Lanesboro, MN report (long)
Is anyone heading to Lanesboro this weekend for the rhubarb festival? http://www.rhubarbfestival.org/ If so, please do report back! I wish I could go. In the meantime, I've been meaning to post about some places I visited in Lanesboro:
In Albert Lea (en route or returning to Twin Cities from Lanesboro, depending on your route):
Plaza Morena (Mexican) in North Bridge Mall. I wouldn't say the entire menu is stellar, but it seems they have some reasonably authentic dishes on the menu. We especially liked the plump pork tamales, with the tender, moist masa. A pleasant surprise. The carnitas fajitas were fair, though, too greasy. The salsa was so-so--no heat. I liked the Mexican beans. Order the tamales!
Plaza Morena, http://www.northbridgemall.com/stores.html http://www.plazamorena.com/
Das Wurst Haus: I hate to be such a sucker because I know this place exists mostly for the tourists, but I loved the chow. We tried their brat (with kraut), beer cheese soup, and reuben. Almost everything is made in house, including the meats, root beer, mustards (at least 6 different varieties, we liked the "gentle giant" variety), breads (the rye that came with the reuben was loaded with caraway seeds and was fantastic), kraut, and soups. And, you have to adore the older gentleman who sits in the back and greets you as you enter in between playing his sets of live polka music.
Old Village Hall
This place tries hard and, for the most part, succeeds. Service was extraordinarily friendly, though a little unpolished. Morel mushrooms were in season, so, they were everywhere on the menu. We tried the sauteed morel appetizer, stuffed with herbs and 3 cheeses (they said the dish was sauteed, but I thought it was finished under the broiler because it was slightly crispy on the edges); the morel and wild mushroom soup (lovely!); the herb crusted lamb chops with raspberry-port sauce (a tad two sweet, but otherwise, perfect); and beef tenderloin with ancho-mushroom butter. Overall, a lovely evening.
Riverside on the Root
Fantastic setting, if you score a table on the patio overlooking the river. Service needs work. The food is okay. We tried the bbq ribs, which were tender but not very flavorful. I had a serious objection to the blue cheese dressing that came with my side salad as it was about half mayo. The baked potato and veggies on the side were nothing special.
Branding Iron Supper Club (in nearby Preston
)If you want the classic supper club on the hill experience, Branding Iron Supper Club hits the mark. We dined early so, everything arrived at once, while we were working on our soup and salad. The onion strings appetizers were sliced fatter than I like, but they were still a fun indulgence. The "au gratin" potatoes were just cheesy mashed potatoes (boo!). The prime rib and top of sirloin were tender and cooked exactly as we ordered them. A good value, too, I thought. The salad bar was better than most (with tomato wedges, fresh peppers, eggs, three bean salad, cantaloupe) and the beef noodle soup was robust, with chunks of beef and thick egg noodles. The meal came with the mandatory garlic toasts—these were crunchy-- which I can never resist. Hoity toity wheat beer available, which surprised us for a small town joint.
Harmony House Restaurant (in nearby Harmony
)I couldn't resist stopping when I saw the "home cooking" sign out front. There's no menu, just the specials on the board. We tried the roast beef and the ham loaf (I'd never heard of it and, of course, HAD to try it) dinners. Next time, I'll pass on the "dinner" part, the canned peach (which sounded appealing when we were ordering, "Would you like the fruit?"), the dinner roll, canned corn--all forgetable. I didn't try the cole slaw. They used the same brown gravy for the ham loaf as for the roast beef. The roast beef was surprisingly good. The ham loaf, well, if you have a craving for it, this is your place. Ham loaf turns out to be made of corn meal and the eponymous ham, all glazed with brown sugar. I can't say I loved it, but I later learned from my dear friend Google that this is a classic Amish dish, and Harmony, of course, is Amish country. We also tried their sour cream and raisin pie. I can't stand raisins, it’s one of only 3 foods I won’t eat, and couldn't force myself to try more than a couple of bites, but my dining companion was ecstatic. I do love pie crust, though, and this crust was fantastic, so, I'm guessing the rest of the pie was as good as my companion said it was.
The Olde Triangle (in Wabasha, either on your way to or from Lanesboro depending on your route.) Terrific little Irish pub, which I posted about in detail:
Photos: Das Wurst Haus, Old Village Hall, Riverside on the Root, Harmony House Restaurant
Sour cream raisin pie? Oooooh - that's one of my passions. It was noble of you to try a few bites so you could report on the quality of the crust.
Thanks for your report! This info will come in handy the next time I'm in La Crosse and am hungry for pie. (Harmony is close enough for a pie run!)
DQ - I passed this thread along to a friend of mine who publishes Edible Twin Cities. Here's what she said:
"It's too bad she didn't have dinner at the Vintage. Just opened last year and it's fantastic! We have reservations there tomorrow night. It's off the beaten path and Peggy, who writes for us, is afraid it won't last because the chef is too busy cooking to promote herself. I'll paste a copy of this weekend's menu below. This is a bit on the upscale side, but the chef is great, and Lanesboro really needed an option like this for pre- or post-theatre dining. The Village Hall doesn't always cut it."
Devotay, I heard about the Vintage from the folks who ran the B&B we were staying at and they recommended it, as well. It's encouraging to know your friend has good things to say about it, too. But, alas, they weren't open for the season yet when we were there (or maybe it was that they didn't have their expanded hours for the season yet, when we were there--I can't really remember now). We'll have to come back later in the summer when they're open as it does sound lovely and I always like to support independent restaurants who particularly focus on using local ingredients. http://www.vintageinlanesboro.com/intro.php One of the advantages of hitting Lanesboro before Memorial Day is that it's not crowded, but the disadvantage is that not everything is running full gear yet.
While I'm talking about places I didn't eat at in Lanesboro, I also wanted to mention the Chat and Chew which looks adorable and has apparently been there many years, even before Lanesboro blossomed into a B&B destination. I don't know if it's the same ownership all that time or what, but it sure looked cute and I got the vibe that it's where the locals go because it was hopping early every morning when all of the tourists were B&B'ing.
A quick report on the Rhubarb Festival from a local...It was a busy time in our little town. As you may have heard, Garrison Keillor brought in the Prairie Home Show to help us celebrate. Shows were held on both Friday and Saturday night to provide backup in case of weather problems and in case the uplink to the satellite didn't work for a live show. On Friday, we had drizzling rain right up until the show started. It was a great time with a mix of national and local musicians. A local group, The Rhubarb Sisters did several songs with rhubarb substituted for more traditional lyrics. A 16 year old farm girl from just outside of town sang an aria, did a duet with GK and later did a solo. GK was totally blown away as was the crowd which gave her a standing ovation for the aria. It was certainly the first time Italian was ever sung on the local softball field which is where the show originated.
On saturday the second show was held, however a downpour hit midway through. After the cloudburst we drove by and GK was walking around the large crowd with his mike and the show appeared to be resuming. Some folks left, but the show went on. The Friday show was the one that was broadcast on Saturday night.
GK also spoke very favorably about many of the restaurants you mentioned (especially the Old Village Hall and Das Vurst Haus) as well as The Pastry Shop where you can get whatever you want for breakfast if they feel like fixing it. The two former chefs who do the bulk of the cooking there also whip up some great sweet rolls and other goodies. Lunches are priced for a diner, but have flavors fit for a 4-star restaurant, which is the type of place they used to work before deciding they wanted evenings free for their respective families.
On Saturday, my wife and I went down to the festival. GK was hanging around very casually visiting with folks and listening to the free music. There was a line of well over 100 people waiting to sample the rhubarb dishes that had been submitted for judging. I can fix my own, so I passed on the line. On the way out, I stopped by the rhubarb booth and bought a serving of crisp with cool whip. It was excellent. The bars offered for sale by Bethlehem Lutheran and Elstad Lutheran women's groups looked very tasty too.
Many of the restaurants were serving a rhubarb dish and local rhubarb purveyor Frank Wright, the Spoon Meister, reportedly sold more than 100 lbs. of this wonderful food item to visitors to the neighboring farmers market. Frank had told me earlier this spring that he had more than 50 plants in production. When not tending his rhubarb, Frank can be found creating artistic, yet useful wooden spoons at his shop on Coffee street.
Thanks for your kind mention of the staff at the Old Village Hall. My daughter works there as a wait-back and I know they all try very hard. GK mentioned the food at OVH several times during the show. He had eaten there on Thursday evening. He was quite taken with the salmon and the salad with balsamic vinegar.
I will have to drive over to Harmony and try the pie. If you try out the bike trail through Lanesboro, you could start out in Harmony for breakfast, ride (mostly downhill) to Lanesboro for lunch at the Das Vurst Haus, continue on to nearby Whalen for pie at the "Whalen Pie Shop" and then return leisurely upriver to Lanesboro for dinner at the Old Village Hall. Of course, I wouldn't suggest trying to make it back to Harmony than night. Get a room in a B&B, have breakfast in the morning and then make the trip back up river and uphill to Harmony in time for a rejuvenating meal at the Harmony House for a late lunch or early dinner. Or you can do like so many other visitors have and just stay in Lanesboro.
Four friends and I piled into the car and drove to Lanesboro for the Rhubarb Fest. We had such a good time. We bought some things from the wee farmers market, including some rhubarb-gooseberry jam for me and my friends shared rhubarb nachos. Someone was serving that liquid nacho cheese with pieces of rhubarb in it out of a crock pot. I didn't sample since I don't prefer that cheese, but they said it was interesting. We also tried rhubarb leather from someone with a dehydrator. It reminded me of fruit roll-ups.
We listened to the Rhubarb sisters, got coffee cake from the Sons of Norway bakesale, and then stood in line to sample the recipe contest contendors' food. I thought one of the types of rhubarb pickles was the best -- excellent enough that I think I might try to replicate them. They were a standout among a lot of sweet things and a nice surprise item I'd never thought of. The lady with the rhubarb cheesecake bars won. (They ran out before we got there.) There was also rhubarb popcorn (just really sweet and pink), pancakes with rhubarb syrup (okay, but not that rhubarb-y), rhubarb hibiscus sorbet (good), some kind of healthful rhubarb elixer that was very medicinal, a coffeecake (okay, but also not very rhubarby), and a chutney that I am sure would be better not right off a spoon but instead with some grilled meat. Overall we loved trying all these foods and interacting with other festival goers.
Next, two of us took part in the festival olympics, we bought onion dill bread and some great looking dried egg noodles from some Amish folks selling homemade foods, and then we walked downtown. After spending a lot of time looking at Frank Wright's spoons, we had lunch at the Pedal Pusher Cafe. Fried fish sandwich for me and vegetarian items for my friends... all fine along with a basket of housemade onion rings and deep fried battered mushrooms (the better of the two -- very good). A nice lunch before checking out the local history museum and then hopping in the car before the rain really started coming down.
I (heart) Rhubarb and we loved Lanesboro. 'Will definitely go next year. It was well worth the drive from the Cities.
slowfoodgrrl, thank you for your report. Sorry for my delay in responding. How was that fried fish at Pedal Pusher? Some fellow guests from our B&B said the said the fish they tried there was over-battered, that it was too much. Just curious about your perspective, since I know you're a chowhound, and who knows if they are!
Thanks again. I will have to make a point of going to the Rhubarb festival next year. Was it too crowded? (I noticed you said they ran out of some stuff...)
re: The Dairy Queen
sorry for the delay. Have been out of town for work.
I don't remember thinking the fish at the Pedal Pusher was overbattered, or that it was a thin batter either. It was pretty average. I can't say lunch was amazing, but it was good.
The festival itself was not too crowded. It was pleasantly well attended. They ran out of some things along the tasting line, but I was shocked they had a tasting line at all. I have never been to a festival in which the crowd had any say in the winners of the cooking contest. And there was quite a bit of food to sample. Someone made coffee cake in full size sheet pans that looked like they were from a bakery. So, no, there weren't too many people. Definitely check it out next year!
You have to try the World Famous Pieshop in Whalan, MN, just 4 miles outside of Lanesboro, MN. I stop there everytime I bike the Root River Trail, and have my favorite either banana cream pie or apple pie Ala mode! This place has been written up in the Minneapolis Tribune, Midwest Living, and Kare 11 News. Maggie the owner, tells me she goes through 60 pies on a typical Saturday. They also serve sandwiches and soup. It's a must stop, right on the Trail. Bluffcountryluv