Restaurant road trips: our top five restaurants worth a visit

208 North Main, Nelson, Wisconsin.


It all started with just one pig: J&J BBQ got its start in 1970 when owners Jim and Laura Grandy had their first roast pork on their family farm in Oronoco. In 1978, the owners moved to South Carolina where they perfected their Southern-style pork barbecue. Eventually, they embarked on a concession-type business traveling across the United States until they finally made their home in Nelson, Wisconsin.

Then grab a few to go: Did you know you can buy J&J BBQ’s popular pork or beef by the pound? Their famous smoked ribs and BBQ chicken are also available in bulk. Here’s a tip: a pound of meat will serve 2-3 people. A pint of side dishes will serve 3-4 people.

Receive a gift while waiting for your order: While waiting for (or after enjoying) your favorite barbecue, head next door to Laura’s Treasures, a unique gift shop that offers an eclectic selection of items.

Getting there (the scenic route): This is one of our favorite foodie road trips from Rochester. Take Broadway North (Hwy 63) past the old-fashioned gas station and convenience store (Reinke’s Corner) at the corner of 247 and Hwy 63 between Rochester and Zumbro Falls. Two miles north of Reinke’s Corner, take 11 East (right) towards Hammond. Follow this for over 5 phenomenal miles along the Zumbro River until 11 meets Hwy 2. Then left (north) on Hwy. 2 and right (east) on the highway. 60 through Zumbro Bottoms State Forest, then over Wabasha Bridge to Nelson. Then eat barbecue. Then take Hwy 35 (Wisconsin’s Great River Road) south to Winona.

An essential stop nearby: The National Eagle Center in Wabasha was recently – and for the third year in a row – voted “Mississippi’s Best Attraction” by River Travel Magazine. And it’s., 651-565-4989.

Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery Wednesday, May 5, 2021, near Spring Valley.  (Joe Ahlquist /

Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery Wednesday, May 5, 2021, near Spring Valley. (Joe Ahlquist / [email protected])

Vineyard and restaurant of the four girls

78757 MN-16, Spring Valley


Origin story: The owners of Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery have four daughters. Vicky and Gary Vogt opened the restaurant in 2010 with the goal of bringing the family closer together.

Property sale : As of 2020 (and released throughout 2021), all Four Daughters wines are estate wines, meaning that every grape used in these wines has been grown and harvested in their on-site vineyard. Four Daughters is also home to Loon Juice, the largest inland cider house, as well as Minnesota’s largest distiller. Oh, and their bourbon is slated for release in mid-2022.

Hot stuff: The menu at Four Daughters Vineyard & Restaurant features 1000 ° brick oven pizzas, plus other shareable dishes perfect to pair with their own wines and ciders, all served in their barrel-filled space and on their expansive patios.

Getting there (the scenic route): We love US Hwy. 52 when it comes back to two lanes south of I-90. We therefore recommend that you take it to Preston and the heart of Amish country in Southeast Minnesota. Then take the highway. 16 — the “Bluff Country Byway” —west to Spring Valley.

An essential stop nearby: With over 13 miles of natural passages (some too small to fully explore), Mystery Cave (near Preston) is the longest cave in Minnesota and one of the 100 longest in the United States. The basic hour-long tour involves walking (or riding or walking) three-quarters of a mile over well-lit cobblestone walkways and see-through bridges. Which Mystery Cave feature gets the most “oohs” and “aahs”? Turquoise lake. 507-937-3251,

House of Coats Bar, May 9, 2021 (Ken Klotzbach /

House of Coats Bar, May 9, 2021 (Ken Klotzbach / [email protected])

Coates House

16300 Clayton Avenue East, Rosemount


Family recipe: House of Coates is a third generation restaurant, with Riley Tarrant currently at the helm. Riley’s grandfather founded the restaurant in 1962. It really is a family affair with Riley and her sisters who have been working at the restaurant since they were 10 years old.

Rosemont? Coates? The House of Coates team takes pride in the business, making sure the food and hospitality doesn’t change too much from over 60 years ago. And speaking of hospitality, staying in the small town of Coates means at House of Coates, “everyone knows your name” as guests almost become like family. Even though the mailing address is technically Rosemount.

Swanee’s song: The restaurant’s “world famous” Swanee burger has been a crowd favorite for years. So what makes it so special? Quite simply, it’s filled with fried onions, cheese, bacon, and a dollop of blue cheese dressing (if desired).

Getting there (the scenic route): A small detour to the east takes you to one of the semi-secret haunts of sports motorcycles in the southern metro. Exit at Cannon Falls and take 19 east to Welch Village Rd (Goodhue Co. Rd. 7) north. Section 19 to Hwy. 61 is a winding stretch of the roadway that has attracted a menagerie of horsemen on weekend evenings. Quieter now it’s still a really fun drive.

An essential stop nearby: After lunch or dinner, drive 15 minutes east to Hastings for Vermillion Falls Park to experience the spectacular 35-foot Vermillion Falls and limestone ravine. When you visit this urban waterfall, be sure to view it from the observation deck, which gives you an excellent top-down view of Vermillion Falls and the Ardent Mills.

Estelle's Eatery and Bar tacos carne asada with homemade tortilla chips, blanco queso and margarita on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, at Harmony.  (Joe Ahlquist /

Estelle’s Eatery and Bar tacos carne asada with homemade tortilla chips, blanco queso and margarita on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, at Harmony. (Joe Ahlquist / [email protected])

that of Estelle

121 Main Avenue North, Harmony


We always ask: For many restaurant patrons, asking the waiters what they recommend is paramount. Well, at Estelle’s the staff favorite – and we’ve asked for it a few times now – is tacos carne asada. It goes very well with the new homemade melt-in-the-mouth margaritas.

(nearby) from farm to table: Located in the charming farming community of Harmony, Estelle’s prides itself on being a family / chef restaurant that offers local farm-to-table ingredients with an extensive menu. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Even some of the alcohol is made nearby: Estelle’s offers a variety of craft cocktails with Harmony spirits, their micro-distillery in town as well as 12 craft beers and a fine selection of wines. They also feature a new, renovated 2,000 square foot covered patio that will open in early June.

Getting there (the scenic route): This is Amish country. For a quick visit, take 52 South to 16 East (just past Preston). Then head right (south) on County Road 21 just before Lanesboro. About 10 miles south, just past Henrytown, take County Road 115 (head east, then back west), which takes you past several Amish farms. Look for homes without power lines and shutters (shutters are considered ornate) on farms strewn with hand baled hay. Windmills turn water pumps, horses pull plows.

An essential stop nearby: Just outside Harmony, the 1-hour Niagara Cave tour showcases its awe-inspiring centerpiece and namesake, a 60-foot waterfall framed by a 130-foot-high ceiling. See fossilized snails from 300 million years ago embedded in the cave walls, as well as several other species of fossils that lived millions of years before dinosaurs. The cave’s stalactites (those from the ceiling down) “grow” an inch or so every 300 years or so. The Crystal Wedding Chapel, a cave chamber with a limestone ceiling reminiscent of a cathedral dome, has hosted more than 400 weddings. 507-886-6606,

The Front Porch Bar And Grill on Thursday May 6, 2021 in Kellogg.  (Traci Westcott /

The Front Porch Bar And Grill on Thursday May 6, 2021 in Kellogg. (Traci Westcott / [email protected])

The Front Porch Bar & Grill

100 North Sheppard Street, Kellogg


Hey, you sound familiar: The Front Porch Bar & Grill is owned by Andrew Craw and Heather Packer, two veterans who met while serving in Afghanistan. They bought The Front Porch in 2018. Heather’s sister is Jennifer Becker, owner of Bleu Duck.

Music. And the mushrooms: There’s always something going on at the Front Porch, including live music on Monday evenings. And mushroom contests. That’s right, the mushroom contests. Morel lovers, unite! The Front Porch Bar & Grill features a Biggest Morel Mushroom contest, where the owner of the largest mushroom (measured at the restaurant) wins $ 5.

It’s n ° 1: We always take our regulars at their word. And the main course, as voted by the guests of The Front Porch? Giant prawns. It can be ordered by the piece or by the dozen and you can choose the dough: beer dough or grilled with a mixture of garlic and butter. Simply … yum.

Getting there (the scenic route): We love crossing Whitewater so take the freeway. 14 east to MN74, one of the oldest highways in the region. Some portions of the MN74 date back to the territory’s first public roads. Passing through Whitewater State Park, MN Highway 74 is a mix of curved pavement in the south section and meandering gravel in the north end. Once in Weaver, jump onto 61 north.

An essential stop nearby: If you are near Kellogg, that means the mandatory stop at LARK Toys. Take a nostalgic peek through the display cases showcasing 25,000 antique and vintage toys and ride the hand-carved carousel creatures before shopping for classic old-school toys.

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