Bluff Country Eats

In May, much of southeastern Minnesota feels like a runner on the starting block: It’s quiet now, but the whole region is poised for a summer-long marathon that starts when the first tourists arrive in three, two, one…

And they’re off — boating, fishing, biking, hiking, floating lazily down rivers in inner tubes, and working up appetites. Fortunately for them, they’ll find plenty of good stuff to eat along the rivers and among the bluffs.

This list is by no means comprehensive. On our trip we were in the mood for more casual eats. On our next trip, when we’re looking for finer dining, Nosh in Lake City, Quarter/quarter in Harmony, and Crescendo in Albert Lea will all be on our itinerary.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Bacon and Cheese Curd Burger at Bev’s in Red Wing

Long before anybody put a “TM” after “Smashburger,” cooks in tiny kitchens in small-town diners were smashing ground beef on hot griddles with long, heavy spatulas. Crisp, smash. Flip, smash.

That’s the burger at Bev’s: It’s big (choose a third or a half pound), it’s flat, it’s misshapen (ours looked like West Virginia), it’s crispy and salty and unpretentious and good. It sits on a bun half its size, with long crisp bacon slices hanging off the edge.

What this burger is missing, sadly, is cheese curds. (Isn’t any good burger just looking for a good cheese curd?) The kitchen was out of curds when we visited, so we had to imagine the squeaky, salty goodness on the Bacon and Cheese Curd Burger.

But we consoled ourselves with another State Fair treat: funnel cake fries. Pencil thin, airy, and just sweet enough that you don’t really need that dish of melted icing that comes with them.

Bev’s opens early and serves breakfast all day, but they put a time limit on your coffee refills ($1.30 supposedly buys you an hour, but I suspect these folks are too nice to actually kick you out).

Bev’s Cafe
Diner in Red Wing

221 Bush St
Red Wing, MN 55066

OWNERS: Shelley and Roger Diercks
Sun-Thu 8am-1am
Fri-Sat 8am-2am

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Breakfast at Trout Scream Cafe in Welch

In the summer, when the inner tubes outnumber the trout on the Cannon River, families line up for ice cream and sandwiches at the Trout Scream Cafe, one of three buildings that make up the entirety of downtown Welch. But in the off-season, you can just waltz in and take any table you like. Except that long one in the center of the room.

When we were at Trout Scream, a dozen regulars congregated at that table, coming and going at their own pace. The men universally had tractor bellies and wore baseball caps. They talked of why nobody leaves May baskets on the front steps of cute boys anymore, what will happen if Governor Scott Walker loses the recall vote in Wisconsin (predictions were dire), how often you have to change the tires on your Bobcat if you run it on blacktop (every five days, turns out). As they got up to leave, one by one, they all mentioned that tomorrow it will rain, so there’s lots of work to get done today.

They ordered eggs, sausage, French toast, pancakes — and they handed their plates to the server when they were done, thanking her by name.

We had The Cajun: crispy, crispy hash browns tasting of butter, not oil, and topped with bites of spicy sausage, fried mushrooms, green peppers, a perfect poached egg, and homemade Hollandaise. It was excellent.

Trout Scream Cafe
Diner in Welch

14689 Welch Tr
Welch, MN 55089

OWNER / CHEF: Peggy Zenner Hansen
Mon-Thu 7:30am-6pm
Fri-Sun 7:30am-7:30pm
No / No

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Croissants at Rabbit’s Bakery in Lake City

Getting your sailboat ready for the season really works up an appetite. Good thing Rabbit’s Bakery is right there by the Lake City Marina. We don’t have a sailboat to scrub, polish, and rig, so we took our croissant to the tables outside to watch others work in the sunshine.

The croissant was big and buttery, substantial and flaky, the equal of any in the Twin Cities. The selection in the bakery case was sparse — granola scones, a couple of muffins, chocolate croissants — but there was plenty of room for more when the season begins in earnest.

Rabbit’s Bakery
Bakery in Lake City

304 S Washington
Lake City, MN 55041

6am-3pm daily
No / No


Bison Burger at Lakeview Drive Inn in Winona

Yes, that is a preformed patty and those are the dreaded frozen crinkle-cut fries. And, to be honest, it wasn’t awesome. But this meal was set down on the counter with the warmest, most genuine welcome a diner has ever experienced. And that has to count for something.

What’s more, the sun was high in the blue sky over Sugar Loaf, the conical promontory that Winona locals navigate by, and happy college students were enjoying the spring day. Everything was much as it has been since 1938, when the Lakeview Drive Inn started serving burgers and house-brewed root beer by Lake Winona. Flash your lights and a server will bring a tray right out to your car window, old-style, or you can sit at the long counter inside or the sunny tables outside.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Lakeview Drive Inn
Drive-in in Winona

610 E Sarnia St
Winona, MN 55987

OWNERS: Tim and John Glowczewski
10:30am-8:30pm daily
No / No

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Pie at Aroma Pie Shop in Whalan

You don’t have to ride your bike to the Aroma Pie Shop in Whalan, a few miles outside Lanesboro, but that’s how most people get there. The shop, in an old house with an inviting sun porch, is at the halfway point between Fountain and Houston on the Root River Trail.

Maggie Gergen bakes dozens of varieties each day, from fruit pies to cream and custard pies. Closing time comes when the pie runs out — and during the summer that can be earlier than you think.

We had the Peanut Butter Elvis pie, a creamy whipped treat with peanut butter and bananas in a chocolate cookie crust. It had a fantastically light texture and was just sweet enough. Next time we’ll have to go back for the rhubarb.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Aroma Pie Shop
Pie shop in Whalan

618 Main St
Whalan, MN 55949


Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

The Lumberjack at Pedal Pushers in Lanesboro

With “Do you, do you, do you, do you wanna dance?” playing overhead, 1950s records hanging on the walls, and a few design details from the former drugstore’s interior still visible, the atmosphere at Pedal Pushers is all about nostalgia. But the menu is rooted in the values of the present: fresh and local.

The eggs, milk, meat, and vegetables all come from a short distance away (this is still farm country, after all) and the bread makes the trip from the Twin Cities. These turn into burgers, salads, and classic plates like meat loaf, Norwegian meatballs (not Swedish, this being proudly Norwegian Lanesboro), and a hot beef commercial. Pedal Pushers also makes its own root beer: a rich, creamy brew with a lot of zip.

We had the lumberjack: tender pulled pork in a light barbecue sauce on a classic soft bun. It was topped with just enough cheese and a scoop of creamy coleslaw. It was not, fortunately, large enough to feed a lumberjack. Bluff Country had already fed us well.

Pedal Pushers Cafe
Diner in Lanesboro

121 Parkway Ave N
Lanesboro, MN 55949

OWNERS: Angie and Scott Taylor
Mon-Fri 11am–8pm
Sat-Sun 8am–8pm
BAR: Beer
No / No


  1. Fish Smart Guy

    Welch is home to the Cannon River (& it’s prettier little cousin the Belle), the Root is farther south (Lanesboro, Preston, etc…). That drive down 7 is pretty awesome.

  2. Fish Smart Guy

    Great article though. I frequent the Driftless on my flyfishing trips, and I hadn’t heard of a couple of these. The Hay Creek Campground has an incredible bison burger. Kings in Meisville has a burger menu w/ something like 70 different combos. I could go on & on…

  3. joe allen

    We did the Lakeview Drive-in in Winona last year. I would have just as soon have had a Whopper. The food at the Lakeview was practically inedible, so the perceived nostalgia was completely worthless.

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