Whether you decide to experience the natural beauty of the North Shore, the fine dining in Stillwater, or the arts scene in Chicago, we'll tell you where to go and what to do.
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Enjoying fine food and wine in Stillwater
Have you heard the one about the two guys who thought they could load a 6,000-pound pizza oven into a 150-year-old downtown Stillwater building in under an hour? Naturally, it involves skeptical structural engineers, police, and, of course, beer. It’s a real nail biter, especially when told by one of the instigators or chaperones. Especially when sitting next to one of your very best ladies, sipping a local brew, and sampling pizza fired in 90-seconds flat by that gorgeous Italian behemoth. (The oven, not the guy.) Especially when that pizza—including the Thai Chicken sprinkled with bright veggies and the surprisingly delicate smoked-bacon-dusted Macaroni and Cheese—is so flippin’ good.
QuickFire Pizza (quickfirepizza.com) is the first stop on our Foodies on Foot tour (foodiesonfootmn.com), and tour-averse Hayley and I are already sold. It is a bull’s-eye of a basic recipe: good stories plus good food. A century ago, lumber mills, steamboats, and trains dominated this St. Croix River-side hamlet. Today, it’s Victorian B&Bs, diverse shops, and gourmet attractions. Lots of them. In the past two years alone, the old delicious draws (cooking classes, wineries, and foodie boutiques) were joined by several new restaurants, a boutique spice shop, and the Lift Bridge Brewery taproom (liftbridgebrewery.com). These foodie tours, now on their second season, offer a fine alternative to going broke trying to experience the tastes of Stillwater: four destinations, with samples and owner chitchat at all.
At stop four, a contemporary American restaurant called Revé 324 (reve324onmain.com), Hayley and I are feeling the tour’s cumulative effects. A sparkling Pinot Grigio and an adorable dessert sampler leave us both rosy-cheeked, gabby, and perhaps a smidge too delighted by the restaurant’s tall party of an owner. And also: full. Oh so full. In earlier, wilder years, we would have transitioned seamlessly from the tour to the Martinis and Manicures Happy Hour that’s just getting started in a glassy nook near our table. Instead, we opt for shopping and lattes.
At least we’re somewhat clearheaded for our evening class at Cooks of Crocus Hill (cooksofcrocushill.com): Hands-On Stuffed Pasta. Our Sardinian-born teacher/chef relates some Italian geography and cuisine fundamentals before we all press in, shoulder-to-shoulder, at the massive kitchen island, kneading, stuffing, cutting, and pinching, digging a tad deeper into our experience with food.
Foodies on Foot Savor the Flavors of Stillwater tour.
Check in. Recommended: one of the three homes on the Just for Me Spa campus (justformespa.com), just east of downtown.
Treatments at Just for Me Spa. (Tip: they have a circular six-chair pedicure setup nicknamed “The Circle of Love.”)
Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar (423 Main St. S., Stillwater, 651-439-5375) for some kind of pimento wood-smoked meat and rum drinks on the patio. Order a round of Kill-Devil shots for the pirate wannabes among you.
Wake slowly. (See Kill-Devil shots above.)
Shop in downtown Stillwater. Don’t miss Spice & Tea Co. (myspiceandteaco.com) and Stillwater Olive Oil Company (stillwateroliveoil.com), just two doors apart.
Quickfire Pizza. Enjoy it on the back patio or get takeout and head to the river or Northern Vineyards Winery’s elevated deck overlooking the St. Croix (northernvineyards.com). (Deck access requires you purchase a glass of wine.)
Choose your poison: tour the Lift Bridge Brewery or enjoy a tasting at Northern Vineyards Winery (in a storefront downtown) or St. Croix Vineyards (in a century-old barn just outside of town). scvwines.com
The Green Room’s river-facing rooftop patio (215 Main St. S., 651-342-0215) for cocktails and appetizers.
Take a class at Cooks of Crocus Hill.
Reserve one of the private cabanas for live music on Shanghai Bistro’s knockout patio, with tiki torches, twinkle lights, and a waterfall (324 Main St. S., 651-430-9000; $100 minimum, with a $300 minimum from 4–10 p.m.).
If you’re in the mood for one last hurrah: Champagne Buffet Brunch at Water Street Inn (waterstreetinn.us). It's the only brunch in Stillwater right now, though rumor has it the Green Room may be starting something soon. If you’re all foodied out, grab coffee and a pastry from Mara-Mi (mara-mi.com).
The Scenic Epicurean
Private and scheduled cooking classes at chef Linda Harding’s home in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, happen in her kitchen overlooking Lake Pepin. Another pretty option: go with her to gather ingredients from nearby farmers first. While you’re eating in the area, check out Maiden Rock’s Smiling Pelican Bakeshop (W3556 Hwy. 35, Maiden Rock, WI, 715-448-3807) and the new sit-down version of the Twin Cities food truck, the Chef Shack, in Bay City (chefshack.org). • Classes start at $60/person; thekitchensage.com
It’s trite for a reason: Wisconsin does beer and cheese right. When narrowing your choices, you can’t go wrong with the state’s lovely southwestern corner. New Glarus Brewing Company (mmm, Spotted Cow) (newglarusbrewing.com), Minhas Craft Brewery (formerly Huber) (minhasbrewery.com), and Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern (dare to try the local Limburger) (baumgartnercheese.com) represent just a sampling of the worthy attractions waiting along these bucolic, rolling roads. Athletic types might consider touring via bicycle. • travelwisconsin.com