211 N. Broad St., Prescott, Wisconsin, 715-262-5700
Review published May 2005
WHILE YOU MAY HAVE been to Prescott, Wisconsin, for a killer “Back the Pack” party or your second cousin’s wedding reception, the town has never been considered the trendy, metro-proximate riverside dining destination that Stillwater has. (In fact, its limited dining options may be part of the reason Confluence chef/owner Mark McGraw lost 40 pounds when he first moved there.) But things in Prescott are changing.
McGraw remodeled a main street storefront and late last summer opened Confluence, which he named for the merging of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers. But the restaurant may be more about a coming together of cultures: the 48-seater looks as if it could have been plucked straight from any number of major cities, while everything around it seems quintessentially small-town. Within a block of the restaurant, there’s Scab’s Place (“on and off sale liquor”), Kaitlin’s Amish Goods, and a hand-drawn poster taped to a metal pole requesting donations for the high school band trip.
Inside Confluence, the lights are dim and the walls are painted a blue as cool as the Norah Jones CD on the stereo. When we tell our server the beef bourguignon is excellent, she replies “awesome,” which keeps the place from feeling too pretentious. The overall effect is classy yet casual, effortlessly stylish.
McGraw has worn his whites at a number of Twin Cities restaurants, but he isn’t one of those chefs who opened his own place so he could unleash a bunch of crazy dishes he was never able to get away with before. The menu is short, varied, and simple, including such items as smoked salmon bisque, a mixed green salad, and handmade sausage dumplings. Dishes in each category have the same price—small plates $7, large plates $19. In the former, a mushroom sauté is a study in the varying tastes and textures of fungi: chewy to tender, smoky to sweet. Eaten on crostini, it’s a snack that possesses an unfussy elegance, something a decent home cook might whip up when trying to impress guests—without making it seem that way.
The restaurant is located about 20 miles southeast of downtown St. Paul, and the braised rabbit is the dish most worth the drive. Sorry, Bugs: with a proper slow-cook, bunny meat is delicious. The flavor is akin to turkey (the dark) and pork (the white), which goes well with the accompanying mashed parsnips and potatoes, flash-fried leeks, and discs of celery root sliced paper-thin and fried like gourmet potato chips. (“We eat about three for every one we serve,” McGraw admits. “They’re the favorite employee snack.”)
McGraw has a knack for subtlety; flavors won’t hit you over the head but will sneak up on you ever so pleasantly. The dessert “French toast,” for example, is a surprisingly light lemon pound cake, flavored ever so slightly with cardamom and topped with whipped cream and a blueberry sauce containing the barely detectable flavor of Riesling.
Hungry yet? Make a reservation. From the looks of the guest book, the weekends-only restaurant (dinner Friday through Sunday; Sunday brunch) has impressed a lot of locals. The influx of boaters and river revelers is sure to fill it up come summer.