Review published June 2006
IF YOU’RE TRAVELING Highway 8 on the way to or from Taylors Falls, you may approach Eichten’s Bistro and Market and assume it’s a typical Midwestern tourist trap. First there is the statuary: a grinning gray mouse pawing a freakishly large wheel of cheese. Then there is the converted barn, prettied up with promises of novelty fly swatters, wild–rice pancake mix, and sweatshirts touting the mosquito as Minnesota’s “state bird.” But then you spy a lit–up sign parked on the lawn that hints at the unique pleasures within. It reads: “Belgian beer. You deserve it.”
No argument here. Nor can you dispute the charm of Eichten’s, which, despite the kitsch, is also a bona fide 150–acre family–run “bison and cheese ranch.” Inside the barn is a small gourmet market, a specialty cheese shop, a deli counter, and then the bistro itself, a cozy restaurant with eclectic décor (antler light fixtures, French flea–market curios) and an even more eclectic menu of bison, artisanal fromages, Italian–influenced preparations, and a beer list that competes with the best of them. The sheer number of concepts comprising the place can be puzzling—what’s with the dolls dressed like Native Americans? Why does linguine al pesto share the menu with a fried–walleye special?—but a visit to Eichten’s is still an indisputable pleasure, especially if you sit back and enjoy what the restaurant does best: bison, cheese, and beer.
Let’s start with the Belgians. At our table we had, among others, Westmalle, a triple–fermented Trappist ale; Kwak, an amber ale that came in a novelty glass too hysterical to describe; and a Delirium Tremens that was a pale, luminescent orange. When it comes to flavor, each of these is like an entire cuisine in a glass, with multiple notes of flavor in each sip. The descriptions in Eichten’s “beer bible” approach novella–length, and the bistro’s knowledgeable servers can expound on the finer points of Belgian brewing history, pouring techniques, and glassware selection, too. Showing us how to give a glass of Duvel a “rocky head,” our server noted with pride and gravity, “It’s got rules.”
The food at Eichten’s is uneven, except when it comes to the bison, which appears in a six–ounce fillet as well as a burger, and to the cheeses, which alone are almost worth the trip. Entrées highlighting the cheese offerings stand out, such as the pappardelle, a simple dish of pasta, tomato sauce, basil, and cream that is brightened by farm–fresh mozzarella. Meanwhile, the cheese–board appetizer is a great way to sample some of Eichten’s homemade favorites: the slightly pungent Gouda spread, a smooth garlic–and–herb Gouda, and little cubes of tilsit, a mild white cheese that’s a house specialty, may leave you with the impression that, when it comes to the fruits of the farm, Eichten’s can do no wrong. By the time you leave, in fact, you know why the mouse is smiling. MM