Rick Nelson recently wrote an interesting and informative piece in The Star Tribune celebrating a whole bunch of good restaurants on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River from Bay City in the north to the LaCrosse area in the south.
I love that beautiful drive along the river….either side.
Every summer Joanne and I bring our grandkids to a farm near Stockholm, Wisconsin for a morning of picking blueberries and then end up driving to Pepin for lunch at the Harbor View Café. It’s has been around for about 25 years and from what I can tell it’s as good today as it’s ever been – with locally sourced products that faithfully follow the seasons, all lovingly handcrafted and presented on a large blackboard menu that I suspect changes frequently.
Most recently Joanne dined on Parchment Steamed Salmon accompanied by asparagus, wild rice and cranberries. I opted for the Grilled Halibut topped with a healthy hunk of melty cilantro-lime butter, served with two perfectly steamed potatoes. I should warn you that it’s not cheap, but the portions are more than generous. All good… go there hungry.
Most recently we took another day trip to the south…. this time on the Minnesota side.
My son David, from Boston, was on the hunt for a new puppy – a Schipperke – from a breeder in Cannon Falls.
So on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago Joanne and I, along with David and our daughter, Jennifer, set out for Cannon Falls and a new puppy.
Unfortunately the dog thing didn’t work out…. but all was not lost – because David was hell bent on driving over to Red Wing to purchase a pair of authentic Red Wing steel-toed work boots.
Now I feel compelled to tell you that David works in an office in Boston and to my knowledge does not have calluses on his hands and has never worn a hard-hat and has never, ever set foot on a construction site. So why the industrial safety boots?
In any case, the notion of a side trip to Red Wing excited my daughter as she had recently had lunch at a local gastropub called STAGHEAD…and really liked it.
Located on Bush Street in downtown Red Wing, it’s an unassuming little place that feels refreshingly real both inside and out…warm, cozy and inviting.
Upon entering, you are immediately drawn to the monumental stuffed staghead over the bar. I’m told that the staghead is celebrated by certain Native American tribes as the protector of the forest – in fact, the KING of the forest. I’m not a hunter but it just looked too big to me to be a deer. I asked our server what it was and she speculated that it was elk.
I don’t know and it really doesn’t matter, because the real attraction here is the food. My guess is that Staghead runs a totally “scratch kitchen,” creating and serving up plates of unexpected and delicious offerings…not pretentious or fancy, but robust, inventive, well prepared and bursting with flavor.
We started with a few of their “MOCKTAILS” – a bargain at $4 each. Among them: Lavender Lemonade, with lavender syrup, lemon and club soda; and Sparkling Rose, made with strawberry syrup, rose water, lemon and club soda. They were refreshing and nothing like I’ve ever had. Definitely a must try. Speaking of beverages, Staghead lists them on a big blackboard that includes all manner of coffee concoctions and a vast selection of craft beers, available on tap and by the bottle.
Live entertainment seems to be a large part of the attraction, too, including what I assume, are well-known to semi-well known musicians…and apparently not just Friday and Saturday nights. Check the Staghead’s postings online.
On to the food. For openers we shared a warm crusty baguette with salted honey butter…well worth the $3. We followed that with an impressive charcuterie board, featuring another warmed baguette – only this time not just crusty but nicely charred – accompanied by cold-smoked speck, St. Pete’s Amablu Cheese, Marcona almonds, Rosette de Lyon Dry Salami, prosciutto, and a wedge of Wisconsin young Gouda cheese. It ran about $25-30, but that’s for four indulgent people. All served with ramekins of honey, mustard and jam.
We also ordered Deviled Eggs – not “Lutheran Church picnic” deviled eggs but ones stuffed with Amablu cheese, garlic aioli, bacon and fresh herbs…..$5.
A Duroc Pork Chop was next; served over sweet potato puree with maple/Dijon Marcona almonds…$24.
My daughter, a vegetarian, chose the house made Chickpea Burger, topped with herbed tomato and tzatziki and nicely accompanied by a small crispy Greek salad ….. $14. David selected the Tuna Burger made with sashimi-grade Ahi tuna, fried onion, horseradish aioli, roasted potatoes and simple salad…$19 and worth it.
It’s pretty obvious that this is not your typical deep fried “pub grub.” It’s well thought out, carefully prepared and artfully plated.
I’ve never met the owners, Danielle and John Flicek.
But I can say, “Well done, Danielle and John…WELL DONE.”
By the way, David got his steel-toed boots and I can finally sleep better these days knowing that his feet are safe at last under the desk in his Boston office.