Val’s Rapid Service 

For as long as I can remember, this historic, hole-in-the-wall, messy, legendary St. Cloud staple has been on my bucket list. Val’s is famous for their generous portions of greasy fries, sugary shakes and made to order burgers. Home in a 490-square-foot building that was originally a Pure Oil gas station, Val’s Rapid-Serv opened on Memorial Day 1959. Named after Val Henning, the trademark sign was repurposed from an old shoe company. Starting as a seasonal business and later moving to a year round venture, Val ran the restaurant until 1979, before selling to his sons. The place is tiny, but so, so worth the cramped quarters.

Jetting the Mississippi and the St. Cloud Dam 

The #MNGFO2017 took place in St. Cloud this year and because the town straddles the Mississippi River, it only makes sense to spend some time on the water. Boating, sailing or even rowing the mighty Mississippi can be incredibly difficult because of the large boulders, down trees and obstacles hidden below the undercurrent.  The colossal waterway calls for something less conventional – enter the Jet Boat. Since it doesn’t have out drives or props, you can cruise without the same constraints AND they are just plain fun to be on.

Of course, Jill from Shine On Photos and I had to try it out.  Going upstream, we made it to the St. Cloud Dam which is just walking distance from the Munsinger Gardens and the Clemens Gardens, just across from the St. Cloud State University Stadium. We got up close and personal with the 21.5 feet high dam and its three-foot flip-up gate on its top that raises the water level. The original dam at this location dated from 1887-8 was made of stone, oak and pine and was replaced by a concrete dam in 1970. In 1988, the current hydroelectric generation facility was built, creating 85-foot-long spillway bays that can discharge a total of 3,600 cubic feet of water per second. It is even used by the hydrology classes at SCSU. It produces 8.86 megawatts and generates more than 60 million kilowatt hours of electrical energy annually, which would be like burning 7,000 tons of coal. The dam is the largest city-owned hydroelectric facility in the state. How cool is that?!

#MNGFO2017 #VisitSaintCloud  #OnlyinMN

Anton’s

The next stop of my #MNGFO2017 adventure was Anton’s. A family-owned steakhouse in Waite Park that is a cross between a riverfront log cabin and a full service speakeasy. Which totally makes sense given that it is right off Sauk River and was an actual speakeasy during Prohibition.

Built in the 1920’s by Cy Brick, “Bricky’s” as it was then called, became famous for their patrons, the  “Minnesota 13” bootleggers. Let me just pause and say, if you don’t know the Stearns County area history, you may be unfamiliar with the infamous Minnesota 13, the corn liquor moonshine distilled on many central Minnesota Stearns County farms. Do yourself a favor, read about it. Absolutely worth looking into. While ownership changed, it wasn’t until 1973 when Anton (Tony) Gaetz and his wife Lorraine took over and it gained its current moniker. 

Known for their colossal popovers which are served with their honey-butter, they are also beloved for their seafood and award-winning barbeque ribs. Not to mention the huge Scotch selection. Kitschy, time-stamped decor, homey fireplaces, booths resembling covered wagons, rustic up-north views covered with grass, baby ducks and fluffy geese… The whole place is worth stopping in.

Pictured: Chicken Almond Stuffed Popover Salad and the Raspberry Salad

#MNGFO2017 #VisitSaintCloud  #OnlyinMN

Quarry Park and Nature Preserve 

One of the best parts about the Governor’s Fishing Opener is seeing the hidden gems of the host community. The first of many for the St. Cloud area is the Quarry Park and Nature Preserve in Waite Park. The granite quarries opened over 100 years ago, seeking out the Saint Cloud Red Granite, a stone you can still see in the architecture of the Landmark Center and the James J. Hill House in St. Paul. Quarrying operations in the park ceased in the mid-1950’s. The park for decades was known in St. Cloud as an unregulated party spot called Hundred Acres Quarry. In 1992, Stearns County purchased this site from Cold Spring Granite Company and became the largest in the Stearns County Parks system. The park opened on January 1, 1998. It is open year-round with so much to do and places to explore! Granite reflecting pools, two swimming quarries, scientific and natural areas, mountain bike paths over billion-year-old bedrock, trout fishing, picnic areas, hiking trails, geocaching, a really cool derrick exhibit, rock climbing, cliff jumping (crazy-popular), three designated quarries for scuba diving (In central Minnesota… right?!), scenic overlooks, cross country ski trails, snowshoeing – and thats not even all! I took the guided tour, seeing the crystal clear, cold water while I pored over my copy of ”Quarry Quest, the History of Stearns County Quarry Park and Nature Preserve” written by a quarry-obsessed, retired Stearns County Commissioner named Mark Sakry, soaking up the granite quarrying history, politics, plant and bird lists, old articles and personal stories. I highly recommend making your way to the park and learning a bit of its history. What a stunning place!

#MNGFO2017 #VisitSaintCloud  #OnlyinMN

Dutch Maid Bakery

Whenever I plan to stay in a different town, I always make finding a bakery a priority. Coming into St. Cloud for the 2017 Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener, I immediately began my quest. Lucky for me, the Dutch Maid Bakery off St. Germaine Street on the east side of the city fit the bill. As a stand alone, Dutch Maid is both retail and wholesale serving all of central Minnesota. They are family owned and have been using the same recipes they opened the bakery with over 60 years ago. If you love cake, unfilled or filled donuts, Dutch has you covered. Pies and coffee cakes more your thing? No problem. Maybe you go for the muffins – they have those, too! How about cookies and bars, you ask? Yep! How about the sweet rolls and cookies?? Absolutely! What if I don’t go for sweets? They have bread, buns and rolls for you! I, myself, went for the easy-to-hold, melts-in-your-mouth, where-have-these-been-all-my-life cinnamon rolls. Totally worth checking out for the prices alone and with a marquee like that, how can you pass it up?!

#MNGFO2017 #VisitSaintCloud  #OnlyinMN

Mademoiselle Miel

It is my personal belief that that only way to make it through mid-weekdays, happily, is by chocolate. You may disagree, and that’s okay; more chocolate for me. Speaking of, I give you Mademoiselle Miel in St Paul.

Founded in 2011 by Susan Brown, MM moved to its current location, a small storefront and showroom off Kellogg in 2013. Specializing in rooftop honey bon-bons thinly-coated in 100% dark chocolate, MM is lovingly known as the beekeeping chocolatier because they collect honey from hives that sit on the rooftops of several Twin Cities buildings. The honey from each different location has a very distinct flavor because they are reflective of any place the bees are getting nectar from. When it’s time to harvest, the honey is extracted directly from the hives in the shop. After it is encased in the bittersweet, black chocolate, it is painted, by hand no less, with edible 23k gold leaf. What a better way to add ‘fancy’ to your Wednesday?! Amirite? These babies belong in a museum. While the raw honey is Miel’s signature, they also have seasonal flavors like rose, espresso, fennel, and black pepper. I loved the rose because the essential oil laced through to the chocolate and permeated the bon-bon into perfection. Beautifully packaged in sets of 3-PC, 8-PC, 20-PC and unique in every single way, Mademoiselle deserves its accolades; Awarded 2014 Top 10 Chocolatier of North America and named one of the best chocolates in the state by Minnesota Monthly.

 

 

MERCY 

Airy, warm, cozy Minnesota days like today deserve a beautiful place to spend them. Enter MERCY at the Le Meridien Chambers hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Nestling into the former home of Marin Restaurant & Bar, and D’Amico Kitchen before that, Mercy is named after youngest daughter of co-owners Abby Rakun and Chef Mike Rakun’s. The stunner opened just over a month ago with a focus on casual and comfortable. From the surf board high top near the bar, and the perfect-for-a-shoe-photo mural on the floor upstairs to the ever-popular downstairs Hemingway-meets-Fitzgerald Library Bar that is wrapped in warm wood tones and backlit books, Mercy is the place to go.

Whether you come for a special occasion in the Chef’s Table, a 5-course interactive experience in the kitchen, the Art Ballroom or the Gallery; or for the outdoor ambiance with spots like Mercy’s Rooftop, complete with downtown views or the coveted Courtyard… let me tell you about the Courtyard. Spacious, semi-private, with a huge full bar and fire pit. You wouldn’t guess you’re sitting on one of the busiest city streets.

While I could go on and on about the atmosphere, I’ll just go straight to the food. King crab grilled cheese on a brioche, old school cheeseburgers with special sauce and gouda, oyster po’ boy sliders, hot pastrami sandwiches or beer can chicken with dirty rice, I mean, wow. The plating alone deserves an award!  They also serve copious amounts of seafood, so it’s no surprise there is a full oyster bar in the main room, where you can watch them being shucked. Oh, and their garlic bread, don’t even think about passing it up.

When it comes to drinks, I have a few I’d recommend. For the adventurous herb lover, I would try the Dill Caipirinha, a blend of dill Aquavit, lime, and orange bitters. If you want to stay classic, try the refreshing land of the palm trees filled with lime and Earl Giles pomegranate passion fruit. For the trendy hipster, try the urban sombrero made with Minnesota’s own Bauhaus Wonderstuff, served upside down in a clear tiki glass. Finally, you really can’t go wrong with a strawberry cosmopolitan with hints of lime, orange and cranberry.

North Star

With Valleyfair opening soon it seems like the perfect time to tell you about their brand-new ride. Located just next to where the Enterprise, now retired, was. Soaring in at a whopping 230 feet, the North Star is the second tallest ride in the park, with the Power Tower in first at 275 feet. Easily recognizable with its instagram-worthy red, white and blue motif, NS brings you up 20 stories and spins you up to 40mph. It’s the only ride of this type in the upper Midwest. Helpful note: If you sit on the outside, you’ll feel the wind and the spin. If you sit on the inside and look in, you will feel like you’re in a helicopter, reporting the late-breaking traffic news OR like you’re circling Godzilla. I, for one, totally loved the Godzilla-like seat. For those that think, NO WAY! Give it a chance. I went on it twice, no problem. And, with a name like “North Star”, paying homage to the north star state, I can tell you from my own experience, it’s worth checking out!

Tobies Restaurant & Bakery

Welcome to Tobies. Open 24 hours and hailing as Minnesota’s famous halfway stop (between the Twin Cities and Duluth), they include an ice cream parlor, banquet hall, lounge, tavern, diner, boutique and gift shop, convenience store, gas station and, last but not least, a bakery. One with a national reputation, and a line out to door to match.

Colossal, gargantuan, massive, mammoth… These are just a few words that describe the infamous Tobies cinnamon roll. Whether you like it generously iced, caramel covered, or, the pièce de résistance, piled high with caramel pecans. World. Famous. Coming in at a whopping 30 to a pan, my sucre-loving heart skipped a beat. People often compare it to their grandmas recipe. Let me tell you, I don’t know any grandma that makes them this good. They go through so many cinnamon rolls that they have to make their homemade icing by the bucket full. It took every ounce of willpower I could muster to not nab one, find a spoon and pretend it was ice cream. I wish I were joking. Ahem, as I write this, I am halfway through a cinnamon roll, with icing as warpaint across my face. And no you can’t just get all the rolls from the middle of the pan – what sort of monster would make it so that everybody else has to have the outside pieces?!

If rolls aren’t your thing, don’t fret! Homemade cookies, cake donuts, crispies, pies, loaves of bread, muffins, bismarks, fritters, candies, jellies, jams,… I could go on and on! You can even get a cupcake bouquet! There is one thing I would highly suggest though; Andrej’s European Pastry. Potica (pronounced Po-tee-sa), a Slovak thinly rolled gourmet sweet bread dough that you can get with either walnut or poppy seed filling. I suggest this because it has an insane shelf life and is a favorite among hikers and backpackers (it’s small and calorie dense). Also, for those gluten-free folks who feel betrayed by the bakery-scene – Tobies has you covered. They have a whole section of gluten-free goodness! The restaurants’ are amazing, too. A welcome break from the fast-food ridden highways.

The green oval glowing the distance, beckoning the weary traveler from the highway. My love for Tobies runs deep because like most Minnesotans growing up vacationing on Lake Superior, it has become a staple and a tradition. In my lifetime of travels to Duluth, I don’t think there’s been a single time that I have not stopped at Tobies. Just the thought of a trip to the northcoast has visions of cinnamon rolls dancing in my head. I have been coming here for so long that I promise, if I call my mom right now, she has Tobies bread in her freezer. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who’s childhood involved the North Shore that hadn’t been here. I hereby proclaim that Tobies deserves it’s own zipcode because growing up, honest-to-goodness, I thought Tobies was the town name. P.S. It’s not, it’s located in Hinkley, for those who shared my confusion.

Hinkley has a rich history, with the Great Hinkley Fire of 1894, but I myself am partial to Tobies tale. Opened in 1920 by the Wendt family, the cafe and bus stop served donuts and coffee on the old Highway 61, Bob Dylan’s crown muse. It operated successfully for 27 years, until 1947 when Tobie Lackner bought the shop and gifted its current monikers most iconic element, his name. Tobies Eat Shop and Bus Stop was born and reigned on 61 for 19 years until the new freeway planned to come through. Prior to building I-35, this was the heart of Hinkley.  The Lackners chose to retire and sold to the Schrade’s (the prevailing family). In 1966, they moved, now simply called

“Tobies,” to its current location off Exit 183 and have become the one-stop-shop and widespread rite of passage for passersby. Currently on its second and third generation of ownership and fourth generation of employees.

They keep up with the times, too! My Paul Bunyan loving heart almost leapt from my chest when I saw all of the Minnesota-branded apparel and accessories they carry – and I’m not just talking food! I picked up a Sota Clothing sweatshirt, a few Minnesota Children’s books and even a buffalo plaid bottle koosie. Sure there is kitsch, but that’s exactly what you want from a place like Tobies.

What’s next on the horizon, you ask? Well, their gas station / car wash is about to get better. Soon, they will be opening a Caribou (keeping it local!) kiosk right inside! No more long distance trips without your ’Bou!