Wine and Dine at Chilkoot Café and Cyclery

This neighborhood coffeeshop and cyclery has more to offer than a great cuppa Joe.

Many a morning patron to Chilkoot Café and Cyclery in Stillwater recognizes the value of a neighborhood gathering space. Regulars frequent this corner shop kitty-cross form Meister’s on South Fourth Street in Stillwater. The ambience is evident in the featured artists’ paintings for sale (which change monthly after an artist’s gallery showing in the back-of-building bike shop the first Friday of each month) and the twinkle lights framing the windows all times of year. Watching the sun rise over the river through the wall of windows while sipping a freshly roasted cup of coffee is a perfect start to most anyone’s day.

Yet it’s what owner Lee Stylos is offering in the evenings on weekends that’s worth the second look. Since last fall, Stylos has been hosting Flight Nights of local beers and Wine and Dine sessions with regional vintners from 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, respectively.

Stylos first opened Chilkoot midyear 2011 as a compromise for friends who wanted a bike shop. “The plan was to have a friend run the café side, and my son would run the bike shop in back. It took about 6 months to find this location—we knew we wanted to be a part of the neighborhood,” says Stylos, a cardiovascular physiologist by trade who lives in the area. “This quickly has become kind of the local neighborhood restaurant place. Having something up on the hill, it kind of feels like it’s there’s, a place you can walk to without having to worry about downtown traffic.”

After two months, Stylos’s chef went his own way, and having always cooked long, enjoyable, wine-and-chatting-with-friends dinners himself, Stylos stepped into the creative seat in the kitchen. “The guys I hire are the ones who figure it out,” he says, crediting his line cooks with taking his whimsical recipes and turning them into something that can be done at scale and well in a café setting.

The concept for the restaurant, Stylos says, is that it’s just an open space, “if you sit at the table, it’s yours for the day, very European,” he says: “Comfort food, but done well.” Stylos is proud of his from-scratch crescent and the breakfast sandwich that comes from it, an omelet-style egg, a house-made aioli and spinach with bacon or ham in between, “so lifted a little.” In the evening, however, his team kicks up the food a bit, so from 5 p.m. to when Chilkoot closes at 9, he starts table service and serves mostly $15–$25 entrees that pair well with one of the 11 beers on tap or his diverse wine list.  

In the spring, lighter fare takes center stage, including the pasta primavera ($14) or fish and poultry entrees, like walleye ($22). A recent addition is Stylos’s own sourdough starter-based pizza on Sundays, made from a culture that’s native to Minnesota (lacto brasilis, found in rye and wheat).

The Flight Night concept was born of a discussion about which beers to keep on tap, Stylos says (he aims to never have the same ones consecutive weeks, and to highlight the smaller breweries, often local, who aren’t in major distributors yet). So starting last September, he suggested bringing the actual brewer in to share flights at discounted prices ($4/flight, $3/pint), and Chilkoot hosts free Americana-, blue grass- or rockabilly-style musicians every Friday. The concept was so popular, in November he started a wine version that boasts live jazz Saturday nights; the lineup gets posted on Facebook monthly.

“The way I see it, you need three things to make it in this industry: You need an interesting space, you need good food, and you need good service,” Stylos says, “and if you don’t have all three you won’t be successful. This old brick building that used to be an old corner grocery store turned into a wonderful little spot.”