If you’re heading south of the Twin Cities on Highway 169, you’ll eventually arrive at the town of St. Peter. This beautiful old town along the Minnesota River has a lively downtown — (all of which is on the National Register of Historic Places) with a good mix of shops and art galleries. It also has a far-better-than-average eatery: River Rock Coffee. River Rock is right on Highway 169 (or, as it’s also called at this point, Minnesota Avenue), and is a congenial community gathering spot. At a recent visit, we saw people working on laptops, gossiping over coffee, and having a planning meeting for a new veteran’s memorial to be built in the town, and there was even one man who didn’t think twice about singing along with the music playing overhead. (For the record, no one even glanced his way, and he wasn’t a bad singer.)
The name is somewhat misleading. Yes, River Rock has a full complement of coffee and espresso drinks, but it also has a cafe menu. While limited in scope, it’s made up of a well-chosen selection of items that changes with the seasons. River Rock sources locally and organically as much as it can, buying fresh items from several local farmers and tinkering with the menu according to what is available.
During a recent visit, we tried the salad sampler ($7.75), a plate with all three of the day’s salads. It would be difficult to pick a favorite. The mixed greens were raised above the usual by being sourced from one of River Rock’s local producers — as were the peppery radishes — and topped with toasted breadcrumbs instead of croutons. The breadcrumbs provided a gentle crunch that worked well with the delicate greens. There was an udon noodle salad with kale and a sesame-soy dressing — flavorful but not spicy. The server said that a week earlier this salad had asparagus instead of kale, and we can only imagine how good that would have been. Finally, a grain salad containing brown rice, more of the peppery radishes, carrots, and a generous serving of fresh dill was tossed in a tahini dressing — a perfect blend of flavors. It was easy to see how these salads could change with the harvest.
The sampler came with slices of sourdough bread baked on site, with a hard crust, a chewy interior, and a tangy sourdough taste. The cafe offers loaves ($5) for sale on baking days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday), but they go quickly; a Thursday morning visit found the Wednesday loaves gone. River Rock provides other house-baked items, including its signature hermit cookie ($2), made of rolled oats, chocolate chunks, and whole wheat flour — a sturdy, yet chewy cookie that is not overly sweet and is made for a substantial afternoon snack. Other pastries are baked in rotation. A caramel crunch bar ($2.25) that appeared one day just about put this reviewer into rhapsodies. The caramel was thick, dark brown, and almost chocolaty in texture.
Coffee and espresso drinks are similarly well executed. Daily lemonade flavors are offered ($3-$4), with recent choices including rhubarb and vanilla thyme, neither of which was overly sweet, and both of which were tremendously refreshing.
The only misstep, and it wasn’t huge, was the day’s choice of soup ($4.50 / cup; $5.75 / bowl), barley-vegetable. The barley was tender and chewy, as were the accompanying kale and carrots, and the broth had a richness you can find only in homemade stock. But the soup was desperately in need of salt.
But one bite of the caramel crunch bar could make you forget all about the salt deficit in the soup.
River Rock Coffee
Coffee and locally sourced food in St. Peter
301 S Minnesota Ave, St. Peter, MN 56082
Mon-Sat, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sun, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Sometimes