In Ireland, a pub, or “public house,” is more than just a bar. A good pub is the center of community life, a place where neighbors, friends and newcomers alike gather to share news, celebrate milestones and, momentarily at least, forget life’s sorrows with hearty food and a few pints.
That sense of hospitality is alive and well at Afton’s newest restaurant, Lumberyard Pub. The recent addition to Afton’s dining scene has an inviting, casual atmosphere and a wide-ranging menu, all with an eye toward preserving local history and highlighting locally sourced foods.
The restaurant, which had its grand opening this spring, is the brainchild of partners Scott Dahl, John Vecere and Bill Mauer, president of Mauer Chevrolet in Inver Grove Heights (and brother of Minnesota Twins player Joe Mauer).
Vecere, vice president of Mauer Chevrolet, and his wife, who has a background in the hospitality industry, had been looking for the right place to open a restaurant for years. When the building at 3121 St. Croix Trail S. in downtown Afton became available, they knew they had found the right fit. “The location popped up, and it made sense for us,” says Mauer, a longtime resident of nearby Lake Elmo. “Afton is a great town with great people and heritage. It’s a perfect place for families and kids.”
The restaurant, located in the former home of Sail Away Café, has been completely transformed, with a rustic interior that reflects the property’s original use. “This was a lumberyard for nearly 80 years, and during that time it was kind of a hangout for the locals,” Vecere says.
Antique tools and photographs from the early 20th century adorn the cedar-planked walls, many of which were found with the help of the Washington County Historical Society and Afton residents.
“During the remodel, people in Afton were so supportive, even dropping by with old two-man saws for us to display,” Vecere says. In keeping with the lumberyard theme, the restaurant’s bar is made of reclaimed wood with a cement bar top, surrounded by custom-made high-top tables with galvanized pipe bases and wooden tops. The restaurant’s seating includes a mix of booths and tables, with a total of 65 seats inside and 88 outside on the expanded patio.
The menu is an eclectic mix of comfort-food classics and globally inspired dishes, with an emphasis on high-quality ingredients and imaginative flavor combinations. Appetizers (called “Share-ables”) range from familiar favorites like beer-battered Wisconsin cheese curds ($9) served with a honey mustard aioli to more adventurous offerings like seared ahi tuna with wonton chips, serrano chilies and a spicy Sriracha aioli ($12). “Our inspiration comes from the Afton area,” says John Byrne, the veteran chef and consultant behind the restaurant’s menu. “This is a place with a lot of history, and we want to revitalize and modernize that heritage.”
Little tweaks, like adding shredded kale to a standard chicken Caesar wrap ($12) and serving the chipotle chicken tacos on a gluten-free tortilla ($12), reflect current trends to make dining out healthier without sacrificing taste. Ingredients from regional purveyors are incorporated into nearly every dish.
“We strive to be as local as possible, with a focus on clean and organic,” Byrne says.
Lumberyard Pub offers lunch and dinner daily, with plans to offer breakfast on the weekends in the near future. Plans for the addition of a full-service coffee shop are also in the works.
“Our goal is for people who live in Afton to walk in and feel like this is their place, and for visitors to feel like this is a good representation of what Afton is,” Vecere says.
Compiled by Diana Stein
Friday Night Dinner Cruise Fridays through October Watch the sun set over the St. Croix River on this weekly cruise, while enjoying an expertly prepared Italian buffet meal. All ages. $37.95 adults, $27 ages 10 and younger, $12 ages 2 and younger. 6–9 p.m. Afton Hudson Cruise Lines
July 16 Watch two local chefs go head-to-head in this live culinary competition. James Beard Award-winning judges will taste their creations and crown one of them the 2016 Chef’s Competition Champion. All ages. Free. Noon–2 p.m. Lowell Park
Jazz in July
July 9 The second Jazz in July at Dancing Dragonfly Winery feature great music and wine, but it’s also an opportunity to try delicious artisan food prepared by the winery’s chefs. Tickets available online. All ages. First concert at 4:30 p.m., second concert at 7 p.m.
The Drink: Emerald Butterfly
The Bar: Charlie’s Irish Pub
The Tender: Jeremy Luoma
1 part Jameson Irish whiskey
1 part Kahlua (a Mexican coffee-flavored liqueur)
1 part Baileys Irish cream (an Irish whiskey-and cream-based liqueur)
Combine all parts over ice in a lowball glass. Stir, and serve.
This Irish twist on the classic Iron Butterfly cocktail replaces vodka with Jameson, which lends the drink a richer, smokier note. Charlie’s head bartender Jeremy Luoma suggests sipping this drink slowly on the restaurant’s patio.
“We have live Irish music in the summer and the best views of the river,” says Charlie’s owner Chuck Dougherty. The bar also offers imported Irish beers like Guinness, Smithwicks and Harp on tap, with Irish-American fare like fish and chips, plus weekly specials.
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