Feller Restaurant Draws Inspiration From Local Heritage
Much intrigue and anticipation surrounded the Lora Hotel in downtown Stillwater before it opened. High among the curiosities were the food and beverage options housed within. Lucky for us, food at Feller Restaurant and drinks at The Long Goodbye bar and Made Coffee are not exclusive to hotel guests.
Owned and operated by Elevage Management Group out of Blaine, Minn., which also holds sharp-shooting dining establishments T-box Bar and Grill, Bricks Kitchen and Pub, The Roadside and St. Anthony Village Pub in its quiver, the Lora is unique in that owner/partner Cory Burstad hired a management group from Portland, Ore., called Provenance Hotels, to manage the hotel side, while his local group maintains control over the delicious side.
General manager Kate McKeague has been working in the industry for more than 12 years, while chef Sam Collins monitors the menus and the kitchen. Collins is executive chef for all of Elevage, but has been spending the majority of his 70-hour weeks in Stillwater as of late.
Collins grew up in a hunting household, so it makes sense that what occurs naturally in Minnesota’s forests make up a good chunk of the menu at Feller. The eating style, however, departs the great north and is more in line with enjoying tapas (ordering a lot of small plates to share with the table, so you can try a lot of different flavors). “It’s a very shareable menu,” McKeague says. “Really, what our staff is trained to do here is get to know the individual table, and craft that experience for them.”
To help in this endeavor, the dinner menu is broken into non-traditional sections: First, Second and Main (as opposed to Appetizers, Soups & Salads, Entrees). “The menu is inspired by Minnesota’s traditional foraging and hunting culture,” Collins says, “from prairie harvest quail to grass-fed bison and homemade venison sausages. I would eat the bison carpaccio every time,” a flash-seared high-quality cut that’s dipped in a peppercorn mélange for depth and extra flavor, and served with fig molasses and parsley-root chips. Also popular is anything made with the smoked trout: Consider the BLT, a twist on the traditional sandwich in that the pan-fried trout lends that classically smoky, north-woodsy essence.
“When Cory came across this property, we wanted to preserve the history of not just this site but also Stillwater and Minnesota’s traditions,” McKeague says. “This whole property has a beautiful story behind it. Look at the history of Stillwater—the logging community back in the 1800s when it started to thrive, long before Minnesota was even a territory.” The hotel name, for example, Lora, is short for Loralei, a water nymph from an old Scandinavian folk tale. “With all the rivers running through here, it seemed appropriate,” McKeague says. Feller, too, is steeped in Stillwater heritage, a nod to the loggers who “fell” the white pines before dragging them down to the St. Croix. “Look at the logo: There’s an axe in the design. It’s who we are as Midwesterners and what we are as a restaurant,” she says.
Given this, the name of the hotel bar should require no explanation: The Long Goodbye, “because that’s what we do in Minnesota” she says. Liquors served here are predominantly Minnesota-made, including Prairie gin and vodka, Wells whiskey and other Viking-inspired spirits by Du Nord Distillery. Holiday cocktails are on-special this month, including a plethora of hot toddies and mulled wines, to warm you inside and out.
Of note year-round, but especially during holiday party season, are the private-dining options at Feller. “They’re super-killer, because they are all a part of the cave” set behind the hotel in the bluff side, McKeague says. Ideal for smaller holiday events, the intimate space comfortably seats 40 for a sit-down meal, or 50 for a cocktail party.
“Chef Sam is one of the hardest working and humble culinary experts I’ve ever worked with—and that can be a rare thing in this industry,” McKeague says. “He sources things out locally as much as possible, and everything is made in-house, a complete scratch kitchen. Not even pre-made condiments—our ketchup is our own recipe. His flavors are so dynamic.”
Collins aims to change the menu “not too frequently,” he says, but certainly seasonally. Instead, expect weekly one-up specials, like a salmon burger or specialty deviled eggs that take cues from whatever is freshest in Minnesota at that time. Notably, his Pot on the Fire ($9) is just that—vegetables and spices tossed in a pot, that work well because they are sourced similarly and seasonally.
“We are what you want it to be, not necessarily exclusively high-end,” McKeague says. “Our regulars will have a Feller burger and a pint, or have an expensive bottle of wine with a steak,” like the Tatanka, South Dakota grass-fed bison tenderloin with parsley root puree and a chokeberry gastrique ($35). She asks, “For every category, for any occasion, what is the experience you’re craving?”