Our annual “hundred-mile garage sale” has been postponed from May to September due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It made me think again how beautiful the Hiawatha Valley loop around Lake Pepin is and how much fun it is to drive. Garage saleing is one way to do it; another is food. And, you guessed it, that is my preference. Spring, summer, autumn, winter—it really doesn’t matter for beauty and fun. Unfortunately, some of the best eating places aren’t open in winter months, but you can still do a great food circle almost any time of year.
If your fancy turns to picnics, a great place to start is at Randy’s in Red Wing or Hager Heights Drive-in across the river. Grab a bucket of chicken and a couple of sides and head down the Wisconsin side of ‘Ole Miss. Stop at any of the scenic overviews or roadside parks—or at one of the lovely city parks in the small towns along the way. Spend time reading the historic plaques with the stories of this beautiful valley.
Now if you’re not the picnicking type, or are just in the mood for restaurant food, the selection is endless.
Ole’s bar in Maiden Rock, WI, might be your next stop if you’re thirsty and want to observe the many bikers who ride the Great River Road and are regulars here. Ole’s is a colorful and often noisy bar and eatery with a deck in summer for river viewing.
Stockholm boasts a great many quaint and interesting little shops, from antiques and gifts to food products, Amish quilts and other stuff. It has two eateries that I know of, and my favorite is Bogus Creek Café. Just the name gets me. They have outdoor seating in a very enchanting garden courtyard (with a little creek? running through it) and great food—especially bakery items. A truly pleasant experience on a lovely day. But the inside café, though small, is cozy in inclement weather. If you are in the mood for desserts, you cannot miss the Stockholm Pie Company. Their pies are utterly delicious.
Pepin, Wisconsin is the home of the well-known Harbor View Café. This restaurant has been famous for its fine foods for a great many years and we had guests at our B&B inn in Red Wing who made the trip especially to dine there.
If you haven’t eaten by now, stop at Beth’s Twin Bluff Cafe in Nelson. Meandering will take time and you can count on delicious, homecooked specials on the bulletin board every day. It is my favorite place for people watching and comfortable, relaxing, down home dining.
Save room for an inexpensive and delicious ice cream cone in Nelson at the Nelson Cheese Factory. It used to be a creamery where you could watch them making cheese curds—but they remodeled, added a wine room, and moved their production facility elsewhere. Still, it is has a great deli and a lovely sit-down eating area in the new wine bar. They have a fantastic assortment of cheeses. Pick up some specialty Wisconsin cheese for your next picnic.
At Nelson, cross the Mississippi back into Wabasha and start back up the other side. While not quite as scenic, it has its own beauty. Reads Landing has some great vantage points and observation decks to view river wildlife, as well as a picnic spot or two. Lake City has a great Marina and several parks along Lake Pepin. By the time you get to Lake City, you should be ready to hit the Chickadee Cottage Cafe. All of the food is fresh, innovative (yet traditional), beautifully presented and not too expensive. Actually, it’s really a bargain. The interior is, indeed, a cottage—full of dolls, tea things, beautiful cards and other gift items. A lovely porch is a treat, if you are seated there, and two other dining areas are very tastefully decorated with winsome and personal items. But the food! Everything I have tried has been superb.
I never tire of this drive—it’s always fresh and surprising. The food is too—and I hope to discover a new great place to eat next time out.