The Chickadee Cottage Cafe, in a 100-plus-year-old restored house in the heart of Lake City, has become a favorite both for locals and out-of-towners. Here, cafe owners Joan and Ron Schimbeno invite guests to “take a step back to homemade at a leisurely pace.” And what better time to visit than in the height of fall colors.
The converted house provides a bistro ambiance; the green and yellow exterior a welcoming presence. Porch and gazebo areas offer lovely garden views.
“Everything is made here in our own kitchen from scratch,” Joan proudly points out. This includes a variety of yeast and quick breads, desserts, coffeecakes, assorted sweets and scones, all baked fresh daily. These are served with meals and can be purchased by the loaf or package at the bakery counter. Full-time bakers arrive early in the morning, creating the alluring smell of fresh-baked goods that greets early morning guests.
On Sundays, starting at 9 a.m., a delightful Sunday brunch is served family style. For $11.50 per person (children 5-8 are $6.25; younger than 5 are free) fresh fruit, Joan’s homemade cinnamon rolls, platter-scrambled eggs, Huettl’s wild rice sausage, grilled ham, the cafe’s famous cheesy potatoes and rustic French bread comprise this simply delicious brunch. (Note: Huettl’s is another family business that has operated a meat locker in Lake City since 1918.)
The regular breakfast menu includes a brunch quiche, laden with a filling of ham, fresh spinach and cheddar cheese then topped with homemade hollandaise sauce. The availability of fresh, local apples makes these a great fruit addition to the popular stuffed French toast breakfast sandwich. (Opt for berries in the spring.)
Specialty egg skillet dishes start with crispy potatoes on the bottom, topped with various fixings and two eggs cooked to order. A side of delicious homemade mango salsa accompanies the ranchero skillet, as well as the cabo shrimp taco salad (chipotle seasoned shrimp). The lunch menu includes a selection of salads and a notable variety of wraps and sandwiches, including a delicious crunchy Thai wrap, ginger lime tuna salad in a spinach wrap and a barbecue sandwich featuring in-house apple cider-roasted pork. Portions are plentiful, and presentation shows thought and care. Lunch entrees are $8 to $12.
Though not open most evenings, a special menu of burgers and shrimp is available from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays. With the arrival of fall, guests also will find an herb-roasted pork loin — a popular favorite — along with many other apple dishes. The restaurant’s unique “rice paper wrapped fried shrimp” is available in a basket or as an appetizer with dipping sauce.
The Schimbenos credit their daughter, Shelly, who has become a key ingredient in the family business, with expanding menu items. In the fall, a favorite daily special includes her creative shrimp-pasta dish, which incorporates bacon, apples and walnuts, all in a rich gorgonzola cream sauce. Seemingly Shelly’s creativity is endless. Her mother, Joan, notes that “when Shelly sees a recipe, she runs with it to add a new twist or different approach.”
While watchful for new and trendy dishes, there is no doubt the cafe’s popular old-fashioned chicken salad and delectable fresh tomato bisque are here to stay. All together the family has well more than 100 years combined in the food industry. The rewards are numerous, not the least of which is seeing the same guests repeatedly over the years, yet almost daily a new face appears, “so we must be doing something right,” said Joan.
Visitors may browse Joan’s gift shop, featuring homemade jewelry, inspirational books, tea pots and cups, scarves, note cards and a variety of other gift items. Their recipe collection, “Chickadee Cottage Favorites,” is a treasure, offering additional creative dishes crafted by Joan and Shelly.
Now in its 25th season, the Chickadee Cafe remains a wonderful venue for a relaxing meal. It is conveniently located just blocks from the breathtaking river walk along Lake Pepin.