I ate my way across Southeast Minnesota and the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi last weekend as I prepare for next week’s column on the Four Stars of strawberry pie. There was a stop at Whalan’s Aroma Pie Shop, of course, but also at the Village Square Restaurant in Harmony and, on the Wisconsin side, the Homemade Cafe in Pepin and the Stockholm Pie Co. in Stockholm.
Today on my way home, I’ll stop by Jeff Eastman‘s Salad Brothers cafe in University Square to pick up a piece of their extra-special strawberry pie, which I believe is among Gus Chafoulias‘ favorites.
While I continue my research, here are a few Four Stars tips from past columns.
7 First Ave. S.W., Rochester
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Victoria’s menu is like a catalog of Italian cooking — you can find just about every specialty from the land of red, white and green here, from the simplest preparations of spaghetti to gnocchi and cioppino, and that’s leaving aside all the seafood and steaks. The lasagne ($15.95, with salad and bread at dinner) is a generous 2-inch-thick slab that holds up well to the fork and yet is almost feather-light with ricotta cheese inside, topped with a ladle-full of marinara sauce and seasoned ground beef.
There’s so much to like at Victoria’s, including the faux-painted classical architecture on the walls, the wide-ranging wine list, the quick service at lunch and the more leisurely tempo at dinner, and that vast menu that gives you a lot of reasons to return. I like the fact that it’s open for consistent hours every day — no need to double-check when they’re open, even on Sundays.
Victoria’s also happens to be the P-B newsroom’s official restaurant of choice for farewell lunches for departing employees. Tuesday, it was photographer Joe Michaud-Scorza’s turn, and the lunch as always was outstanding. (February 2012)
503 Division St., Northfield
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday
Not to be confused with the Frank ‘n’ Stein bar and restaurant in Byron, the Rueb is an ideal bar and grill in one of the region’s prettiest towns. It comprises three adjacent historic buildings, with the one on the corner of Fifth and Division dating from just after the Civil War.
How’s the food? Outstanding. My wife says her burger was one of the best she’s ever had, and my patty melt was the toast of the town as well — a lean but juicy 1/3-pound patty of certified Angus beef, served on toast rather than fried on the griddle, like most patty melts, with fried onions and Swiss and American cheese.
A classy sandwich, with lots of options in place of fries, including a generous side salad. The menu is big enough to satisfy other appetites also, and my wife also would have me tell you that they serve 1919 draft root beer, in addition to lots of brewed beverages to fill your stein. (January 2012)