By todd buchanan
Spring smells sweet and looks green. With vibrant hills and B&Bs, so does Lanesboro. Make a weekend of it.
This itinerary will get you biking, soaking in high-end theater, checking out Minnesota’s biggest Amish settlement, and possibly taking advantage of the May reopening of an award-winning pie shop. You’ll need at least a week to make reservations for fine dining. And, optionally, a bike.
Friday: In Time for Flatbread
Driving could take more than two hours, so bring good music and games.
The Lanesboro area hosts eight B&Bs and calls itself the B&B Capital of Minnesota. If you’re looking for a cozily adventurous sojourn, with Victorian charms and views of the leaf-fringed Root River and the historic Lanesboro Dam, choose one of those. (Note that check-in times vary, and you might have to request a time outside of the B&B’s usual window.)
You’re bushed from the drive. For dinner, stretch out in the laid-back atmosphere of High Court Pub downtown. Sink your teeth into any of seven $10 house-made flatbreads—such as the Krab Rangoon, with imitation crab, garlic, cream cheese, and mozzarella—and wash it down with a local brew. (You’ll bike it off tomorrow.) High Court stays open until 1 a.m. Check the website to know if they’ll have live music.
Saturday: Biking through Flowers—and Culture, Too
Breakfast of the Imagination
If you opted for a hotel instead of a B&B, or even if you didn’t, you have to check out the Lanesboro Pastry Shoppe.
Remember Table of Contents, the diner in St. Paul? If so, you’ll be familiar with the way ordering here is up to your imagination. The Pastry Shoppe doesn’t have a menu. Owner Brett Stecher says to order whatever you want. Omelets. Some quische. Eggs benedict, maybe with ham and crab asparagus. All kinds of hash—corn beef, hot and spicy Italian cured ham. French toast. “We’ve been known to do lutefisk at 5 in the morning,” Stecher deadpans. An old farmer might come in and ask for whatever’s in house. And everything in house is made from scratch, besides the mayo. Just don’t ask for pancakes or waffles. “You can go get a pancake anywhere,” Stecher says. What you can’t get anywhere are the morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, and wild leeks that Stecher might pick from the woods and use to season an omelet. It’s all spontaneous.
As for the baked goods: “Everything’s sweet at the Pastry Shoppe but me.”
Choices: The Dam AND/OR The Amish Tour
11 a.m.–Noon OR 10 a.m./1:30 p.m.
Just a five-minute walk from the scenic campgrounds of Sylvan Park, the Lanesboro Dam will interest history buffs, as it goes back nearly 150 years. In need of some repairs, it’s also a good spot for those keeping tabs on where state funds are going—plus anyone seeking a photo op.
If you’re there before October, consider wrapping up breakfast early to make the three-hour Bluffscape Amish bus tour at 10 a.m. (Or: make it a late lunch and push either biking or the theater back to Sunday if you’d rather take the 1:30 p.m. tour.)
Harmony, a town right next to Lanesboro, boasts the state’s biggest Amish settlement, so you’re not likely to get a better feel for the removed, anachronistic culture. Prepare to buy something at one of the Amish shops, such as buttery cashew brittle. Tours leave downtown from Stone Mill Hotel & Suites.
Pedal Pushers Café reopens this month and prides itself on serving all-natural food sourced from local farms. Try the Norwegian meatballs ($13) or the Trailblazer turkey sandwich—with bacon, tomato, and mustard aioli on a French roll ($11)—for lunch. It’s just down the street from the general store, which could make your next stop.
Ready for your first spring ride? No better place: Lanesboro is a veritable biking mecca, with 42 miles of paved trail lining the valley. And no need to bring your own bike. Little River General Store offers reasonably priced rentals (a FUJI Hybrid just $12 for two hours, or $20 for a full day).
You’ll want to bike the historic Root River State Trail. Originally the Milwaukee Railroad, it brought trains through the 19th-century mill town of Lanesboro. Paved over in the 1980s, the path winds along Root River and spans fairly level, mostly shaded terrain. It crosses wooden bridges, traipses alongside a pasture and the campgrounds, and rolls through small towns, including Whalan five miles northeast of Lanesboro—where the award-winning Aroma Pie Shoppe will reopen May 13 after closing last fall (making it a great biking destination if you’re there in May).
Fine Dining in a Casual Setting (Reservation Recommended)
After a shower, it’s time for upscale, down-to-earth dining. The Old Village Hall Restaurant would like you to make a reservation a week in advance.
More Lanesboro history: the building is indeed the old village hall, the town’s headquarters circa the late 1800s—as well as the fire station, and the jail. Amish quilts adorn the upstairs dining room, and a deck looks out over the flowers through which you just biked on the Root River trail.
Tuck into an entrée of pork tenderloin medallions ($20) or the seared duck breast with Minnesota wild rice ($27) and choose between a soup of the day or a pickled-onion-and-candied-cashews salad.
In case you’re not feeling fancy enough after dinner, the Commonweal Theatre stages professional (as opposed to community) plays at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 1:30 p.m. on Sundays, opening its doors 30 minutes before curtain.
Starting April 14, When We Dead Awaken runs into mid-May and follows a disaffected artist inspired by memories of his lost and only love.
Depending on your hotel or B&B, you might have to dip out somewhat early.
Lunch & Ice Cream
11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Before taking off, stop at Gil B’s Pizza & Sub Shoppe for a Gil B’s Deluxe Burger, dripping in sautéed mushrooms and a special sauce, plus fries ($11.10).
Complete the weekend with ice cream from Another Time Ice Cream Parlor & Chocolates. They serve 30 flavors courtesy of Minnesota’s own century-old supplier, Bridgeman’s. And for the way home, pick up some fudge, truffles, or bear paw-shaped patties of milk chocolate known as grizzlies (clawed with cashews and packed with caramel). Just be sure not to eat this much every weekend, because good Lord.