Stillwater, Hopping Restaurants

Two new restaurants prove you don't have to buy a Tiffany lamp or a teddy bear in an apron to enjoy the trip

For all you value-seeking cocktail connoisseurs, Stone's specialty drinks are equally happy. For instance, I ordered a "Margatini" for $9.95, which is a margarita served in a martini glass and made with Patrón Silver tequila, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice, and was fairly agog when my server brought a full pint glass of liquor and ice topped with a strainer, poured an over-generous martini glass for me, and then left me with enough in the other glass for a second drink. Whoa! I have a healthy fear of returning from a Stillwater trip with a Tiffany lamp worth more than myself, so I didn't finish it, but I could suddenly see that Stone's vast, phenomenal patio, with its rocky waterfall, three private cabanas, teakwood couches, cozy groupings of Adirondack chairs, and see-and-be-seen island of high cocktail tables, might have appeal to many locals who wouldn't trade two crappies for ahi tuna. I mean, Stone's is the most popular reservation right now in Stillwater, and if you show up without one on a weekend night you may well face a two-hour wait.

This happened to me once, and I took the opportunity to check out another Stillwater newcomer, BT Doyle's Rib Joint. While BT Doyle's lacks the pizzazz, pop, now, and sheer piles of rocks of a snazzy joint like Stone's (the interior looks something like a set in a John Hughes late-'80s slice of suburban Americana), the ribs are excellent, the service is sweet and accommodating, the beer and the ice-cream drinks are cold, and there's a lovely little patio out on the main drag so you can people-, traffic-, and horse-and-carriage-watch to your heart's content.

Ribs are the big draw at BT Doyle's, and the Texas beef ribs ($14.95 for a half-slab) are the best I've had in Minnesota—for those who've never had beef ribs, they look ridiculous, like Fred Flintstone props, but when done right, as they are at BT Doyle's, they garnish the primal char of fire and smoke with the lush beefy indulgence of prime rib.

Pepper-edged "pastrami" smoked salmon is served on the phenomenal Stone's patio
Kris Drake
Pepper-edged "pastrami" smoked salmon is served on the phenomenal Stone's patio

The beef ribs here are a bit sweet, as is the good, plump, apple-wood smoked chicken and the rich baby-back pork ribs (from $10.95), but I could easily see that they might become an object of cult fixation—the woman at the next table embarked on a long, mesmerizing tale of her awful day, one with work hassles, daycare hurdles, dog troubles, cat escapes, sitter problems, and car disasters, each obstacle punctuated with, "But I said, I've got to have my ribs!" The table on the other side of me hosted four young dads, each with a beer and his own pile of beef ribs, trading tales of emergency-room visits and baby teeth, magic markers and furniture. As we all sat there, happy, on BT Doyle's patio beside the stopped vehicles, the traffic light changed, and a gang of teens celebrated the fact that they were getting moving by mooning us—good grief.

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