Harbor View Cafe, Norton's, and Nosh are great road-trip restaurants

Finish with dessert at Stockholm Pie Company—pie so good you'll cry

It was 11 o'clock in the morning of our daylong movable feast, and we'd already blown it. Our route, a loop between the Twin Cities and Wabasha, hugging the Mississippi River's banks, had been carefully calibrated to keep our meals evenly spaced. But there we were, just a few hours past breakfast, stuffing ourselves with plates of whipped-cream-topped desserts. We hadn't even reached the first restaurant on our list and we were already full.

I blame my map reader's bladder. We were only an hour from home when he requested a pit stop, which is how we found ourselves in Stockholm, Wisconsin, a tiny hamlet settled by Swedish immigrants in the 1850s. (It's also home to the farm that hosts legendary Tuesday pizza nights, where locals gather to picnic on wood-burning-oven-baked pies topped with homegrown ingredients.) As we approached Stockholm's postcard-cute downtown—a block of shops selling gifts, antiques, and art, alongside an old post office turned museum—I couldn't help but make mental note of a red "For Sale" sign on a cute clapboard house. And when I saw the image of an iconic 1950s housewife promising "a little slice of happiness," I screeched the car to a halt.

We smelled the Stockholm Pie Company's sweet, cinnamon-scented wares before we saw them. Entering the shop was like stepping into a Little House on the Prairie dream sequence: a line of red barstools led us to two smiling women in front of a case containing 14 varieties of scratch-made, freshly baked pies. These weren't the pies of a "centralized production facility" (to quote Bakers Square) or the mushy, decaying, plastic-wrapped slices that some small-town cafes let sit in their refrigerated case for days. These were old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness, handmade pies. And for those of us without a rolling-pin-wielding, live-in grandmother, they weren't going to be taken for granted.

The Harbor View specializes in old-time charm and hospitality. Sauces simmer for the cafe's classic family dishes.
Robert Meyer
The Harbor View specializes in old-time charm and hospitality. Sauces simmer for the cafe's classic family dishes.

Location Info

Map

Harbor View Cafe

314 First St.
Pepin, WI 54759

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Wisconsin

Details

THE HARBOR VIEW CAFE
314 First St., Pepin, Wisconsin
715.442.3893; Web site

NORTON'S DOWNTOWN AND LUCKY CAT LOUNGE
307 Main St., Red Wing, Minnesota
651.388.2711; Web site

NOSH RESTAURANT & BAR
310 1/2 S. Washington St., Lake City, Minnesota
651.345.2425; Web site

THE STOCKHOLM PIE COMPANY
N2030 Spring St., Stockholm, Wisconsin
715.442.5505; Web site

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The shop's owner and head baker, Janet Garretson, came to town to visit her brother, who owns the adjacent Abode art gallery, and decided to stay. (Of Stockholm, apparently, the saying goes, "Come for a weekend, go home with a house.") Since opening the shop last May, Garretson has created a repertoire of about 35 types of pies, which means that when rhubarb is in season she'll have rhubarb pies, strawberry-rhubarb pies, and rhubarb-custard pies in the rotation. The pies are available by the half-slice, which is a boon to samplers for whom choosing a pie is like picking out a favorite child.

Garretson makes all the customary crowd-pleasers, including a lovely whipped-cream-topped butterscotch pie, which tastes as familiar as the Jell-O version but lacks unpronounceable ingredients. She also doesn't neglect old-time classics on the brink of extinction, and her sour cream raisin is the best version I've ever tried. Based on my sampling, Garretson's triple-ingredient pies are grand-slam home runs. Triple berry, made with fresh raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, is a sweet, jammy delight, with a light, tender crust that nearly floats on top. Triple chocolate, chock-full of almonds, pecans, and coconut, tastes as decadent as a seven-layer bar.

The proof, it seems, is in how quickly Garretson's customers clean their plates. She says one customer ate four slices of pie in one sitting after having just been rescued from a fall through a frozen lake. Another customer, she says, teared up as he ate a slice, and remarked, "I didn't expect to taste pie like this ever again after my mom died."

The Stockholm Pie Company isn't yet set up for mail order, but on days the shop is closed, Abode will sell frozen pies if they're available. Twin Cities-based devotees of the North Shore's pie shops and Wisconsin's Norske Nooks should be happy to know they can now have their fix and get back home with the gas tank still nearly full.

Before we'd fully digested our pie, we pulled up to the Harbor View Cafe in Pepin, Wisconsin. This spring marked the 30th time that the beloved cafe opened its doors for the season after its founders, Paul and Carol Hinderlie, converted the town's local tavern into a gastronomic destination. (Jordan's King Hussein, Iraqi President Talabani, and the Reverend Billy Graham have all graced the Harbor View while receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic.)

Over the years, things have hardly changed at the Harbor View, even after two longtime staffers, Chuck Morrow and his wife, Ruth Stoyke, bought the place in 2005. The cozy, wood-lined shoebox still has the same wide bank of windows overlooking the harbor, the big, comfortable booths, and the bookshelves hanging from the ceiling, lined with rows of classic tomes on permanent loan from the Hinderlies (including Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Studs Turkel's Working, and A Pictorial History of London). Most of the staff has worked at the Harbor View for years—one of the cooks has been there since the beginning—and the warm hospitality is as reliable as the trains that rumble past. This year, when two of the restaurant's longtime customers, a Winona couple in their 90s, didn't show up in the first few weeks, the staff called to check on them.

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