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Road food doesn’t have to mean drive-throughs and greasy spoons. Here’s your guide to delicious destinations from Walker to Winona, Marshall to Grand Marais: 57 restaurants that are worth the drive, plus the best of the state’s summer fare. ››››
709 Parkway Ave. S., Lanesboro, 507-467-3457
Unless you count the free popcorn at the Root River Saloon, the Vintage must be the only establishment in about a 70-mile range that serves an amuse bouche, that tiny pre-meal plate meant to tempt your appetite—or, as the area’s no-nonsense farmers might refer to it, a snack. Not that anyone is complaining about the fancy foreign words on the menu. Since landing in Lanesboro a year ago, chef Meg Olson has been charming the overalls off everyone with her four-course prix fixe menus, quietly slipping a white tablecloth under the tourist town’s laid-back dining scene.
Olson fell for scenic Lanesboro on a sightseeing trip, and opened the Vintage a few weeks later in the lower level of the Victorian House of Lanesboro Bed & Breakfast. An irascible French chef had held court there for 17 years, introducing the locals to foie gras and reportedly brandishing a butcher’s knife in the dining room in mock uproar when diners got cold feet about the cuisine. Olson is subtler but equally insistent on introducing unique dishes. Surely she is the only person in town slicing up sushi and shabu-shabu (Kobe beef, cut thin as rice paper, cooked at the table). Her beef tenderloin, a far cry from the usual supper-club slab, is encircled by port wine–poached figs and paired with Gorgonzola polenta—a Mediterranean meditation as sweetly intoxicating and as prettily put together as an Italian model.
Olson makes nearly everything herself—pastas, breads, desserts—mostly from ingredients organically grown within a 45-mile radius of the restaurant. She believes in keeping things simple but not simplistic. The space follows suit: The three dining rooms hold just a handful of tables each, the sun pours in off the porch, a small spray of miniature roses accents each table. It all feels like home, if only you cooked as well as Olson. But don’t worry—she won’t care if you show up in bike shorts, asking what a bouche is and why it’s so amusing.
407 Main St., Ostrander, 507-657-0000
In their off hours, frazzled Mayo doctors swap their scrubs for scrubby jeans and head to this fun-loving hole-in-the-wall one block off the cornfields. You could fit the entire hamlet of Ostrander in the grain bins on the edge of town, but here amid farmers, bikers, and baskets full of peanuts, the docs can forget about EKGs and focus on the MGDs—served out of an old stock tank (that’s an animal water bowl for you city slickers). Grab an indoor picnic table and try the sirloin steak or the buttery shrimp. When the place is owned by a guy everyone calls Moose, you know it’s going to be good, or at least you won’t say otherwise. Prognosis? Be there—stat.
Das Wurst Haus
117 Parkway Ave. N., Lanesboro, 507-467-2902
In summer, the line for this German deli winds down the street like a human kielbasa. The most devoted diners are bearing half-gallon glass jugs—the place makes root beer so good you won’t mind hauling the bottle back for the half-price refill. You might polish off the whole thing just washing down the homemade brats, kraut, headcheese, and fudge. And when one of the cooks takes a break from the kitchen to squeeze out a tune on the accordion, you’ll likely agree: The Wurst is the best.
406 Main St., Red Wing, 800-252-1875
Sturdiwheat pancakes, now sold all over the state, are made in Red Wing with the same sturdiness of Red Wing boots and pottery. It’s the kind of breakfast you could eat at 8:30 and not be hungry again ‘til afternoon. Tackle a stack at the Veranda, the restaurant in the venerable St. James Hotel—it’s the next best thing to eating them at the factory.
Nosh Restaurant & Bar
3101/2 S. Washington St., Lake City, 651-345-2425
Too bad Nosh wasn’t open when those grumpy old men, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, were in Wabasha ice-fishing, chasing skirt, and threatening each other with frozen walleyes. Due to landlord issues, the restaurant has since moved upriver to Lake City, re-opening this spring in an even more scenic spot—about 20 yards from the water. But the food, mostly house-made with local ingredients, remains unchanged, from the delectable sausage crostini to the perfectly grilled hangar steak au poivre vert—dishes so sumptuous that they could warm the hearts of even the most curmudgeonly of codgers.
22852 County Rd. 17, Winona, 507-454-3767
“Have you hit the links yet?” is the standard greeting at this clubhouse restaurant. The golf course that wraps around the place opened in the 1920s—roughly the same era as the postcards on the tables (“My Dear Cousin, I hear you all have the flu…”). But the remodeled restaurant is just three years old, and its chef, a veteran of the Vintage in St. Paul and other Twin Cities kitchens, is pushing his menu of New York strip bison steaks, grilled salmon, and lamb chops as far from Caddyshack cheesiness as possible, even if some regulars still want popovers every night and their porterhouse “very well-done.”
Amish Farmers’ Market
Highway 52, Harmony
This stretch of Highway 52 between Preston and Harmony becomes an ad-hoc Amish bazaar in summer (just follow the smell of horse manure). Taking a break from anachronistic agriculture, bewhiskered farmers peddle produce, along with pastries, honey, jams in unlabeled jars, and sweets in baggies, like the Cashew Crunch, a local favorite that could best any commercial equivalent.