomington that rivals a favorite childhood story and the only thing missing is the street corner gas lamp shining in the night.
David Fong's Restaurant
Hours: Mon – Wed: Dining Room/Take-out 11am-9pm, Bar: 11am-11pm
Thurs-Sat: Dining Room/Take-out 11am-10pm, Bar: 11am-Midnight
D. Fong's – Savage
4321 County Road 42
Fong's Restaurant & Bar
4770 Pleasant St SE