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

The Harbor View's tables are set with prim blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, and a chalkboard menu lists the day's selections, largely scratch-made, family recipes that make the food of bygone days feel contemporary. Many are longtime classics, like coq au vin, lasagna, and the heartiest entrée I think I've ever been served—two softball-size braised pork shanks with mashed potatoes and lemon-kissed kale. (Most of which was toted back to Minneapolis in a compostable takeout box.)

The Harbor View also specializes in fresh fish, and during my visit I hit upon a tasty menu newcomer: Icelandic haddock coated in a rich, sassy sauce of tomatoes, bacon, and mustard, and served with a side of French lentils. But the kitchen also likes to use locally raised food. In season, some of the produce comes right from staffers' home gardens.

Meals are pricey for the area—several entrées cost upward of $25, but they come with a soup or house salad—and the Harbor View doesn't take credit cards, so be sure to pack cash or a checkbook. Note, too, that the restaurant is closed between lunch and dinner service and that they don't take reservations. After you put your name on the list, plan to hit the shops, watch the eagles, or simply stand on the sidewalk with a glass of wine and enjoy the harbor view.

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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We made our third stop at the most elegant restaurant along the route—Nosh's kitchen is the only one in the area that sends out amuse bouches. But the restaurant's flexible, snack-friendly menu ensures that elegant food doesn't have to be intense or expensive—fortunate for those of us who were tucking into our fourth meal of the day. Since 2007, Nosh's Twin Cities fans have been celebrating the restaurant's move from Wabasha to Lake City, as the new digs not only shorten the drive by 15 minutes but offer a waterfront view so close to the harbor that diners could almost jump aboard a vessel.

The long line of customers waiting outside the Harbor View encouraged chef-owner Greg Jaworski and his wife, Tiffany, to open their own riverfront restaurant five years ago. Jaworski's cooking is also seasonally driven, and the menu changes daily based on what he's found scouring the area farmers' markets. Nearly everything Nosh serves is made from scratch, from sausage to Dijon mustard. "We don't buy anything that's premade," Jaworski says. "Except for our butter, and I'm honestly working on how to do that."

Jaworski's style could be called Lake City locavore meets Mediterranean. That means the homemade sausage on the meat-and-cheese platter we tried was seasoned with zahtar, a Middle Eastern spice blend. The result was quite appealing, upstaged only by house-made headcheese, which tasted like a delicate version of Spam. We also loved the sautéed mushrooms (cultivated in St. Joseph, Minnesota), which were roasted with herbs and olive oil, then finished with garlic, heavy cream, butter, and sherry, and eaten with fried leeks on grilled bread slices. The deliciously musky, butter-glossed caps were among the most hedonistic meatless dishes I've ever eaten.

In the winter months, Jaworski features seasonal, tropical fruits, serving Minnesota's Au Bon Canard foie gras with heirloom beet greens and roasted pineapple slices, whose sweet acidity acted as a perfect foil to the rich liver. Since I visited during citrus season, Jaworski was also pairing grapefruit with salad mix from a Wisconsin greenhouse and cheese from a Minnesota dairy. Jaworski is fond of cooking seafood, too, and his saffron-heavy paella, stocked with plump mussels, shrimp, and scallops, is one that regulars demand stay on the menu. I'd bet the same sentiment will soon apply to a dessert menu newcomer, a phenomenal blueberry cobbler topped with a lemon-polenta crust and house-made white chocolate-ginger ice cream.

Our final stop, Norton's Downtown and Lucky Cat Lounge in Red Wing, helped acclimate us back to city life. The place is owned by former Hüsker Dü bassist Greg Norton, who has since launched a career in the restaurant business. Greg met his wife, Sarah, while cooking at the Staghead in Red Wing, and after several years the two started their own place just across the river in Bay City, Wisconsin. Now Greg is playing in a band again (the Gang Font, with Bad Plus drummer Dave King), and last year he and Sarah moved their restaurant to a large, two-story space in downtown Red Wing. The new location, right on Highway 61, has helped attract more customers, Greg says. "We get more traffic in one turn of the light than we used to in an entire day over in Bay City."

In contrast to the restaurant's quaint former home, the new Norton's is a large, airy space decorated in an eclectic style influenced by, so far as I can tell, Asia, Las Vegas, and the 1980s. The room's walls are electric blue, and decor includes one of those paw-waving Japanese Maneki Neko cats, a sculpture that reminded me of a Bill Cosby sweater, red velvet lounge seating, globe-shaped paper lanterns, and an illustration of an old-fashioned steamboat. Surprisingly, the mismatched collection works. Even on nights when the Nortons host bands and the musicians play on an old raised window display, you'd never guess the place once housed a 1950s-era JC Penney.

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