Making it their own: Michael and Kathrynn Dortland bring new tastes to The Port

Published 5:06 am Saturday, August 24, 2019

In the small town of Elkton sits The Port. It is the only restaurant in Elkton and has been a landmark in the town for roughly 30 years, and during that time, it has seen multiple owners.

When one walks in today, chances are they will see Kathrynn Dortland tending the bar, while husband Michael Dortland prepares orders in the kitchen.

The Dortlands purchased The Port two years ago. Originally hailing from Alaska, Michael was working for a local milk plant when he decided he wanted to be his own boss.

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“Basically, I just wanted to work for myself,” he said. “I was tired of working for someone else.”

Kathrynn, who is originally from the area, was working as a part-time nanny when Michael disclosed he wanted to own a restaurant.

“I was all for his dream,” she said.

But with that decision came the ultimate question: Which restaurant should they buy?

“We were looking at a restaurant a little further north, but (The Port) happened to come up at the right time,” Michael said. “It all kind of fell into place.”

Neither had any prior experience owning a restaurant, though Michael had been previously employed as a cook in other kitchens. For both, it was a learning process.

“The first year was hard,” Kathrynn said. “People didn’t know we were here.”

“We didn’t know what our hours should be; we were open all the time,” Michael added.

The Meat Mountain Burger.

The next step was to figure out what was going on the menu. While some restaurateurs prefer to keep the menus of former owners, the Dortlands opted to make it their own.

“Everything is new for the most part,” Michael said. “It’s pretty much our favorite things. The only thing we kept that was original off the other menu was the Philly (Cheese Steak sandwich). I upgraded all of the burgers to eight ounces instead of 1/3 pound, all hand-pattied.”

“And we kept the all-you-can-eat fish and all-you–can-eat sirloin, but we changed the fish to cod,” Kathrynn added.

A glance at the menu gives diners numerous options for burgers and sandwiches, ranging from staples like your basic hamburger and club sandwich to carnivorous creations such as the Meat Mountain Burger, which features pulled pork, brisket and bacon atop the patty.

For dinner, The Port offers ribs, steak and shrimp among other items. Also available are soups, salads and desserts, which the Dortlands are proud to say are all house made.

“We’re about our food more than the bar atmosphere,” Kathrynn said. “We love the bar atmosphere, but we love the food side.”

The Dortlands also pride themselves in the simple fact that no one will leave hungry. The portions are very generous, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they have sacrificed quality for quantity. The freshness is apparent in the taste and everything is made to order.

“You never know who’s coming or what they’re ordering,” Michael said. “To keep my waste down, I do it by order.”

“He doesn’t have it all prepped and ready like a fast food place,” Kathrynn added.

But what makes the meat dishes stand out more is the fact that Michael smokes the meat himself.

“I had never smoked anything until I started this place,” he said. “We just made the menu, started to buy the product and went from there.”

In order to learn, Michael had several locals come by and sample the smoked meats for free. Using their feedback, he perfected his timings. It also came down to the flavor imparted by the wood.

“We use pecan (wood), which is not indigenous to Minnesota,” he said. “It was something different and it turns out I liked it the most, so that’s what we decided to go with.”

While Kathrynn is partial to the pulled pork, Michael is most proud of his brisket, which smokes low and slow for 24 hours before ever making it to the plate.

“I put most of my heart and soul into (the brisket),” he said. “There was a lot of work with that; I practiced a lot.”

When asked why he opted to smoke the meat, Michael’s answer was simple: “Because it’s delicious.”

The Dortlands don’t hold back when encouraging people to come try The Port.

“We have the best smoked food around, period,” Michael said. “We’ve got the best burgers, you name it. The prices are comparable to anywhere else and are probably better than most places.”

“It’s awesome and fun,” Kathrynn said. “It’s a great atmosphere.”

The Port is located at 101 Main St. in Elkton. Hours are 3-10 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. They can be reached at 507-721-3410.