Lo­cal Fla­vor


The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - IN THIS ISSUE - By David Show­ers, pho­tog­ra­phy by Mara Kuhn

Rod­ney and Kristi Fer­gu­son left the bu­colic tran­quil­ity of farm­ing life in Mag­a­zine to wade in­trepidly into their next act — re­boot­ing Jahna's, an Air­port Road Ital­ian bistro they've re­vi­tal­ized with new con­cepts and the ful­fill­ment of a dream long de­ferred.

The cou­ple's pro­gres­sion from chicken farm­ers to restau­ra­teurs seems like a non-se­quitur, less so in the con­text of the in­spi­ra­tion that cap­ti­vated Rod­ney while in the em­ploy of Gam­bardella's Pasta Bella in Fair­banks, Alaska.

A culi­nary en­clave in the for­bid­ding hin­ter­lands, the Gam­bardella's es­tab­lish­ment planted the germ for Rod­ney to have his own Ital­ian restau­rant. The idea abided for 25 years un­til its full re­al­iza­tion last Oc­to­ber. It's al­lowed the can­noli cream he made for years on the farm to go pub­lic and poised Kristi's lasagna for a de- but later this year. Judg­ing by the ac­claim her cheese­cake has gar­nered, it prom­ises to be well-re­ceived. “It had al­ways been my dream,” Rod­ney said. “It's just taken me a lit­tle bit longer than I thought to get there. I was in con­struc­tion for 15 years and farmed for 10. I fi­nally de­cided to do it.”

The re­sponse has been pos­i­tive, as the cou­ple's dili­gence and at­ten­tion to de­tail are un­do­ing per­cep­tions that formed un­der the pre­vi­ous own­er­ship.

“We're hear­ing great things,” Rod­ney said. “Two or three times a night, we hear `It's so much bet­ter than be­fore. We love what you're do­ing.' It's been very en­cour­ag­ing for me.” Pa­trons call­ing ahead to in­quire about the dress code is a ves­tige of those past per­cep­tions. Jahna's 2.0 strives for un­af­fected el­e­gance, re­tain­ing its pre­de­ces­sor's spe­cial-oc­ca­sion niche while work­ing to ac­cess a

broader clien­tele.

“One of my big­gest things is to try and get peo­ple to re­al­ize this is not just for a date night or an an­niver­sary,” said Rod­ney, who has added chil­dren's and gluten-free menus. “Peo­ple can come in as they are on a week­night and en­joy a good meal that they don't have to spend $200 on.”

It's not that the new own­ers are down­play­ing the fine din­ing bona fides their pre­de­ces­sors es­tab­lished. They're hop­ing to un­der­pin the stylis­tic trap­pings they in­her­ited with the sub­stance that an ac­tive own­er­ship brings. They're in­tent on win­ning back lo­cals es­tranged by stan­dards that had slipped un­der the ear­lier regime.

“The big­gest chal­lenge is get­ting lo­cal peo­ple to come back and try us again,” Rod­ney said. “We've heard there were in­con­sis­ten­cies. We're try­ing to solve those and get peo­ple back in the door to try us again.”

The charm of­fen­sive in­cludes a prix fixe menu that changes ev­ery few weeks. The five-course of­fer­ing spans ap­pe­tizer to dessert with com­ple­men­tary wine pair­ings in the works.

“It's a whole din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to come and spend the evening,” Rod­ney said. “It takes an hour and a half min­i­mum to go through all five cour­ses.”

Plans to source pro­duce from a Bis­marck grower re­flects the cou­ple's agrar­ian sen­si­bil­ity, one that en­deav­ors to ex­clu­sively use or­gan­i­cally grown fruits and veg­eta­bles. Wild game and grass-fed beef are also in the off­ing.

“To have some­body lo­cal, who's go­ing to be grow­ing ex­actly what we're need­ing, and ac­tu­ally grow­ing specif­i­cally for us, is pretty ex­cit­ing,” Rod­ney said. “… I know peo­ple are very in­ter­ested in that — know­ing where their food is com­ing from, that it's sus­tain­able and nat­u­rally raised.”

The stuffed chicken breast with ric­cotta and sun-dried toma­toes, pic­tured at left, is a fan fa­vorite at Jahna's.

Din­ers can top off their five-course meal with a gen­er­ous serv­ing of straw­berry cheese­cake.

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