For so long, the St. Croix River Valley was thought of as a collection of small, sleepy tourist towns with antique shops and dive bars lining the main streets. But each year, there is evidence of a culinary movement. From hand-crafted cocktails and menu items featuring locally sourced ingredients, the St. Croix Valley has a little something for everyone. For this Best of the St. Croix Valley issue, we’ve selected a few restaurants featured in our pages over the past year. Make the most of a summer in the Midwest and take a tour along the river while enjoying some of the most breathtaking views and foods the area has to offer.
Just 200 yards from the beautiful St. Croix River, Current provides a perfect place and a perfect patio for a quick bite or glass of wine while enjoying the essence of the river. The menu offers a variety of options including a duck confit small plate prepared with arugula, beets and manchego. Or opt for the spicy chicken drops served with siracha cream, fried leeks, garden greens and sesame seeds.
Guests will be enthralled at how décor and dining have tied the elements together—the lighting and colors represent earth, water and fire. “Being on the river, we wanted to tie in the natural elements, so you’ll see orange and red in our lighting, blue on the main bar, the upper deck seating area that’s more like sandstone or earth tones, a more natural, lighter space,” says co-owners Dave Jarvis. “Everything from the plates to the glassware represent our name, ‘Current’ being really a triple-entendre—currents of the river, currents are sort of electrifying and ‘current,’ as in, being on trend.”
3291 St. Croix Trail S.
Venture just off the main drag in Stillwater, and you’ll find one of the top 25 wine bars in the U.S., at least according to Travel + Leisure Magazine. Inside, Domacin is a romantic, cozy and upscale spot where people are paramount and flavors come first. The name of this restaurant comes from a Serbian word meaning “host.” When visiting Domacin, you can see great emphasis is placed on the excellence of wine, food and service.
The simple but thoughtful menu features small plates such as: domestic and imported cheeses, charcuterie, olives and almonds. Or choose from the steak tartare, flatbreads or crostini. The seasonal, rotating selection of small plates is perfect for pairing tapas-style, with the 800-plus wines available for tasting, dining in or retail (there’s an off-sale shop attached). Wines are the focus, with small-batch, unique vintages curated from around the world. (There are almost 50 wines from Oregon’s Willamette Valley alone, and a huge selection of Italian varieties.)
Domacin’s wine and menu selections change according to the season, the host’s mood and the occasion.
The menu features American bistrostyle entrées made from scratch daily, featuring local ingredients as often as possible. Meats come raw from Wisconsin, processed and trimmed in-house. “The mushroom guys we use—they stop in regularly,” explains Hoch, with a chuckle. “We hope people come in, try something new, and learn and experiment. Wine is supposed to be fun!”
102 S. Second St.
THE WILDER SCRATCH KITCHEN
This locally sourced and from-scratchthemed restaurant delivers high quality food in Bayport, Minn. The Wilder Scratch Kitchen is a culmination of owner Jeffrey Lundmark’s culinary journey, incorporating food combinations from the American South, where he worked for a time, to flavors south of the border, as well as Upper Midwestern comfort fare.
The name Wilder Scratch Kitchen conveys a focus on natural ingredients and classic cuisine, combined with modern technique and presentation. With black walnut woodwork and exposed brick, Lundmark defines the ambience as “rustic meets modern industrial” or, more simply, “cozy.” The menu rotates by the season. Lundmark sources as many ingredients as he can from local farms and is the core of his menu. The menu features comfort foods like meatloaf and steak, but also new twists like a chorizo burger or baconwrapped, well, anything. The food is both familiar, yet unique.
Scratch is in the name, but so is “wilder,” which reflects Lundmark’s attraction to food both farmed and foraged. Meat and dairy are locally sourced, as is much of the produce on the menu. Spring items like asparagus, ramps, morels and fiddlehead ferns are grown within 50 miles. “There’s nothing between here and downtown St. Paul that offers quite what we do,” Lundmark says. “Bayport’s been building for years. To witness it firsthand and be a part of it is a cool process.”
338 Fifth Ave. N.
THE MARINE CAFÉ
Marine on Saint Croix, Minn.
This charming café is a quirky, cozy spot with bright walls, funky artwork and bike wheels hanging from the ceiling. The Marine Café has had a number of owners and names, but the signature simple-yet-delicious recipe book, the welcoming vibe that spills out onto the patio in summer have remained. The café serves up delicious breakfast pastries, plus lunch specials and freshmade soups, alongside locally roasted coffee, tea and specialty beverages. The quality of the coffee has always has been non-negotiable.
The corned beef hash, Swiss-ham-and-egg sandwich, gluten-free veggie egg bake and wild rice soup are fan favorites, along with the famous blueberry scone.
41 Judd St.
THE WATERSHED CAFÉ
The Watershed Café welcomes guests with the simple flavors of comfort food, intentionally prepared with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Nestled along the beautiful bluffs of the St. Croix River, this sustainable restaurant offers a warm friendly atmosphere with seasonal outdoor seating.
Relationships with local producers of cheese, beef, lamb and produce assure good, fresh, local food. There’s more than great food that make this spot a great dining experience. It’s the awesome location nearby so many excellent outdoor activities. And the owners consider themselves fortunate to partner with local communities and communities around the world who are committed to Earth and its sustainability.
Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner guests can choose from menu items such as Hippie cakes which are handmade pancakes topped with house-made granola and blueberry compote. For lunch, try a Groovy Grilled Cheese or a Wild Rice Burger. For dinner, we recommend their Pozole, a traditional Mexican soup featuring hominy, stewed pork, garlic, onion and served with tortilla chips, lime, avocado, cilantro and sour cream.
99 N. Cascade St.