While it’s hardly the Tour de France, a ride along the gentle 20-mile Cannon Valley Trail in southwestern Minnesota is still a nice excuse for a hearty meal, whether pre-ride or post-ride or both.
On the Red Wing end, you have at least a dozen options, even if they are a little pedal away from the trailhead. But, on the other end, in tiny Cannon Valley, the dining possibilities number in the, well, in the ones and twos and threes.
As of May, however, riders have a new place to fuel up. RJ’s BBQ took over the space left empty by the very respectable and sadly missed Old Market Deli. The clean and classic interior was left almost untouched, but the menu of modern sandwiches was thrown right out the window, replaced by a slate of American barbecue classics. Pick a meat or two along with two sides and you’ve got a dinner plate ($9–12) that should give you enough energy to ride to Red Wing and back.
RJ’s smokes ribs, brisket, chicken, and pork in a big ol’ smoker out back. The ribs (half rack $14, full rack $20) are definitely what you want to order here. (Our recommendation: Order them wet, not dry.) They’re melty-tender and just fatty enough.
Everything else we tried needed just a little extra something — a little extra zip, a little extra juice — from the dryish brisket to the blandish baked beans laced with pork. Especially in need of a little flavor love was the BBQ Spaghetti, available as a side. “Is that a thing?” we had to know. Oh, yes, the waitress assured us. A little like Cincinnati’s chili spaghetti. Now, that sounded good. It turned out to be unseasoned noodles with a bite or two of dryish pulled pork on top. Ah, well, the cornbread made up for it — it’s that sweet, cakey kind that northerners truly appreciate.
On the waitress’s recommendation, we chose the chili powder–dusted, quarter-inch-thick Jo Jo Potatoes over the French fries, and we didn’t regret it.
All in all, RJ’s is friendly, casual, hearty, filling, and good. But, is it destination dining? Not really. Unless you’re on your bike.
Barbecue in Cannon Falls
331 West Mill St
Cannon Falls, MN 55009
HOURS: Daily 11am–8pm
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: No / No
ENTREE RANGE: $8–20