Epicurean Expedition

 

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. ››››

 

Southeast  ››››

The Vintage

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.

Susie’s Roadhouse

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.

The Veranda

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.

Signatures

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.

 

 

Bloedow Bakery

451 E. Broadway St., Winona, 507-452-3682
Their doughnuts are so popular that Krispy Kreme abandoned the local market less than two years after trying to make inroads. And their Long Johns inspire the kind of online reveries usually reserved for celebrity sightings. Arrive early to satisfy your inner Homer Simpson. Family-owned for 80 years, this enterprise isn’t about to disappear, but the best stuff is usually gone by early afternoon.

Trempealeau Hotel

150 Main St., Trempealeau, Wisconsin, 608-534-6898
Kick back in an Adirondack on the porch of this 1871 saloon, a Wild West–looking joint on the Mississippi riverbank, and dig into the hotel’s famous walnut burger. A meatless mix of nuts, cheeses, onions, and bread crumbs, it’s fattier—and, therefore, tastier—than most veggie burgers.

 

Harbor View Café

314 First St., Pepin, Wisconsin, 715-442-3893
This perennial summer favorite can be harder to get into than the pope’s private dining room, and it doesn’t take reservations. Still, go now, before the new townhouses open nearby, or you’ll be dining at the Third Base Bar up the street—which is to say, you’re out.

The Nortons’

W7171 135th Ave., Bay City, Wisconsin, 715-792-2464
Given the breadth of the wine list and the richness of the meat-heavy menu, well, it’s a good thing there are bed-and-breakfasts nearby. So settle into the lodge-like patio, dig the live jazz, and figure on staying awhile.

Best Ice Cream

PortLand Malt Shoppe

716 E. Superior St., Duluth
The PortLand Malt Shoppe, named after an historic neighborhood in Duluth, is the best place in Minnesota to get your licks—even if it serves Wisconsin-made Schoeps ice cream. The small brick box overlooking Lake Superior was built to be a gas station in the 1920s; today, visitors fuel up on cones, sundaes, shakes, and floats, served with a side of nostalgia.


Northeast ››››

Photo by David J. Turner

Nokomis Restaurant & Bar

5593 North Shore Dr., Duluth, 218-525-2286
With some things in life—flossing, writing thank-you notes, climbing stairs—a little extra effort pays off. The same is true for North Shore dining: There are plenty of decent restaurants in Duluth, but heading 15 miles farther north on Scenic 61 will lead you to two dining rooms that are worth the extra 20 minutes of “are we there yets?”

In 2005, the New Scenic Café, long a favorite for its comfortable, cabin-like digs and creative fare, was joined by Nokomis Restaurant & Bar, located just a mile up the road. At Nokomis, chef and co-owner Sean Lewis offers equally ambitious food in an upscale dining room that matches the dramatic lake views.

Lewis has a delicate touch with such dishes as the halibut-cheek starter; he boldy pairs sour and bitter flavors—pink grapefruit, sliced fennel, and endive—with the rich taste of the lobster-like fish. A scoop of cardamom ice cream adds an unexpected dimension to the ginger-carrot soup, a dish that most chefs would be content to present solo. This multiplicity of elements is even more prominent in the entrées. Elk, for example, is offered with fig, black truffle, porcini mushrooms, golden raisins, hazelnuts, and lingonberries—a combination that certainly requires a bit more effort from the kitchen to pull off, but one that makes all the difference.

Cassidy’s Restaurant

327 Fire Monument Rd., Hinckley, 320-384-6129
Next time you contemplate stopping at Tobies, do yourself a favor: Head west across the freeway overpass—few Tobies fanatics know there is another side—and hit Cassidy’s at the Hinckley Travelodge, for first-rate caramel rolls without the crushing crowds. Cassidy’s buns may be more modest than Tobies’, but what they lack in volume they make up for in rich, honey-sweet flavor.

Green Pastures Dairy

2353 Bromfield Rd., Carlton, 218-384-4513
Here’s some trivia sure to impress guests at your next dinner party: In Minnesota, it’s legal to buy unpasteurized milk as long as you pick it up at a farm and bring your own container. Who knew? Green Pastures Dairy sells straight-from-the-cow milk from late spring to fall, and aged raw-milk cheeses year-round. Go for the smoked Gouda and English-Cheddar-style Bromfield.

Canal Park, Duluth

Crabby Bill’s, 218-310-5918
Northern Waters Smokehaus, 218-724-7307
Lake Avenue Café, 218-722-2355
Bellisio’s, 218-727-4921

While waiting for a cargo ship to slide under Duluth’s aerial lift bridge, bullhorn bellowing, stop for a quick snack at Crabby Bill’s, a dry-docked fishing boat that serves herring, cisco, and trout. Or pick up picnic fare at the Northern Waters Smokehaus, which serves sandwiches piled high with bison pastrami or house-smoked pork loin. If you fear the park’s aggressive seagulls—and you should—eat inside at the Lake Avenue Café, a sunny space with exposed ductwork and local art that serves everything from eggplant pizza to steak Diane. Or try Bellisio’s, where lobster bisque, caprese salad, chicken Marsala, and plates of pasta are served in a cellar-like space packed with wine racks.

 

Photo by David J. Turner

Pickwick

508 E. Superior St., Duluth, 218-727-8901
A lot has changed since 1914 (like, say, the map of Europe). The Pickwick hasn’t, and it’s one of the reasons this oak-laden dining room was recently dubbed one of “America’s Classics” by the James Beard Foundation. Stained-glass windows, an enormous fireplace, and a long wooden bar make it feel like a Bavarian hunting lodge, complete with stuffed lynx and mounted deer antlers. Try the steak, the walleye, or the cheese-stuffed, deep-fried hamburger to go along with the superior lake views.

At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Cafe

1902 E. Eighth St., Duluth, 218-723-8569
The confusion caused by the name may be equal to the confusion that goes with trying to find this off-the-beaten-path café, but Sara’s is worth the trouble. Crazy with knotty-pine booths and endless rows of bookshelves (the contents of which are for sale), the café serves breakfast and lunch (tofu scramble, falafel sandwich) geared toward college students, and dinner (seared halibut with roasted pears and red lentils) aimed at their more discriminating parents and professors.

Fitger’s Brewhouse

600 E. Superior St., Duluth, 218-279-2739
Buy a Fitger’s growler and take home one of the microbrewery’s dozen or so specialty ales.

The Boathouse

14 Marina Dr., Barker’s Island, Superior, Wisconsin, 715-399-0076
As you might expect, the Boathouse is located on the shore of Lake Superior, where executive chef Kirk Bratrud (former owner of the Bayport Cookery) cooks rustic gourmet, pairing elk cuts, for example, with apples, black currants, and juniper berries.

Lockport Marketplace & Grill

5362 W. Highway 61, Lutsen, 218-663-7548
Tucked in the back of this gas station/convenience store is a cozy four-table café where the sourdough pancakes are all-you-can-eat, the pasty recipe came from the Old Country, and the regulars store their coffee mugs on the wall.

 

 

Betty’s Pies

1633 W. Hwy. 61, Two Harbors, 218-834-3367
When you see the sign for Betty’s Pies on Highway 61, hit the brakes and turn. Betty left the business more than two decades ago, but she still comes in for breakfast every Saturday morning and the café still uses her recipes. In peak season, Betty’s turns out about 300 pies a day, which T-shirts describe as “just like Mom used to make—before she took up bingo, cigarettes, and beer.” Favorite signature flavors include the multi-berry Great Lakes Crunch and the creamy Five Layer Chocolate. There are also “pie shakes” for those who like their pie and ice cream mixed.

New Scenic Café

5461 North Shore Dr., Duluth, 218-525-6274
The digs may be cabin casual—knotty pine and maple covers nearly every surface—but the menu is big-city chic: braised lamb shank, seared halibut with cognac cream and black trumpet mushrooms. Even a simple fried egg on toasted ciabatta is paired with a wedge of Brie, a slice of baked serrano ham, and a clutch of Japanese greens and celery tops. If they’re serving the pistachio-crusted walleye, get it. Then record your review in one of the restaurant’s leather journals.

World’s Best Donuts

10 E. Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 218-387-1345
The Grand Marais Donut Shop changed its name after customers kept telling them they had the “best doughnuts in the world.” They’re probably right.

Gun Flint Tavern

111 Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 218-387-1563
The Gun Flint is a local bar with a global attitude, serving 40 different microbrews from as nearby as Ashland, Wisconsin, and as far away as the Czech Republic. It claims to be the only North Shore pub serving Guinness on tap, but regulars know to ask for a selection from the Lake Superior Brewing Company, such as the Kayak Kölsch. (The company brews its beer down the road in Duluth, where visitors can get a microtour of the microbrewery.) Pair your brew with one of the tavern’s sandwiches and take in the live music or head to the roof, which offers a view of the Grand Marais harbor.

Dockside Fish Market

418 W. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 218-387-2906
One of the few remaining North Shore commercial fisheries, the Dockside takes its catch—bluefin herring, lake trout, whitefish, and Canadian walleye—soaks it in a brown-sugar brine, and smokes it till you can hardly resist flaking it onto a cracker. It also sells Minnesota’s only indigenous caviar, harvested each fall from Lake Superior herring.

Angry Trout Cafe

416 W. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 218-387-1265
Despite its name, there’s nothing to get upset about here, what with the calming waterfront view, the fresh food, and the restaurant’s emphasis on environmental idealism. The ingredients are local (Lake Superior fish, hand-harvested wild rice), the sodas are homemade, and the takeout containers reusable. You’ll be happy. So will the planet.

Sven & Ole’s

9 W. Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 218-387-1713
Sven and Ole are actually two brothers, Sid and Terry Backlund, who started this now-famous Grand Marais pizza place back when they were in college. Their Uffda Zah—Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives, green peppers, and onions—is good enough to get even Scandinavians raving.

Chez Jude

411 W. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 218-387-9113
There are just a handful of tables inside this quaint yellow house with the wide front porch, which makes Chez Jude feel cozy—as if chef Judi Barsness had invited a few friends over for dinner. Except her menu is far beyond the reach of amateurs; in fact, it’s the finest place to dine this far north. Barsness brings global influence to local foods, serving everything from Thai-style coconut shrimp to wood-roasted duck breast with cherry-port sauce, wild rice, mushrooms, and edamame orzotto. Stop in for a late-night wood-oven pizza or a chopped-sirloin burger and a glass of wine. You’ll wish you could stay over.

The Crooked Spoon Café

17 W. Wisconsin St., Grand Marais, 218-387-2779
From the outside, the Spoon’s brick storefront looks unremarkable. The inside is nothing special, either, perhaps so as not to distract from the flavors packed into the café’s simple, delicious comfort foods and swankier fare. Try the creamy garlic, bacon, and bleu-cheese soup, or the crab cakes with chili oil and jicama coleslaw.

Best Fish Fry

Fisher’s Club

428 Stratford St., Avon, 320-356-7372
With lake breezes blowing in through the screens and “Stand by Me” on the jukebox, the Fisher’s Club is like the summer-camp mess hall all over again—if the counselors had let you drink cans of Hamm’s and stock your hard stuff in a bottle service locker. Among such supper-club standards—steak, ribs, broasted chicken, coleslaw, potato salad—the walleye fillet stands out for its firm-but-tender texture and crunchy breading. Choose the half order if you want to save room for dessert. After Garrison Keillor became part-owner of Fisher’s in 2005, the restaurant added strawberry shortcake (on Powdermilk Biscuits) and a perfect sweet-tart Beebopareebop rhubarb pie to the menu.

Best Pie

The Pie Place

2017 W. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 218-387-1513
There are more crumble-topped, fruit-stuffed, cream-swollen slices of pie in this state than ways to make it, and we tried nearly all of them. With honorable mentions to the Barn and Betty’s, the “Best Pie” award goes to the Pie Place in Grand Marais. The name pretty much says it all: There are about 20 choices—so many that the waitress probably wants to throw a pie in your face because it takes so long to decide; unique flavors, including blackberry peach, blueberry sour cherry, and banana split; and consistently good crusts, be they graham cracker or trickier flaky pastry ones. We tried to take a slice of the raspberry-rhubarb streusel home, but instead ate every last crumb before we were 10 miles out of town.


 

Northwest ››››

Photo by David J. Turner

Iven’s on the Bay

19090 Hwy. 371 N., Brainerd, 218-824-1407
Vacation-home owners may have Viking ranges and Sub-Zero fridges, but that doesn’t mean they actually want to cook. Dominated by chain restaurants and old-school supper clubs, the Lake Country culinary scene hasn’t quite caught up with the tastes of its summer residents, so when vacationers want to eat like they do in the Twin Cities, they go to Iven’s on the Bay, where executive chef Tim Anderson cooks the same seasonal, local, creative gourmet fare he did when he worked at Goodfellow’s and Napa Valley Grille.

Not long after Anderson arrived, Iven’s on the Bay was the hottest place on North Long Lake. Last February, the landmark restaurant was literally engulfed in flames. The owners, Ray and Jean McCabe (who bought the restaurant from the eponymous Iven Hudalla in 2004), decided to rebuild, and the restaurant re-opened at the end of last year’s tourist season. The dining room now feels even more regal, with its formal, dark leather chairs and ceiling painted the pastel hues of a Tuscan villa. The sweeping view of the lake, framed with twinkling white lights, mesmerizes.

Rare among restaurants in the area, the setting doesn’t overshadow the food. Anderson’s menu is as extensive as it is varied, offering such dishes as duck breast with citrus demi-glace, sesame-seared tuna steak with wild-rice stir-fry, and dry-aged porterhouse for two with bacon-braised Yukon gold potatoes. Anderson also likes to churn things up—he recently started making ice cream—and throw themed dinners, like Cuban-style pig roasts.

Anton’s

2001 Frontage Rd. N., Waite Park, 320-253-3611
The question you’re greeted with at Anton’s is an easy one: “Would you like a table or a covered wagon booth?” But after you settle into your mini-Conestoga, parked amid iron skillets and wagon wheels in this faux log cabin roadhouse, the questions become much more difficult. Hot popover with honey butter? Canadian walleye? Fourteen-ounce ribeye? But there’s no debate among Anton’s regulars about what to drink: a single-malt scotch. Built in the 1920s, Anton’s became a speakeasy during prohibition, and today at the “Fish and Whiskey,” as it’s locally known, the liquor flows as fast as the Sauk River out back.

 

 

Cork’s Grill & Wine Bar

2956 Division St., St. Cloud, 320-258-4422
Tucked behind a drab strip mall façade, this cozy little wine cellar and gourmet kitchen has quietly become a locals’ favorite special-occasion spot for sampling edibles imported from other regions —including California wines, Prince Edward Island mussels, and wild boar from Texas.

Thielen’s Meat Market

310 Main St. N., Pierz, 320-468-6616
In 2002, after nearly 80 years of business, Thielen’s gained national notoriety when its bacon was praised in the New York Times. Phones rang off the hook, production quadrupled, Martha Stewart placed an order. The hoopla has subsided, but the bacon is still worth the fuss. Pick up some of the deep-smoked, thick-cut stuff on your way through town, plus a package of lard—it’s pie season, after all.

The Barn

711 Washington St., Brainerd, 218-829-9297
Over the noon hour, the counter stools and booths are packed at this tiny, rust-colored shed on Brainerd’s main drag. The waitress will probably call you “hon,” “darling,” “sweetheart,” or “angel,” but she won’t make a fuss if you drop bits of the Maid-Rite, the Barn’s signature sandwich, all over the table. The “Maid” is spiced ground beef on a bun—a sloppy joe without the sauce. And while the waitress might urge you to order it without the onions, “or you won’t get no kisses,” our advice is more serious: Score a slice of pie before it’s gone.

Prairie Bay

15115 Edgewood Dr., Baxter, 218-824-6444
Prairie Bay offers all the comforts of your local Applebee’s, but it has a lot more class, starting with the restaurant’s design: open kitchen, blond-wood accents, and Arts and Crafts–style light fixtures. The menu is more upscale, too. A simple green salad might be made with arugula, fresh figs, and pecorino cheese. But while the pizza may come topped with pesto instead of tomato sauce, the vibe is still all Baxter.

Norway Ridge

34757 County Rd. 39, Pequot Lakes, 218-543-6136
Knick-knacks and pine paneling set the scene for a menu of surf ’n’ turf, smoked chicken, rack of lamb, and veggies fried in the kitchen’s famous sourdough batter. With 50 years in the business, they don’t miss a beat. As the owners say: “The only thing we overlook is Kimble Lake.”

The Boulders

8363 Lakeland Trail NW, Walker, 218-547-1006
This re-vamped roadhouse contemporizes the log-cabin look with sage-green walls, expansive views, a wraparound porch, and a beautiful wood wine rack separating the dining room from the bar. For drinks, Boulders offers a California-focused wine list and the area’s largest selection of martinis, including both the flirty Tiffany Blue (Shakers vodka and blue Curaçao) and the festive Cinnamon Twist Martini (garnished with crushed Red Hots). And for dinner, Boulders emphasizes steaks and seafood dishes: from filet mignon to skillet paella.

Wild Hare Bistro

523 Minnesota Ave., Bemidji, 218-444-5282
With its display of local artwork, a bulletin board advertising a globalization forum, and a basket of free buttons (“Men of quality respect women’s equality”), the Wild Hare would fit right in were it plopped down in the middle of Minneapolis. The chalkboard menu lists an array of casual coffeehouse fare: espresso drinks, baked goods, hummus platters, soups, and sandwiches. Yet the Hare retains its comforting small-town sense with the box on the counter where regulars can store their free-coffee punch cards.

“The Restaurant Capital of the World,” Dorset

Dorset House, 218-732-5556
LaPasta, 218-732-0275
Compañeros, 218-732-7624
Dorset Café, 218-732-4072

Tiny Dorset’s hyperbolic claim is based on a per-capita calculation of four restaurants for 22 residents. Just steps from the Heartland Trail (a sign reads “Please remove Rollerblades before entering the store”), Dorset is little more than a strip of quaint storefronts with a covered wooden boardwalk. It looks like the set of an old Western. The Dorset House restaurant has all the fixtures of an old-fashioned soda fountain, from the tin ceiling to the spinning bar stools. LaPasta serves Italian fare, Compañeros Mexican. Take a pass on what the Dorset Café considers a salad bar (imitation bacon bits, cling peaches with cottage cheese), but the broasted chicken is crisp, juicy, and delicious.

Brauhaus

28234 Hwy. 34, Akeley, 218-652-2478
A bit of Bavaria just off the byway between Akeley and Nevis, the Brauhaus is staffed by waitresses in apron-draped dresses serving weissbiers, sauerkraut, and spätzle accompanied by polka music. Owned by a German native who isn’t about to serve just the standard tourist fare of beer and brats, the restaurant offers authentic dishes such as currywurst, sauerbraten, jägerschnitzel, and a pâté that Braunschweiger might aspire to (creamy as whipped butter, with just a hint of liver flavor). The restaurant’s most famous dish is the schweinshaxe, a pig leg slow-cooked to be tender and flavorful—and nearly heavy enough to crack the table when the waitress sets it down.

Best Burger

Patrick’s on Third

125 S. Third St., St. Peter, 507-931-9051
Bars in college towns don’t usually fall into the can’t-miss category. (In fact, they usually fall into the run-as-fast-and-far-away-as-possible category). And make no mistake: Patrick’s is very much a college bar, complete with pool tables, beer signs, and the faint stench of post-adolescent angst. For anyone who’s a burger connoisseur, however, it’s also a required stop. The burgers, from the modest Gustie to the aptly named and appointed Chuck Norris (it consists of two one-pound patties, four strips of bacon, four slices of American cheese, and a full grilled cheese sandwich in the middle), are—to use a technical term—awesome, a perfect ratio of beef, bun, and fixings. Or at least good enough to put up with the stench of angst for a while.
 


Southwest ››››

Photo by David J. Turner

Landmark Bistro

100 W. College Dr., Marshall, 507-337-6600
For a town that happens to be home to a four-year university and the headquarters of a successful multinational company, Marshall is a lot less quaint than one might imagine. It probably doesn’t help, of course, that the main drag does not, well, exist right now, having been ripped apart for construction, or that the most prominent building in town—the aforementioned HQ of the Schwan Food Company—makes an airplane hangar look like an architectural gem. Northfield, it ain’t.

Still, Marshall does have its charms, and chief among them is the Landmark Bistro. Opened in 2005 and owned by Schwan—the same people who bring you everything from home-delivered ice cream to Red Baron pizza—the Landmark feels like the showpiece it’s meant to be. Located on the first floor of the historic New Atlantic Hotel building, it comes stocked with the sort of stuff a lot of restaurant owners in Minneapolis (or Manhattan, for that matter) would kill for: mahogany floors, a cozy fireplace, an expansive display kitchen, a swanky bar, a walled-in garden patio, and a dining room big enough to host a hockey tournament.

And though executive chef Sarah Longley has scaled back the restaurant’s ambitions since it opened two years ago, the menu remains impressive, with a focus on seasonal and sophisticated but unfussy fare. The dinner menu includes such dishes as roasted lamb tenderloin, miso-glazed halibut and grilled capon, while the lounge menu offers a selection of tapas and gourmet pizzas. The Landmark also boasts a wine list that should satisfy everyone from simpletons to snobs. Where else in Marshall are you going to find a ’96 Latour Private Reserve Cabernet? The Varsity Pub? Indeed, nothing is done in half measures at the Landmark, whether it’s the presentation of the carrot-ginger soup or the restaurant’s signature burger, a half-pound monster that may, in fact, require a degree in engineering to properly consume.

Brauhaus Brew Hall

111 Main St., Lucan, 507-747-2796
The Brauhaus is proof that the whole “good things come in small packages” idea can be applied to, yes, even beer. A tiny brew hall in the minuscule town of Lucan, the Brauhaus offers an astonishingly big selection, including the local brew, beers crafted by the Brau brothers, one of whom once co-owned the ’haus before the siblings decided to get into the brewing business. Favorites include the Cream Stout and the Strawberry Wheat.

Lange’s Café

110 Eighth Ave. SE, Pipestone, 507-825-4488
The sour-cream raisin pie and the doorstop-sized caramel rolls usually get all the attention at this classic roadside diner on Route 23, but the cognoscenti know that the real lure of Lange’s is the hot beef—a roast-beef sandwich topped with mashed potatoes and gravy—and the doughnuts. If you order either, however, consider yourself warned. The former will almost assuredly induce a serious case of food coma, and the latter—those perfect halos of cake and sugar—will probably make you scoff the next time you stop by Krispy Kreme.

 

 

August Schell Brewing Company

1860 Schell Rd., New Ulm, 507-354-5528
The Schell brewery is now the second-oldest family-owned and managed brewery in the United States, so they must be doing something right. (The company’s longevity may be due to the pilsner, one of the best anywhere.) Tours run every day throughout the summer, and if you’ve never visited, the best way to describe the place is thus: It’s pretty much what most people imagine heaven is like. But with beer.

Veigel’s Kaiserhoff

221 N. Minnesota St., New Ulm, 507-359-2071
In a town that has plenty of odd, if endearing, institutions—e.g., Hermann the German—the Kaiserhoff may be the most odd and endearing New Ulm institution of all. Known for its kitschy décor (think of the Hofbrau House designed by your crazy aunt) and its traditional Teutonic fare—from strudel to bratwurst to “German” ribs—the dish to get at the ’Hoff has always been the sauerkraut balls, a tasty, breaded, and deep-fried homage to German cooking—and a testament to our faith in Lipitor.

Peppermint Twist Drive In

115 Babcock Blvd., Delano, 763-972-2572
An old-school drive-in (the site was once home to an A&W), the Twist is best known for its Delano Burger, an enormous pile of beef, onion, and bun that will satisfy even the most discerning carnivores. Still, if anything is worth the price of the gas you’ll burn to get to there, it’s the fresh raspberry shake, so thick you may need to borrow an additional lung to get it through a straw.

Best Bratwurst

The Sausage Shop

301 Broadway ave. n., New ulm, 507-354-3300
True, brats are often considered a Wisconsin thing, right up there with cheese and chronic-wasting disease. But the reason they’re so big with the neighbors also applies to us. Germans have always been Minnesota’s largest immigrant group, so it stands to reason that you’d be able to find some great brats on this side of the St. Croix River. The place to find those brats is, not surprisingly, in New Ulm, which sometimes seems more German than Deutschland itself. Still, it would be hard to imagine that the fatherland could produce anything better than what you find at the Sausage Shop, whose Nurnberger brats are big, juicy and subtly spiced—so good they may obviate the need to ever go to Wisconsin again.
 


Metro ››››

Photo by David J. Turner

The Drive-In

572 Bench St., Taylors Falls, 651-465-7931
There are few sorrows you can’t drown in a root-beer float. At this throwback to the era of poodle-skirted carhops, enjoy floats, malts, and “slush puppies” flavored like cotton candy. The only concession to modern life is the “healthy choice club sandwich,” a recent add-on to the sign-board menu. Everything tastes better when it’s delivered to your car.

The Eichten Bistro

16440 Lake Blvd., Center City, 651-257-1566
What do you do at a place that claims the best beer selection in the state—more than 50 brews in stock, many made by Belgian monks and some that are extremely difficult to find in America? You plan to stay awhile, hit the patio, dig the French café music, and dive into a burger made from the herd of buffalo roaming within a ketchup’s squirt of your table.

Fermentations

236 Railway St. N., Dundas, 507-645-8345
With its refined and regularly changing menu—think duck breast one month, ostrich the next—its extensive offering of wine flights, and its unlikely location (Dundas’s population: 547), Fermentations is no longer much of a secret to local foodies. And though the intimate, laid-back bistro switched owners last year, with chefs Paul Paquette and Joan Haley buying the operation from original proprietor Ed Lundstrom—it remains among the state’s most unlikely, if welcome, outposts for ambitious and creative cooking.

Old Towne Emporium

29346 Old Towne Rd., Chisago City, 651-257-4130
What’s the difference between a Chicago dog and a Chisago dog? Both are swaddled in banana peppers, tomatoes, onions, and mustard—but the only place you can chow the Chisago is an antique shop turned family-run café in Chisago City. Go ahead—pair the dog with a fine homemade ice cream (good enough that Kowalski’s is looking into carrying it) and call it whatever you want. We’re calling it da best.

Tiki Steve’s

Off Hwy. 8, Lindstrom, 651-257-4202
In one particular harbor, as Jimmy Buffet would say, tiki torches lead down to the shore of South Lindstrom Lake, where a double-decker pontoon awaits. It’s the one with the whirlpool, the half-moon bar, and no plans for shoving off anytime soon (save for the occasional birthday, bachelorette bash, or other chartered meandering)—a humble summer hangout where sailboats tie up to the ’toon, a bonfire always burns, and locals down margaritas like there’s no mañana. And facilitating all this low-key revelry—flipping burgers, pouring beer, rotating the Buffet CDs—is a youthful man with blond braids and a mellow mien: the titular Tiki Steve.

Tangled Up in Blue

425 Bench St., Taylors Falls, 651-465-1000
With four owners in as many years, this charming storefront restaurant (named for a Bob Dylan tune) had been feeling blue indeed. This winter, however, one of the cooks (a former sous chef at Palomino) bought the place and is emphasizing service to win back diners. It doesn’t hurt that the signature walleye cakes—fish blended with bread crumbs and pan-fried—would put a smile even on Dylan’s sour puss.

Park Cafe

124 S. Main St., Braham, 320-396-3630
You expect great apple pie from a town whose mayor posed for his official photo in an American flag tie. But it’s hard to go wrong with walnut cream, banana cream, pumpkin, rhubarb, or any other pie in this zero-stoplight slice of Americana, officially named the state’s pie capital by Governor Rudy Perpich in 1990.

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