If you’ve ever lived in Boston, you know that one of the best things about living in The Hub is not in the city at all — it’s the city’s proximity by road and rail to a number of charming New England seaside and country villages. These villages exist as compromises between urban and rural: the charming views and fresh air of the country, but the sophisticated dining sensibility of the urban. Proximity to nature, but availability of decent art and antiques. Agritourism but also agriculture and aquaculture.
And while the rural escape options around here may be a bit less accessible, Twin Cities residents also happily have access to number of similar agritourist villages, including gorgeous little Stockholm, WI. The drive to Stockholm is a little more than an hour and passes through some gorgeous country — the road dips and rises over the country hills, and it twists and turns over ridges with water views, causeways, and steep rustic hillsides.
When you finally get to this tiny town on the shores of Lake Pepin, you’ll be immediately struck by two things: one, by how small and compact it is. Two, by how much there is to do and eat within such a walkable area (or bikeable area; the town boasts a fleet of blue courtesy bikes for those who want to tool around the country roads on two wheels). Many area gastronauts know the area for its pizza-on-the-farm experience, but those who blow past the village proper on the way to pizza are missing quite a few goodies.
A natural place to start is with an outdoor breakfast in the courtyard of Bogus Creek Cafe & Bakery. The food isn’t cheap ($11.75 for most entrees) and the portions are relatively modest. You’re paying for quality, which is there in force: The scratch-made Swedish pancakes (with fruit, lingonberry compote, and housemade whipped cream — pictured in collage, above) are light, slightly chewy, and impeccable in terms of flavor and texture. We also tried a hash (above) with whipped eggs, potatoes, and ham and found it to be surprisingly delicate and tender in terms of flavor and texture, and consequently killer delicious.
[715.442.5017 / Fri-Sun 10am-4pm, Mon-Thu closed / N2049 Spring St, Stockholm, WI 54769]
It’s difficult to stop talking about The Stockholm Pie Company once you’ve walked through the doors and sampled a slice — we tried the triple berry ($3.75) and were delighted by the generous use of real berries, the balance between tart and sweet, and the simple, tender crust.
A mini apple pie ($6) that we brought home was equally tasty, managing the overall spice and moisture levels while deftly balancing sweet and tart. If Stockholm’s got a killer app, this is it — Stockholm Pie Company is the pie shop that Betty’s pretends to be.
[715.442.5505 / Fri-Sun 10am-5pm, Mon and Thu 11am-4pm, Tue and Wed closed / N2030 Spring St #1, Stockholm, WI 54769]
The Smiling Pelican Bakeshop in Maiden Rock (a few miles up the Great River Road from Stockholm) sells an ever-changing variety of breads, sweets, and baked goods. The slice of ham, cheese, and spinach quiche ($3.75) that we sampled was deeply herbed, airy in texture, and satisfying — after a Bogus Creek breakfast, we found that a single slice was sufficient for a light lunch for two. We also picked up a loaf of Milwaukee Rye ($3.50), which combines a respectable punch of rye flavor with a relatively airy texture… if you want your bread substantial as a rock, you’re out of luck.
[715.448.3807 / Open April through Dec. 23; call for hours / W3556 State Rd 35, Maiden Rock, WI 54750]
Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery may become to local apple cider what brewers such as Lift Bridge and Furthermore have become to local craft beer. Owners Herdie Baisden (above) and Carol Wiersma cultivate 50 varieties of apples (many of which are rare and / or heirloom types) and mix the juices from dozens of varieties produced in quantity to make their many unique products. (“Unique” isn’t used lightly here; if you know anyone else around here making Dolgo Crabapple wine or Kingston Black still cider, please shoot us a note.) “One of the things that distinguishes us is the way we produce our cider — we make more still ciders than we make the carbonated ciders,” says Baisden. “Most people associate cider with carbonation, but the traditional cider is still — they weren’t carbonating it 500 or 800 years ago.”
The 80-acre property also plays host to weddings and other events, including a December Wassailing of the Apple Trees party that features wild game and — seriously — a boar’s head paraded through the apple trees.
Our interview with Baisden was a font of interesting information — you can read the stand-alone profile here.
[715.448.3502 / Wed-Sun 10am-6pm, April-December (call to confirm), Mon-Tue closed / W12266 King Ln, Stockholm, WI 54769]
Stockholm General is less a general store than a local foods shop for tourists, but we’re not complaining. The emphasis on Wisconsin and craft-made foods is admirable and the variety excellent. Build-your-own craft-beer six packs ($9.69) let visitors sample craft beers from New Glarus, Sprecher, and Sand Creek, among others — we tried and fell in love with the New Glarus Coffee Stout. Products from local distilleries, wineries, jam-makers, and cheesemakers complete the experience, and if you’re jonesing for caffeine, there’s even an in-house espresso bar.
The Maple Cream ($10 for 7 oz.) we picked up at Stockholm General wasn’t cheap, but it was delicious: This light brown spread tastes like maple-glazed toasted marshmallows.
[715.442.9077 / Hours vary seasonally / N2030-4 Spring St, Stockholm, WI 54769]
Why would Twin Cities residents with access to the Cooks of Crocus Hill and Kitchen Window need to visit The Palate Gourmet Kitchen Store in Stockholm? Truth be told, you probably don’t; the Palate is far less complete than either of those two upscale cooking mega-shops. But it’s also damned charming, with a Continental-meets-California vibe and a nice selection of fancy kitchenwares that puts an emphasis on aesthetics over git ‘er done functionality or gadgetry. The Laguiole selection is particularly good, and I bought an elegant, $30 wooden-handled whisk that I have named Doombringer the EggHammer.
(The theory: Once a whisk gets over a certain price point, it seems like you’re missing the boat if you don’t give it some sort of fear-inspiring sword name.)
[715.442.6400 / Tue-Sat 9am-5pmish, Sun 10am-5pmish, Mon closed / W12102 State Hwy 35, Stockholm, WI 54769]
The inviting exterior at Gelly’s conceals a laid-back, country-bar and grill style establishment that shares the dedication to scratch-made cooking that seems to be a local by-law. We sampled the Friday fish fry and were staggered not just by the overall quality, but also by the value. $8.50 per person bought the following:
Two pieces of cod, baked or fried — the baked was tender and flavorful, complemented by the housemade tartar sauce, and the fried was delicate and not greasy;
Coleslaw with vinegar dressing or spray-it-yourself housemade creamy dressing;
Sweet and sour beans (a lighter, more sophisticated play on baked beans featuring variety of beans plus onions);
Fries or a terrific housemade potato salad.
Housemade cinnamon bread pudding with vanilla cream sauce was a few bucks extra, but well worth the expenditure.
When we chatted with Gelly’s owner Di Gelhar about the scratch-made ethic and tourist-friendly disposition of Stockholm, she summed up neatly: The place is a perfect storm between the locals (who include, as she put it, “architects, musicians, and artists”) and the visitors, who include motorcyclists, bicyclists, and runners by the legion, not to mention the roughly 10,000 folks who drop by every year for Stockholm’s art fair.
[715.442.2023 / Wed-Thu 11am-7:30pm, Fri 11am-9pm (fish fry 4-9pm), Sat 11am-9pm (serving Gelly’s smoked pork ribs and/or shrimp dinners from 5-9pm, Mon-Tue closed / W12128 State Highway 35, Stockholm, WI 54769]
As a final note: Stockholm is seasonally oriented, doing most of its business during the warm tourist-friendly months of April-October, so if you’re planning a trip down on the fringes of that season or during a weekday other than Friday, you may want to call ahead to confirm that the shops and / or restaurants you’re hoping to visit are open.