Provisions for Leaf Watching
With leaves soon turning colors, thoughts are turning to the ritual of the annual leaf tour—driving outstate to enjoy the autumnal blaze. But out there in the wilderness, it’s not easy to know what, if any, dining pleasures await inside the rustic cafes that border lakes and rural routes.
If you’re headed south and east from the Twin Cities, a not-to-be missed stop is Confluence, named for its location in Prescott, Wisconsin, where the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers meet. This three-year-old, chef-driven restaurant is the kind of unostentatious place that visitors passing through unawares would probably miss.
Chef-owner Mark McGraw (Nicollet Island Inn, CafÃ© Havana, and many local kitchens) says he’s living his dream: cooking in a small community where the work-life balance is good, and where he has ready access to the freshest of locally raised ingredients. That includes Rabbit from Singer House Farms in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and “farmers who show up with a couple dozen tomatoes.”
His eminently affordable, seasonal menus feature comfort foods—a succulent roast half-chicken, a braised, fall-of-the-bone lamb shank—and creative dishes, among them a lobster and shrimp torte with currant brown butter, crisp and tasty duck and black bean–filled egg rolls, and a truffle-infused beef shoulder.
McGraw names as one of his own favorites his preparation of halibut. The fillet is poached in a sweet vanilla butter, but quickly seared and finished slowly without deglazing, so very little butter ends up on the serving plate.
Good to Know
This summer, McGraw installed a bar. Its menu of small plates and sandwiches is just right if you happen to hit Prescott between the lunch and dinner hours and just want to graze.
Wild Rice restaurant just outside of Bayfield, Wisconsin, (named for owner and Andersen Windows heiress Mary Rice), features a truly creative fine-dining menu, an excellent wine list, and charming design that’s the architect’s take on a Scandinavian fishing village. Open only for dinner.
Don’t forget about the legendary Harbor View CafÃ© in Pepin, Wisconsin. The former owners sold it to employees in 2005, but it doesn’t sound like there’s been a skipped beat. There’s still a varied menu and great food, the staff is a cheerful as ever—and there are still lengthy waits for a table (and no reservations).