Food from Afar Fit to Lure Lakeland Locals Back Home

Who said only bikers are welcome at biker bars? At first glance, Shiners Bar and Grill, which sits off
St. Croix Trail, seems like a stopover for the leather-bound and bandana-brandishing travelers of the easy ridin’ trails. However, once you slide into a booth, the Shiners sense of community spirit and hometown flavor begins to simmer from the grill.

Andy and Steph Leiviska have owned and operated Shiners for four years, bringing a much-needed gathering place to the Lakeland community. “I originally got it for my construction company,” says Andy Leiviska of his decision to purchase the abandoned building that used to be a bar called Borderline. It served his business well, until, he says, “The community started getting on me, saying, ‘What are you doing? We need a bar and restaurant.’” As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the greasy spoon. Leiviska remodeled and opened the restaurant in 2013, christening the new establishment “Shiners.”

“I don’t even consider myself the owner,” says Leiviska of his management and operational style. “I think of myself as just another cog in the wheel.” This philosophy comes to life through his partnership with chefs Nick Noland and Thomas Hart—and their culinary creations. Consider Shiners’ deluxe beef on weck, as a prime example. This sandwich is the pride of Buffalo, N.Y., and the chef staff have given the classic ingredients a proper Minnesota welcome. Classic roast beef is slathered with tangy horseradish and served on a caraway seed bun to keep with Buffalo tradition. The Shiners staff kick it up a notch by adding hamburger on top of those savory layers for a double-dose of meat. Dip this beastly behemoth in Shiners flavorful au jus, and you might catch yourself secretly fist-pumping for the Bills ($12).

How would a hometown sandwich of the frozen Northeast make its way to the hometown of the frozen North? Through Leiviska, the sandwich ambassador. He travels often for his construction business, and one of his favorite things to do on the road is to search out new dishes to bring back to Shiners. “We used to do a lot of work in Miami, and we visited Jimmy Buffet’s restaurant down there and had the catfish Reuben sandwich,” he says. Seeing another opportunity, this sandwich was reeled in and brought to Minnesota, albeit without the catfish. Fried walleye is served up on a bun with fresh sauerkraut and creamy Thousand Island to create the new-and-improved Minnesota Reuben ($13).

In addition to offering inspired entrées from around the United States, Shiners also takes a similar approach to the beer on tap. Local favorites like Surly are proudly represented, but you would have to search far and wide to find another establishment this far north serving Texas’s own Shiner Bock. This dark lager is brewed in Shiner, Texas, and pairs well with any number of appetizers. We highly recommend starting with the steak bites. Shiners’ steak comes from cows raised in Piedmont, Italy. These cattle are unique with far more musculature than your traditional grass-fed cow, which lends the steak bites a chewier consistency, allowing their perfectly seasoned flavor to completely cover your palate ($11).

With Shiners focus on flavor springing forth from every point on the map, Leiviska and his staff have looked to the community to remain grounded in Lakeland. “I just want to give back,” says Leiviska of the numerous occasions Shiners has opened its doors to community service. Their largest and most popular event is the Flood Run, from which Shiners earns its “biker bar” stripes. Twice a year thousands of bikers converge upon Shiners to make the pilgrimage down Highway 61, to commemorate the 12 bikers who made the same journey in 1965 to help the town of Winona sand bag against the cresting river. Today the run is a charity event, with all of the proceeds donated to the Gillette Children’s Hospital. This year’s spring run will take place April 14, starting from and ending at Shiners.

The sense of a shared place for Shiners patrons to call their own has instilled an aura of pride within its walls. “I just put in a new door a few months ago, and I couldn’t finish before I had to head out of town. I come back, and one of the locals is anchoring the door down with his hammer and drill,” Leiviska says. Thanks to some clever handiwork, the Lakeland community truly wants to share a special place they are still helping to build.

The Candy Man Can

Behind the counter at Knoke’s during Valentine’s season—an introspective by the author.

Love is more than a Valentine’s dinner for two. At its core, love is the inescapable sensation of equal parts euphoria and optimism. I remember the first time I fell in love with candy: I was 6 years old, watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The film opens on Bill’s Candy Shop, in which droves of children are treated to any sweet they desire, while Bill croons “The Candy Man.” I loved this scene, and I couldn’t wait to attend grade school so I could sprint over to Bill’s with my friends after the bell and catch taffy and caramel carelessly chucked away from behind the counter. Imagine my disappointment upon learning Bill’s Candy Shop was nowhere near my school—and was completely fictional.

This is the other side of love, the realization our greatest expectations of happiness can be misled by misplaced feelings of euphoria and optimism. But then, every so often, something else will come along and make believers of us once more. Knoke’s Chocolates and Nuts in Hudson makes the lie of Bill’s Candy Shop evaporate.

Upon entering the Hudson space (Dave Knoke has two locations in the metro area), the right wall is stacked sky high with various jars of jellybeans, Swedish fish, gumballs and any other sugar candy you can imagine. The ice cream bar abutting the candy wall is well stocked with everything from Mint Chocolate Chip to Mackinac Island Fudge, and the adjacent shelves are packed with pre-packaged almonds, yogurt pretzels and malted milk balls. Standing at the back of the shop and keeping court above all is the crème de la crème: the chocolate counter.

Knoke’s sells a pick-your-own box of eight, 15, 24, 30 or 48 chocolates (starting at $7.25), and as a special treat, Knoke has shared his hand-picked box of his favorite chocolates for you (or your loved one) to enjoy this month.

Dave’s Custom Box

  •  Salted Milk Chocolate Caramel
  •  Peanut Butter Acorn
  •  Blueberry Balsamic Truffle
  •  72 percent Espresso Caramel Truffle
  •  Milk Chocolate Cashew Cup
  •  Dark Chocolate Caramel
  •  58 percent Dark Raspberry Truffle
  •  Milk Chocolate Cream