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Chowing with the Choo-Choo's (MSP)

OK, so this is a REALLY obscure question, even for me.

My husband has decided, for his midlife crisis, to go nuts over trains. (I much prefer this to a motorcycle or an affair, so I encourage his mania. :-) Nothing makes Mr. Tastebud happier than watching trains go by - other than riding on a train, of course.

My question: Are there any places where you can eat while watching trains go by? It doesn't have to be fancy, but it does have to be on a relatively active train track. Since freight yards aren't the most scenic places (except to a train nut), I don't hold out much hope. I haven't managed to find anything yet in the Twin Cities.

There used to be the Black Bear Coffeehouse on Como Ave, but it has has closed and/or moved. Plus, that one-track line wasn't active on a recent Sunday afternoon (we sat there for 45 minutes, eating banh mi and papaya salad in the car - so messy!) And, yeah, there's the light rail - Capp's Grill is a great location for viewing - but he's been there/done that.

As a stretch, there's the Harbor View in Pepin, WI - if you luck out with a table by the picture window. But scoring a window seat is pretty unlikely.

Any other ideas? As a fall-back plan, perhaps I could take him for a picnic in a park? (New Brighton's Long Lake Regional Park looks promising, as does St Paul's Indian Mounds Park.)

Many thanks,

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  1. Wow, that is a puzzle. Does light-rail count?


    1 Reply
    1. I don't know of any place local, unfortunately. If you are looking for a weekend getaway, however, the first thing that came to mind when you posted is the Trempealeau Inn in Trempealeau, WI (just N of LaCrosse). It is a historic inn with (very basic) hotel rooms above a restaurant as well as a cottage available for rent on the grounds. My family stayed there for a family get-together a few years ago, not knowing in advance that it was on an active rail line (as well as on a very scenic part of the Mississippi). Trains came by so often it was almost comical! The inn has pretty good food (their house specialty walnut burgers are available locally at co-ops) and the scenery is outstanding. And, of course, there are the trains. I believe the cottage has the closest view, if you were to stay at the inn. Trempealeau state park up the road has camping, too.

      2 Replies
      1. re: KristinT013

        Kristin, you're brilliant! As it happens, we're going to a wedding in La Crosse in a few weeks, and I've just started to research area hotels. Trempealeau is only 30 min. away - I think I know where we're going to stay! Thanks!!!


        1. re: KristinT013

          I had Kristin's experience in spades. When my wife and I were dating, we went on our first trip away together to the Trempealeau Hotel. We thought we'd be in a romantic cottage. Instead, think of a lake cabin circa 1963 (with a mattress from the same era). The trains go whizzing by up and down the main line about 40 feet away. We've gotten a little better in romantic getaways since then... (Also - this was 1994, so the accommodations may have been upgraded since then.)

          But getting back to food - the Trempealeau Hotel is known for its walnut veggie burgers and they are really good. I know you can get them locally, but I remember them as being better at the Inn. If you're there (or around there), I'd recommend them.

        2. What I'd do is tailgate before a Saints game. There's lots of trains, and with some decent meat and a little grill, you can have a great time. You'll also see plenty of trains once you go through the gates for the game.

          If you really want to kick up the awesome, go on a Wednesday, and pick up some ice cream and cheese from the U of M Dairy Salesroom before the game (They're only open until 5PM). I'd suggest getting the meat for your grill from the Meat Lab, but everything they have is frozen, unless you go with their pre-formed hamburger patties, it probably won't be defrosted in time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Danny

            Midway Stadium is a great location, isn't it? I love how the announcer always says "TRAIN" when a freight train chugs by. And the engineer always waves. Such fun!

            The U of M Meat Lab/Dairy Salesroom is a fabulous tip for tailgating. I'm going to have to plan a baseball outing.


          2. When I lived in Morris, MN I had an apartment less than a block from the train tracks than ran through town. I hated it.

            But, there is a lot of cities outside of MPLS that have trains running right through the middle of them. Morris is one of them and there is a cafe that is right on the tracks. Could be an option if you are up for a 2 1/2 hour drive.

            3 Replies
            1. re: churchka

              Doesn't Shakopee have tracks running through town? Might be some good options there.

              1. re: karykat

                Ah, Shakopee sounds promising... So far, I've been using Google Maps' satellite view to follow train tracks and guess at likely restaurant/patio locations.

                Come to think of it, Hastings is right on the CP / Amtrak line. Surely there's a cafe in downtown Hastings with a patio overlooking the river and the tracks. Anyone know for sure?


                1. re: AnneInMpls

                  We were recently in Hastings (post-berry picking!) and had lunch at the Levee Cafe. Perfectly nice, nothing out of the ordinary, but friendly service and good food. We heard that the American Legion serves decent (burger type) food, and they have a lovely patio which is right on the river-- great view of the railroad bridge!

            2. Sunset's on Lake Minnetonka is next to a train track along the shore.

              Sometimes you can see two or three trains in a couple of hours.

              Don't know whether that is "active" ...

              1 Reply
              1. re: blgaarder

                Even one train when we're there is active enough. (Luckily, I eat slowly.) This is a great suggestion - thanks!


              2. This may be a little more than what you were looking for, but if you're looking for a great idea for a weekend trip, you might want to consider the Whistle Stop Inn B&B in New York Mills. They apparently have lots of rail traffic there and you can stay in a real train car.


                1. The original Broadway Pizza in NE??

                  Broadway Pizza
                  2025 W River Rd, Minneapolis, MN 55411

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: GeeBeeEmm

                    Oooh - great idea! I'll go check out the sight lines. Thanks!


                  2. I have lurked on this board for years, and I am happy to have a suggestion to add now!

                    I just had a decent lunch at The Depot, in Faribault, MN. It's listed as the "Rock Island Depot" on the Minnesota National Register of Historic Places (Rice County). It's right on the train line that runs through town, and one train passed during lunch. There is a sign on the outside of the restaurant stating that they serve $1.50 tap beers when trains are passing, so probably that means they don't pass by too frequently, but I am sure that if you call them, they'll give you schedule information. The servers were all very friendly and efficient (and we were a group of 11, so that takes some skill!).

                    Regardless, it serves traditional grilled foods, burgers, sandwiches, etc. The sweet potato fries were terrific -- home-made, crunchy on the outside, and nicely seasoned. The grilled cheese and tomato sandwich that I had (without the bacon that it comes with according to the menu) was greasy and had American cheese in it, so it's nothing fancy but exactly what one would expect.

                    There's no place link or webpage that I can find, so the address is:
                    311 Heritage Pl
                    Faribault, MN 55021-5250
                    (507) 332-2825‎

                    1. I had an experience today that reminded me of this post, so I dug it up again!

                      Anyway, we were driving NW along highway 55 to visit a county park. Just past Plymouth in Hamel MN was a place called Peg's Countryside Cafe (right on 55), and we stopped there for breakfast. It was a country diner kind of place, and only open for breakfast and lunch. Anyway, there are booths along the window and a train went right by just across 55 while we were dining. Train traffic might be heavier on a regular day - this was on labor day.

                      1. Just noticed these recent replies - great stuff! Thanks, dsg and jitterbug, for the tips about Faribault and Hamel. I think more road trips are in order. (Yeah, I consider MSP's outer suburbs a "road trip".)

                        I still haven't checked out Broadway Pizza in Minneapolis, but I took the hubby down to Trempealeau for a weekend outing. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong weekend - the WI tracks were down for maintenance. But luckily he enjoyed seeing the track machines and the crews. And they opened the tracks for a few minutes while we were eating at the Harbor View Cafe in Pepin - we scored a window seat! - so he did get to see a few trains go by.

                        The food at the Harbor View was superb. I had chunky gazpacho and fried catfish with a spicy creole salsa. Mr. Tastebud had "summer cassoulet" - very filling, but delicious. And we split a piece of peach-blueberry pie - divine! (As were the two take-out pies we got at the Stockholm Pie Company.) The Harbor View is as good as it gets, food-wise, and one could sit on the sidewalk all afternoon with a beer or glass of wine to watch the trains (as long as they're running).

                        And now I have several possibilities for our next outings! Thanks!


                        2 Replies
                        1. re: AnneInMpls

                          I noticed the Choo Choo Bar and Grill in Loretto hasn't been mentioned. I've driven past the place a couple of times but never stopped. It sounds like you're almost guaranteed to see trains according to this little bit I dug up.


                          1. re: justalex

                            Fabulous! Another destination for a road trip!


                        2. close to home: i was buzzing up central ave, just as a train went overhead on the bridge, and i noticed that the outdoor seating at diamonds coffee house had a great view of it all. i don't know anything about diamonds, but maybe you could get some mexican, middle eastern, or south asian takeout from up the street, purchase coffee drinks at diamonds, and sit & enjoy the show? ambiance is kinda urban-zilch, except for the trains, of course.