Let’s face it: We all like food. We eat it all the time, and we prefer for it to be good. But when traveling, eating used to mean driving around a town until you saw a place that seemed to be a restaurant, and trying to judge from the style of the sign and how many cars were outside whether it would be a place that would meet your culinary expectations, or at least not poison you. It was like food roulette — sometimes you discovered greatness, and sometimes you wished afterward you’d just thrown your money down the sewer drain.
Well God bless the Internet. And God bless Foodies. Here in Winona, we love you both.
Define Foodies, you say? OK. The tourism industry likes to call them “culinary travelers,” a rather aristocratic-sounding title that conjures images of pâté-spreading, wine-swishing food critics searching the land for the perfect bonne bouche. But you know who you really are … you are the folks who, when visiting a town, will drive past the chain restaurants in search of the Holy Grail: something uniquely local with a quirky burger, an interesting beer lineup, a famously delicious piece of chocolate cake, or maybe even pâté, as long as it was masterminded by the guy cooking on the other side of the wall and not some test kitchen.
Not only have Foodies created some Ah-Mazing eateries tucked into unexpected nooks and crannies all over the place, but when other Foodies find those spots, they write all over the Internet about it. Driven by an insatiable craving for something authentic, Foodies will drive farther and spend more for a great meal, and they will talk about their discovery down to the smallest detail so the next poor soul looking for good eats need only check review sites on the Web to pull back the curtain on a restaurant and see what they will find inside.
Foodies, or, ahem, culinary travelers, don’t necessarily choose a destination based on what restaurants are there, but they definitely are scouring the web for local gems wherever they go.
Here in Winona, we say scour away. This town is chock full of deliciousness — things you will absolutely never eat anywhere else — and you’d have to come back over and over again to taste it all. Or you could eat straight from the time you arrive to the time you leave, but I don’t recommend it because, well, it will make you sick.
By no means an exhaustive list, and in no particular order, here are some of the places you must add to your bucket list of culinary adventures:
Signatures/The Grill: On one side it’s a stylish grill serving up gourmet comfort food (lobster mac and cheese — crazy good), and on the other side it’s a swanky restaurant serving an epicurean delight of gourmet fare (mostly sourced locally) that has left those pâté-nibbling, wine-swirling food critics swooning. And the wine list will knock your socks off.
The Boat House: This, my friends, is a Foodie adventure. Chef Doug dreams up food like Whitman dreamed up poetry, and the changing menu, cool vibe, and hot toddies will keep you coming back again and again. The beautifully decadent breakfast poutine (house cut fries topped with homemade sausage gravy, thick cut bacon, cheese curds, sour cream, scallions and two fried eggs) will make you weep.
Lakeview Drive Inn: Since 1938, these folks have been serving us homemade root beer that is to die for. Even better, a carhop will bring it to your car window in one of those huge, frosted mugs that weighs about as much as a dying sun. Trust me — if you even hold a tiny place in your heart for root beer, you want a glass of this.
Rubios Food Truck: I know what you’re thinking — a food truck? But I’m telling you, if you are in the vicinity of downtown on any given night and see one of these big beasts out, treat yourself to some of the most delicious walking Mexican food you’ll ever have. Beef and rice burrito — killer.
Blue Heron Coffee House: A bright, beautiful little spot with unique breakfast and lunch items, organic ingredients, and a chill vibe. Everyone raves about the breakfast frittatas (with olives — yum), but I’ve seriously even heard people rave about the oatmeal.
Bloedow Bakery: The best bakery in Minnesota, and we’re not just saying that. Saveur Magazine said it. So did Twin Cities CBS-affiliate WCCO. And Country Living. And every person who’s ever put one of their donuts in their mouth. I don’t know what kind of magic they put in these things, but a maple long john is a transformative experience.
Poot’s Sports Palace: It is the smallest bar you’ve ever been in, and it’s hidden on a side street that you will have to use GPS to find – but this place makes a Pootza (like a pizza, only better) unlike anything you’ve ever had. Done from scratch right in front of you, these little delights come in all kinds of varieties (love, love love the buffalo chicken), or they’ll let you invent one on the spot from whatever ingredients they have. This is without a doubt one of Winona’s best kept secrets.
Oh – there’s more … hometown brew pubs and seriously good Chinese and Mexican, charming little coffee shops and interesting sandwich places — you can browse them all on the Visit Winona website, or better yet, browse them all from a seat inside while you soak up this cool little city. But better bring your stretchy pants, because your taste buds will thank me, but your waistline probably won’t. It’s OK though — we have hiking trails … but that’s another post :-)
From the archives of “Why Everybody Loves Winona,” a travel blog produced by Visit Winona at www.visitwinona.com.