Life is sweet when it comes to the following 30-some most-admired restaurants, shops, services and people, because all of their hard work and effort, investment in the Valley and commitment to quality is paying sweet dividends, as each is voted by you, our readers, as the best in the region in a variety of categories.
So find a cozy spot to sit down and peruse these pages—to complete the experience, maybe treat yourself to a little wine and chocolate (or beer and chips, or seltzer water and a hot aromatherapy bath, whatever your pampering preference). And if you don’t see something, let us know what you want us to cover throughout the year (email [email protected]).
The Valley is a veritable smorgasbord of dining delicacies, and it shows in this year’s diverse lineup of winners in all the best restaurant-related categories. 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 here.
Best Patio Dining
Pier Five Hundred
Runners-up: Dock Café, Stillwater, and Afton House Inn, Afton
San Pedro Café
Runners-up: Lolo American Kitchen and Craft Bar, Stillwater, and Phil’s Tara Hideaway, Stillwater
Barker’s Bar & Grill
Runners-up: The Agave Kitchen, Hudson, and Lolo American Kitchen and Craft Bar, Stillwater
San Pedro Café
Runners-up: Oasis Café, Stillwater, and Not Justa Café, Bayport, Minn.
Best of the Rest
San Pedro Café owner Pete Foster recommends three delicious dish options.
Red Snapper with Green Curry
This dish includes delicious red snapper that is breaded in a pepita crust, then served in a green curry and coconut broth. It’s served with roasted vegetables and Caribbean rice. Trust us: You won’t leave hungry. $21
Yucatan Pork Stew
If you’re looking for something that is both filling and warm, check out San Pedro’s Yucatan pork stew (pictured above). Caribbean rice and beans combine with tender pulled pork, russet potatoes, finely chopped onions, cherry tomatoes and peppers, all drenched in a deliciously spicy island broth. Your taste buds will thank you. $15
San Pedro Ceviche
Shrimp and lobster marinated with lime—what more could you hope for in a ceviche? This dish (pictured on page 10) includes carrots, red onion and habanero peppers, with a sprinkle of cilantro to give it that extra push. It’s served with white corn tortilla chips. $13
Perfect Pairings from Lolo American Kitchen and Agave.
Dark and Swayze
Ginger bitters give a little bit of a kick to this spin on the classic Dark and Stormy ($6). Try with: Korean-fried chicken wings ($10) at Lolo
This spin on the traditional Moscow mule features agave nectar and tequila in place of vodka for a fun, south-of-the-border twist. Still served in the classic copper cup ($8). Try with: Tequila lime chicken ($17) at Agave
Q is for Cucumber
Cucumber, lemon, elderflower and vodka prove to be perfect complements. This light, refreshing drink is ideal for a warm afternoon out on the patio ($7). Try with: Falafel tacos ($12) at Lolo
Alamo Old Fashioned
Añejo tequila with rye whiskey, bitters, simple syrup and muddled orange and cherry make this one supremely sippable cocktail ($10). Try with: Memphis-style pulled pork sandwich ($8) at Agave
Rush River Brewery
Selected thanks to its proximity to both highway and bike trails, Rush River plays off its namesake to really connect to the nature that churns out some of the more flavorful beers you’ll find in the Valley. It’s truly the commitment co-owner Nick Anderson gives to the local outdoors crowd that leads us to give this brewery the nod and St. Croix Valley Magazine seal of approval.
Pearl and the Thief
From the makers of LoLo in both Stillwater and Hudson comes Stillwater’s latest and greatest foodie venue: Pearl and the Thief.
Joe Ehlenz and Brad Nordeen just keep cooking. The owners of LoLo American Kitchen and Craft Bar in both Stillwater and Hudson are looking to expand their Stillwater downtown dining footprint yet again with the addition this spring of Pearl and the Thief, a restaurant inspired by classic Creole. Filling the space formerly holding Pub 112, which closed over the winter, focus will be on Gulf-influenced food by a partner executive cheff—think: horse-racing parties, classic cocktails, shellfish and late-night Southern tapas. Sure, that’s po’boys and jambalaya, but it’s also a raw bar with oysters and other delicacies. We can’t wait to see what these two create next.
Swirl My Wine
There are few things better than a glass of wine (or two) after a long day. With its wide-ranging selection, delectable small plates and entrees, and warm-and-cozy ambience, there are few better places to enjoy it than Swirl My Wine. This combination wine club, shop and bar is truly one-of-a-kind. With regular wine tastings, classes and a rotating menu, there’s always something new in store, perfect whether you’re planning your weekly date night with your sweetie or a girl’s night out.
In an effort to keep their homes and yards in the best shape possible, residents of the St. Croix Valley rely on these local professionals who specialize in remodeling, design, landscaping and more. This year we’ve interviewed a few to uncover some of the secrets to their crafts, and collect some fun building facts to boot.
Derrick Custom Homes, New Richmond, Wis.
Runners-up: Bruce Lenzen Design and Build, Hudson, and Creative Homes, Heritage Greens, Hudson
Build to the Max
Five fun facts about Derrick Custom Homes:
Derrick Custom Homes began in 1967, celebrating its 50th anniversary last year.
Started by William H. and Mary Ann Derrick, it’s been a family-run business from the beginning.
The Derricks specialize in custom homes, custom cabinetry, real estate, commercial buildings and rental housing.
They focus heavily on their custom cabinetry shop located in New Richmond. The Derricks do every piece of cabinetry in all of the homes they build.
Whether it’s finding a floor plan that you like or picking a location, the experts at Derrick will help you make the decision that is right for you.
Cates Fine Homes, Stillwater
Runners-up: Derrick Custom Homes, New Richmond, Wis., and Bruce Lenzen Design and Build, Hudson
Best Interior Designer
Marianne Buckman (Coco Bello Design interiors, Hudson)
Runners-up: Kelli Kaufer (Kelli Kaufer Designs, Stillwater), and Chris Dillingham (Hello the House, Hudson)
Interview with Interior Designer Marianne Buckman:
How long have you been doing interior design?
This is my 15th year; I started in 2003.
What drew you to interior design?
I have an architectural education, and I kind of got off the beaten path for years and drifted into banking, and I just really missed it. At the age of 40, I just decided to do what I really wanted to do. I went back to school for interior design and never really looked back.
What are some of the design services that you offer?
Remodeling kitchens, bathrooms, your home. I just started to work in this niche that’s called downsizing. It’s downsizing when the kids leave or you find yourself single and you just need to get into a smaller space.
Is there a specific style that you like best?
No, I really don’t. My client leads me on that—which makes me love my job even more because I’m working with someone who is incredibly rustic right now, and I’m working with someone who is very modern and very clean.
Do you have any tips for people who may want to get into interior design?
You have to know sales because your whole life is sales. You’re selling yourself, you’re selling your company, you’re selling your designs, your knowledge. These people are giving you money to make their dreams come true.
Best Landscape Designer
Willow River Co. Landscaping and Tree Farm, Hudson
Runners-up: Abrahamson Landscape Design Nursery, Stillwater, and Sarah’s Cottage Creations, River Falls, Wis.
Best Senior Living Residence
Boutwells Landing Senior Living, Oak Park Heights, Minn.
Runners-up: Red Senior Canyon Assisted Living, Hudson, and Woodland Hill Senior Living Community, Hudson
Best Home Furnishings Store
Simonet’s Furniture, Stillwater, Minn.
Runners-up: Hirshfield’s, Hudson, and Warners’ Stellian, Woodbury
Willow River Company Landscaping and Tree Farm
There’s something to be said for tradition. That’s why we give the nod to longtime Willow River Co. owner Jim Shimon—and sat down with him for a heart-to-tree Q&A.
Q: What’s the story behind Willow River?
A: We’ve been a business in the Valley for going on 30 years now. My dad and grandfather started the business in 1988 as a Christmas tree farm. It is now a full-service design/build landscape center, nursey/garden center and tree farm. Having multiple landscape designers on staff, we are truly a one-stop shop.
Q: popular landscaping trends?
A: One trend that keeps gaining popularity is the idea of outdoor living spaces. It’s a great way to create an extension of the home that can be very cost effective. Fire pits, outdoor kitchens and pizza ovens provide excellent ways to entertain family and friends without being stuck inside.
Q: what special care do plants and trees need during the warmer months ahead?
A: New and old plants need water. Even mature trees require water, so don’t neglect that big 30-foot pine tree in your back yard. Without adequate water, it will let its guard down to potentially fatal insects. Now is also a good time to be deadheading some of your plants for longer season blooms. You also can turn your mulch over—this can give it new life and buy you another year of not needing to re-mulch.
Q: What do you like about being in the St. Croix Valley?
A: We always say that we have the best jobs in the world: We get to create and design an idea from someone’s mind and make it a reality.
With so many high-quality health clinics and wellness centers around, even in the expansive Valley, you need not go far to get the care you need—whether you’re feeling under the weather or 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/Gym
Runners-up: Riverfront Athletic Club, Hudson, and Inspiring Actions Yoga Studio, Hudson
Best Dental Practice
St. Croix Kidds Pediatric Dentistry, Hudson
Runners-up: Park Dental St. Croix Valley, Stillwater, and St. Croix Valley Dentistry, Hudson
Best Orthodontic Practice
Sletten and Brettin Orthodontics, Hudson
Runners-up: Valley Orthodontics, Hudson, and Sletten and Brettin Orthodontics, Stillwater
Best Chiropractic Practice
Croixview Family Chiropractic, Hudson
Runners-up: McCabe Chiropractic and Wellness Center, Hudson, and Pathways Family Chiropractic, Hudson
Croixview Chiropractic is a family-friendly chiropractic center that specializes in a variety of different services, including chiropractic care, nervous system scans, massage therapy and acupuncture. Services help people of all ages, but the focus is on helping infants and pregnant mothers. Jennifer Shupe, D.C., and Megan Hejny, D.C., are constantly training on new advancements in the field and learning new ways to help their patients.
Best Pediatric Practice
Stillwater Medical Group, Stillwater
Runners-up: Hudson Physicians, Hudson, and Pediatric and Young Adult Medicine, Hudson
Best Eye Practice
Associated Eye Care, Stillwater
Runners-up: Christenson Vision Care, Hudson, and St. Croix Vision Center, Stillwater
Best Dermatology Practice
St. Croix Skincare, Hudson
Runners-up: Advanced Dermatology Care, Stillwater, and St. Croix Dermatology, Stillwater
St. Croix Skincare, Hudson
Runners-up: Rejuvenate Skin and Laser Clinic, Hudson, and Stillwater Skin, Stillwater
Two Redheads and a Wolf, Hudson
Runners-up: Just for Me, Stillwater, Viva Voce Salon, Hudson
A favorite salon takes home the gold again
Two Redheads and a Wolf was founded by Tasia Ashton in 2013. Ashton also creates her own products; here are a few of them.
Mellow Shampoo and Body Bar
For dry skin and scalp exfoliation, this is the product for you. Made with white kaolin clay, it’s rich with vitamins A and E and is completely natural. $9.95
Wearwolf Unisex Body and Environmental Spray
This woody body spray is in a reusable bottle, allowing you to smell great and help the environment at the same time. $13
Beef It Up
For oily skin, try this dry shampoo and bodifying powder. In hair, it creates that beautiful and effortless tousled look. Refill your container for $2.50. $16
SHOPS & RETAIL
Best Apparel Boutique
La Rue Marche, Hudson
Runners-up: Mainstream Boutique, Hudson, and Fun Sisters, Stillwater
Best Boutique: A quick Q&A with La Rue Marché owner Val Aune.
When did La Rue Marché open?
La Rue Marché has been here for 15 years this summer.
What made you want to take over a boutique?
My dream was to have a gift shop, but when La Rue became available, the clothes were such a big part of it, so I kind of adapted into that and fell in love with that portion of it.
Can you talk a bit about your closet consultations?
A customer will schedule a time for myself and one of our other stylists to come into their home and go through their closet with them. Some people already have their closet weeded out... and we work with them from there to pair outfits together. Others want us to come in and actually help them weed out [the bad from] their closet.
What is your favorite part about owning La Rue Marché?
I feel like we’re here as a therapy for some people. They walk in and say, “Ugh, I just needed to come see you guys today.” I feel like we’re more than just a clothing store, we’re also a safe space for women.
Best Gift Shop
The Purple Tree, Hudson
Runners-up: Alfresco Casual Living, Stillwater, and Et Cetera, Hudson
Hudson Flower Shop, Hudson
Runners-up: Rose Floral, Stillwater, and Camrose Hill Flowers, Stillwater
Best Specialty Food/Kitchen Store
Knoke’s Chocolates and Nuts, Hudson
Runners-up: Brine’s Market, Stillwater, and Kowalski’s Market, Stillwater
My Happy Place Boutique
No matter what you’re looking for, there’s a good chance that you’ll find it at My Happy Place. Open since January 2015, the boutique has a wide selection and friendly service. Owner Cherie Link says, “Customers love our ever-changing inventory, fun music, fabulous staff and items that inspire, create blessings [and] make them laugh and cry. Somerset has been our home since 2001, and it was the perfect location for My Happy Place.”
KIDS & FAMILIES
Any parent knows how unnerving it can be to entrust your little one to another. But fear not: They’re in good hands at any one of the following organizations, all adored for the care and concern they show to each member of the family—four-legged ones included.
Best Doggy Daycare/Kennel
Paws and Claws Pet Resort, Hudson
Runners-up: Under One Woof, Stillwater, and Animal Inn Pet Resort and Spa, Lake Elmo, Minn.
Bethel Highlands Lutheran Preschool, Hudson
Runners-up: Trinity Academy of Hudson, Hudson, and Hudson KinderCare, Hudson
Open since 2007, Bethel Highlands Lutheran Preschool has multiple programs that are aimed at helping children become ready to take that next step into kindergarten. Aimed at kids between the ages of 3 and 5, kids never bore from the amount of fun activities and learning opportunities on offer in either full-day or half-day installments. Regular options include music (once a week) and art programs (where kids actually learn about artists, famous paintings and do some art themselves). And what could be more fun than the occasional visit from the resident therapy dog, or a little downward-facing dog with regular physical activities like yoga. The staff at Bethel Highlands hopes that through their lessons, children will learn how to resolve conflict, learn empathy, learn to be a good friend and regulate their own emotions, all while inspiring curiosity and a love for the learning.
Best Veterinary Practice
Croix Valley Veterinary Hospital, Hudson
Runners-up: Hillcrest Animal Hospital, Hudson, and Stillwater Veterinary Clinic, Stillwater
Best Learning/Tutoring Center
Mathnasium of Hudson, Hudson
Runners-up: Huntington Learning Center, Stillwater, and Mathnasium of Stillwater, Oak Park Heights, Minn.
Best Place for Kids’ Activities
Fawn-Doe-Rosa Wildlife Educational Park, St. Croix Falls, Wis.
Runners-up: Phipps Center for the Arts, Hudson, and YMCA, Hudson
Best Law Firm
Eckberg Lammers, Attorneys at Law, Stillwater
Runners-up: Lommen Abdo Law Firm, Hudson, and Wertheimer Law Office, Hudson
The widely loved and much-anticipated Lumberjack Days Festival is one of the surest signs that summer is in full swing in Stillwater—and it’s definitely one of the sweetest things about living here in the Valley. The action-packed weekend boasts a full slate of activities—live music, games, outdoor yoga, kids’ activities and, of course, plenty of delicious food and drink. Above all, it’s a celebration of the history and culture of this special place, and a recognition of all that makes life here a treat. Mark your calendars for this year’s festival—the 84th annual—which takes place July 20–22 throughout downtown Stillwater.
*Are you one of this year's winners? Find information on how to order a plaque and other materials HERE.