Best of St. Croix Valley 2017

by | Jul 2017

Best of the St. Croix Valley 2017

The results of our Best of the St. Croix Valley 2017 readers’ choice survey.

There’s something to be said about being named the crème de la crème, best of the best, top dogs among the St. Croix Valley, perhaps even Best in Show. An accolade by any name is an affirmation of hard work, commitment to quality, and often investments of time and money. There’s a real honor to being named Best in the robust and vibrant St. Croix Valley. Such is the case for the following 30-some most-admired restaurants, shops, services and people, as voted by you, our local consumers, judge and jury, as well as some spots around town our editorial staff thought warranted a second look. So find a cozy spot to sit down and peruse these pages for your own favorites from throughout the Valley. And if you don’t see something, be sure to nominate the place or category right now for next year. Let’s celebrate the Best of the St. Croix Valley together!


We all, of course, want the very best for our loved ones. Lucky for us, the best is easy to come by here in the Valley. Between the excellent schools and family-friendly businesses, our community makes for a wonderful place to raise your children—the four-legged ones included.

Best Preschool / Childcare
Trinity Academy of Hudson

In addition to kindergarten through eighth-graders, Trinity Academy serves 200 students in preschool and childcare. Parents and families rave about the individualized attention and holistic approach to education. Talented teachers and engaged families make for a strong community.
Runners-up: Bethel Highlands Lutheran Preschool (Hudson), New Horizon Academy (Stillwater)

Best Vet Clinic
Stillwater Veterinary Clinic

Our furry friends deserve the best, and they get it at Stillwater Veterinary Clinic—the only place in town offering overnight boarding and hospitalization. Thanks to the staff’s love of animals and expansive knowledge of best practices, you can be sure that your beloved pet is in good hands here.
Runners-up: Croix Valley Veterinary Hospital (Hudson), Hillcrest Animal Hospital (Hudson)

Best Learning Center
Mathnasium of Hudson

Math is actually fun at Mathnasium. The talented tutors’ love of all things numbers is infectious, and they’re experts in tailoring lessons to meet the needs of each learner, so no matter your child’s skill level, they’ll help make math make sense to them.
Runners-up: Huntington Learning Center (Stillwater), Mathnasium of Stillwater (Oak Park Heights, Minn.)

Best Dog Daycare / Kennel
Paws and Claws Pet Resort

Paws and Claws opened 20 years ago as a grooming salon. It was Tari Nestrud, purchasing the business in 2005, who advanced services  including lodging, private and in-home training, and a doggie day camp in addition to the spa-like grooming services. “I would see dogs go to grooming and sit there all day, and I thought, ‘There must be a better way,’” she says. This forward-thinking mentality continues to make it a top pick for local pet enthusiasts.
Runners-up: Animal Inn Pet Resort and Spa (Lake Elmo), Under One Woof (Stillwater)

Best Place for Kids
Phipps Center for the Arts

In keeping with The Phipps Center for the Arts’ mission, “Celebrate the creative spirt,” it’s no surprise the nonprofit offers opportunities for children to participate in and enjoy the visual and performing arts. Dance classes, children’s theater productions and Summer Art Camp are the most-popular children’s offerings, director John Potter says, but the center offers no fewer than 36 artistic endeavors geared to kids ages 5 and older throughout the year (standouts include music lessons, duct tape art, hand-built and wheel-based pottery, stained glass and wearable art of all kinds). In addition, creative birthday parties are offered in partnership with Messes and Masterpieces. Watch for productions of Little Red Robin Hood, A Charlie Brown Christmas and an adaptation of Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook among the kids’ 2017–18 theatrical season.
Runners-up: Fawn-Doe-Rosa Wildlife Educational Park (St. Croix Falls, Wis.), Giggle Factory (Hudson)

Editor’s Pick: Best Dance Studio
St. Croix Ballet

A staple in the Valley for 26 years, St. Croix Ballet is directed by Susan Hovey and has built a reputation as the top dance training in the east metro, offering classic ballet training from age 3. The Nutrcracker is much anticipated each holiday season, and the studio also produces a full-length ballet each spring, with outstanding students competing in individual and team events at the top dancing venues in the nation.


From Marine on St. Croix down through Stillwater and Hudson and all the way to Afton, whatever you’re in the mood to eat or drink, you’ll find a host of options in the Valley. Here are the places St. Croix Valley Magazine readers call their favorites.

Best Patio Dining
Pier Five Hundred

Nothing quite compares to enjoying a cocktail and appetizers alfresco, with unparalleled views of the lush St. Croix River Valley. Nibble and nosh on delicious hors d’ouerves atop Pier Five Hundred’s wood deck, simply the best seat in downtown Hudson for picturesque views of the historic pier and St. Croix River, rain or shine, food and beverage director Lori Papineau says. Featuring a menu of classic American cuisine, Papineau recommends one of the numerous and flavorful flatbreads ($9–$11), which are popular to share as an appetizer or filling enough to serve as a meal.
Runners-up: Dock Café (Stillwater), San Pedro Café (Hudson)

Best Restaurant
Lolo American Kitchen and Craft Bar

Since opening in 2012, Lolo American Kitchen and Craft Bar has gotten much acclaim for its bar philosophy, balanced cocktails using the complete array of a modern bartender’s pantry (bitters, tinctures, shrubs) to create new and innovative drinks while reinterpreting (and reintroducing) the classics. But even director of bar operations Joe Ehlenz admits the well-rounded nature of both food and drink is what brings about Lolo’s 2017 title as Best Restaurant in the Valley. Head chef Brad Nordeen credits the fresh, local and simple ingredients executed with exciting, complex flavors—a combination of small plates, gourmet burgers and adaptations of American street foods (think: bacon-wrapped hot dogs or Korean barbecue hanger steak tacos).
Runners-up: San Pedro Café (Hudson), Phil’s Tara Hideaway (Stillwater)

Best Tavern / Bar
Barker’s Bar and Grill

Barker’s has a proficiency for saucy wings and crave-worthy burgers. The wing selection boasts a diversity of flavors, from traditional barbecue for the mild-mannered member of your party to a bit more zing for the adventurous sorts. And the gourmet burgers, a veritable smorgasbord of options, from the everyday Bullseye burger—a made-to-order offering of smoked cheddar cheese, hickory-smoked bacon and smokehouse barbecue topped with lettuce, tomato and crispy red onion ($10.95)—to “my personal favorite,” says owner Pete Foster, the Casino el Camino ($9.95). Called a “bistro of a tavern,” Foster says his goal is to elevate usual pub fare with house-smoked meats, fresh and locally sourced baked goods, and a focus on scratch cooking.
Runners-up: The Agave Kitchen (Hudson), Lolo American Kitchen and Craft Bar (Stillwater)

Best Breakfast
Oasis Café

One way to stand out among breakfast offerings is to offer the meal all day, seven days a week.  Established in 1957, Oasis Cafe boasts a revamped menu that entices customers of all ages. A spectacular kids’ meal ensures the family-friendly nature, as do oddities on the menu like favorite mac and cheese pancakes ($8.35). Owner Craig Beemer says many adults are hesitant to try them, but they inevitably fall in love at first bite. (Imagine homemade noodles with crispy bacon and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese covered in a pancake blanket.) “It’s awesome because you get the sweet and salty flavors,” Beemer says.
Runner-up: Not Justa Café (Bayport, Minn.), San Pedro Café (Hudson)


It’s said that good service can make a world of difference, and it definitely makes the St. Croix Valley a great place to live. Whether you’re in need of a fresh new haircut or seeking sound legal advice, knowing that you have someone knowledgeable and trustworthy to turn to is essential.

Best Salon / Spa
Just for Me

Just For Me Spa in Stillwater, open since 1988 and run by CEO Heidi Rosebud, is an oasis of warmth, rejuvenation and hydration, offering a whole-body experience that’s more than just a full-service salon. Walk into the cabin oasis and stress is left at the door, while guests inhale lavender that reverberates through the building. The wellness options are endless, with hair and nail services, spa parties and even weight-loss management programs. Check out the revamped space today!
Runners-up: Two Redheads and a Wolf (Hudson), Viva Voce Salon (Hudson)

Best Insurance Agent
Sandeen Insurance

Sandeen Insurance has long called the St. Croix Valley home, so its staff knows the community inside and out. Whether you’re looking for insurance for your business, home or automobile, the friendly and knowledgeable agents are here to answer all of your questions, offer sound advice and give you peace of mind.
Runners-up: Hudson Insurance Agency (Hudson), Farmers Insurance (Stillwater)

Best Law Firm
Eckberg Lammers, Attorneys at Law

The Eckberg Lammers team faithfully has served clients on both sides of the
St. Croix River for almost 70 years. Offering a wide range of services across practice areas, their skilled attorneys are sure to meet whatever legal needs you happen to have.
Runners-up: Cummins Law Office (Bayport, Minn.), Wertheimer Law Office (Hudson)

Editor’s Pick: Hidden Gem
The Velveteen

Opened earlier this summer, The Velveteen is Stillwater’s only speakeasy, found underground via a secret door at JX Events Center and the brainchild of local entrepreneur Dar Moslemi. “Our cocktails are a mix of classic Prohibition-era drinks and our own mixologists’ creations,” Moslemi says. Enjoy nightlife, mixology, cocktails, appetizers, wine or beer.

Fittingly open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday–Sunday.


Staying healthy and happy is a top priority for just about everyone, and thankfully, it’s easy to do in the St. Croix Valley. With so many high-quality health clinics and wellness centers around, you’ll never have to go far to get the care you need—whether you’re feeling under the weather or are trying to ward off an illness. From dentists to dermatologists, this year’s winners have dazzled us with their commitment to total wellness.

Best Fitness/Yoga Studio

It’s certainly fun to play at the Hudson YMCA. With a full-service fitness center that boasts a swimming pool and a skate park, there are countless ways to get your blood pumping and endorphins flowing. And, since community service is core to the Y’s mission, your membership will leave you feeling good both inside and out.
Runners-up: Riverfront Athletic Club (Stillwater), Pure Yoga (Stillwater)

Best Dental Clinic
Park Dental St. Croix Valley–Stillwater

Going to the dentist isn’t necessarily what most would consider fun, but at Park Dental, it’s a pleasant experience. Dazzling smiles are the staff’s specialty, and in addition to the top-notch preventative care, they also offer a wide range of services to keep your pearly whites shining bright.
Runners-up: Stillwater Family Dental (Stillwater), St. Croix Kidds Pediatric Dentistry (Hudson)

Best Orthodontic Clinic
Valley Orthodontics

Dr. Becky Maher has owned her orthodontic practice since 2005 and says the best part of her job by far is connecting with her patients. “I love getting to be a part of their lives for a little bit of time,” she says, “and I love seeing that smile the day they get their braces off—it’s such an exciting feeling for them.”
Runners-up: Sletten and Brettin Orthodontics (Hudson), Sletten and Brettin Orthodontics (Stillwater)

Best Chiropractic Clinic
McCabe Chiropractic & Wellness Center

McCabe Chiropractic has been servicing patients in the St. Croix Valley for more than a decade. It’s a family-based practice, which is reflected in everything from its staff—doctors Zach and Matt McCabe are brothers—to the excellent care patients of all ages receive. “Our focus is on family health with a special desire to help children with neuro-developmental disorders,” Zach McCabe says, adding he appreciates the ability to help patients live well. “I get to see people heal and redeem their health every day.”
Runners-up: Croixview Family Chiropractic (Hudson), Pathways Family Chiropractic (Hudson)

Best Pediatric Clinic
Stillwater Medical Group

When your child falls ill and needs specialized care, Stillwater Medical Group is here to help. With wide-ranging services and priority to patient care, its medical experts are as dedicated to the health and wellbeing of your children as you are.
Runners-up: Hudson Physicians (Hudson), Pediatric and Young Adult Medicine (Lake Elmo, Minn.)

Best Eye Clinic
Associated Eye Care–Stillwater

Associated Eye Care opened its first location in 1972. Since then, it’s grown to seven different locations across the Twin Cities metro, but its commitment to helping Minnesotans see clearly hasn’t changed a bit.
Runners-up: Christenson Vision Care (Hudson), St. Croix Vision Center (Stillwater)

Best Dermatology Clinic
Advanced Dermatology Care–Stillwater

Your skin, your body’s hardest working organ, deserves the best of care. From clearing up acne to fighting skin cancer, ADC has services to meet your needs—and personable, helpful doctors to guide you through it all.
Runners-up: Forefront Dermatology (Hudson), St. Croix Dermatology (Stillwater)

Best Medspa
St. Croix Skincare–Hudson

St. Croix Skincare opened three years ago and, thanks to its range of services, friendly and knowledgeable staff and wallet-friendly prices, it has quickly become well-known and well-loved throughout the area.
Runners-up: Stillwater Skin (Stillwater), Rejuvenate Skin and Laser Clinic (Hudson)

Editor’s Pick: Most Effective Workout
Farrell’s Extreme Body Shaping

In January, shortly after we posted the readers’ choice survey at, we heard from Stillwater resident Michelle Cherrier, who said, “I would like to see Farrell’s extreme body shaping in Stillwater make your list. That’s what I would have voted for.” Naturally intrigued, we investigated the kickboxing-based, circuit strength-training classes and were impressed by the before and after photos depicting realistic results. Farrell’s of Stillwater is a franchise owned by Leslie Egan and Abby O’Reilly, who say the key to the success of clients is the regular 10-week wellness challenges, each of which ends with a winner (most inches lost and based off of healthy BMI results) worth as much as $1,000.


Residents of the St. Croix Valley are proud to call this community home, and to keep their own homes and yards in the best possible shape, they rely on these local professionals who specialize in remodeling, design, landscaping and more.

Best Builder
Creative Homes

In business since just 2013, Creative Homes is responsible for a good number of local neighborhoods that have cropped up in the Valley this decade, including Bay Lakes Reserve in Baytown Township, Heritage Greens in Hudson, Boulder Ponds in Lake Elmo, Minn., and Audubon in Stillwater. “At Creative Homes we build homes, not houses,” marketing director Lauren St. Martin says. “Creative Homes goes above and beyond on quality, craftsmanship, customer experience, cutting-edge designs and overall teamwork.” Most homes start in the mid-$300,000s, with some neighborhoods hosting houses starting closer to $600,000.
Runners-up: Derrick Custom Homes (New Richmond, Wis.), Divine Custom Homes (Hudson)

Best Remodeler
Derrick Custom Homes

Derrick Custom Homes was started by William H. and Mary Ann Derrick in 1967 in the basement of their rural New Richmond, Wis., home. In 1990 Bill Jr., Ron and Tom Derrick, along with partner Mike Stevens, took over active operation of the business. In January 2003 the company restructured into Derrick Companies, a family of companies organized to provide the outstanding service our voters are accustomed to.
Runners-up: Fresh Start Builders (Stillwater), Bruce Lenzen Design and Build (Hudson)

Best Interior Designer
Chris Dillingham of Hello the House–Hudson

For the second year running, Chris Dillingham, owner of Hello the House in Hudson, takes home the gold in the interior design category. A talent that comes naturally to Dillingham, her work is tailored to each customer, and this shows in the unique results.
Runners-up: Marianne Buckman of Coco Bello Design and Boutique (Hudson), Kelli Kaufer of Kelli Kaufer Designs (Stillwater)

Best Landscape Designer
Willow River Co. Landscaping and Tree Farm

There’s an enthusiasm about the folks at Willow River Co. Landscaping and Tree Farm that keeps the family-owned and -operated business top of mind when readers vote on their favorite landscaping company. Ron Shimon and his father purchased Eagle Ridge Nursery, a small tree farm in 1988, but it wasn’t until Shimon’s sons got interested and involved in the 1990s that things really took off. After graduating college, each found a niche within the company using their respective degrees (think: landscape architecture, business planning, etc.).
Runners-up: Abrahamson Landscape Design Nursery (Stillwater), Stone and Leaf Landscaping (formerly Greenleaf Landscaping) (Hudson)

Best Senior Living Residence
Boutwells Landing Senior Living

From independent to transitional to full memory care, Boutwells Landing has a range of options for senior living. The activities are just as varied, so boredom stays at bay. Residents can stroll through the scenic 100-acre campus, catch a movie in the theater or socialize with friends. With so many ways to stay active and engaged, plus caring staff to attend to residents’ needs, Boutwells is a wonderful place to spend the golden years.
Runners-up: Red Senior Canyon Assisted Living, Woodland Hill Senior Living Community

Editor’s Pick: Best High-end Homes
Bruce Lenzen Builder

Architectural designer Bruce Lenzen, along with general manager Rich Cooke and interior designer Ann Ludwig, have established the bar in high-end, total-service home and office construction in the Valley. The all-inclusive experience that combines everything from concept to construction to décor makes this team standout among many.


The shopping scene in the St. Croix Valley truly cannot be beat. No matter what you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it at one of the many boutiques, gift shops or galleries that make up our downtowns’ historic main streets. Why make a trip to the mall when it’s all right here? Whether it’s a one-of-a-kind gift for a loved one or a fun pick-me-up for yourself, you can find it without ever leaving the Valley.

Best Gift Shop
The Purple Tree

Doing good by shopping good—what could be better than that? This family-owned and -operated store is home to an array of gift items that are not only easy on the budget but eco-friendly and fairly traded. “You walk in our doors, and it’s all these little businesses doing their part in their place of the world to make the world better, and it’s just a place of absolute hope,” co-owner Sarah Bruch says. “Hudson is just such a vibrant community … it’s great to be a small little piece of that puzzle of hope and growth and good things.”
Runners-up: Lavender Thymes (Hudson), Valley Bookseller (Stillwater)

Best Apparel Boutique
Mainstream Boutique – Hudson

There truly is something for everyone at Mainstream Boutique. Owner Rachel DeNicola buys unique, multigenerational pieces that fit and flatter women of all shapes, sizes and ages. “Nothing makes me happier than when a mom, daughter and grandmother come in to shop together and all walk out with something they love,” she says. With new inventory coming every day, there’s always something new to discover.
Runners-up: La Rue Marche (Hudson), Fun Sisters (Stillwater)

Best Florist
Hudson Flower Shop

A family-owned business since its beginning, Hudson Flower Shop has delighted customers with beautiful floral arrangements since 1946. Whatever the occasion, owner Shelli Erck can deliver the perfect bouquet, letting the flowers speak for you.
Runners-up: Rose Floral (Stillwater), Camrose Hill Flowers (Stillwater)

Best Specialty Foods Store
Knoke’s Chocolates and Nuts

What’s a better reprieve to your weekend shopping trip in downtown Hudson than a stop at chocolatier Dave Knoke’s shop? Opened in 2000 and expanded to a larger space in 2011 (just two doors down), Knoke’s Chocolates added the “and Nuts” in 2014, all while still hand-making the very popular chocolate creations it’s known for. Customers will find more than 70 kinds of chocolates to choose from—everything from creams, caramels and truffles to classics like toffee and turtles. And especially popular this time of year, Knoke says, locally produced Brown’s and Cedar Crest ice cream is available year-round.
Runners-up: Brine’s Market (Stillwater), Kowalski’s Market (Stillwater)

Editor’s Pick: Best New Restaurant
Pedro’s Del Este

Since opening earlier this spring, Pedro’s del Este (San Pedro’s to the east by one door in downtown Hudson) has made good on its promise to provide innovative small plate and specialty cocktails with flair. Early favorites include gambas al ajo (grilled prawns, citrus, charmouola and romesco) and plantanos de canarias fritos (golden-fried plantains and spicy mojo picon dip), according to director of operations Susie Halversen, whom owner Pete Foster credits with all the heavy lifting of the day-to-day operations.


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