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Aug 8, 2009 03:46 PM

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!