Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Bakery Tour of the Upper Midwest

Since we've been on vacation for the past week, I've been indulging in bakery visits along the way as opportunities have arisen. Here's the rundown.

1. Norske Nook, Osseo, Wisconsin. Our first day of vacation, we traveled from Minneapolis to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where we had a terrific dinner with my college friend Sue and her two kids, Katie and Jack. When Sue pulled out a dessert of blueberry crumb pie from Norske Nook, I nearly fell over. I'd never had Norske Nook pie, and I secretly harbored an itinerary delusion that somehow, we'd end up going past the restaurant so that I could snag a piece of their renowned pie. This blessing of pie was a good omen for the rest of the vacation. Thanks, Sue!

2. Dessert First Bakery Cafe, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. A zillion years ago, I went to college in Eau Claire. I spent much time anticipating taking a nice run around town, getting to see old sights and discover what had changed. Things gone? The hideous fried-chicken restaurant I worked at for a couple of months one summer, the former layout of the children's department of the public library (where I worked after the chicken restaurant), the street layout where one of my old apartments was, much of downtown Eau Claire. Things new? A gorgeous downtown park, a miles-long bike- and runner-friendly trail hugging the Chippewa River, and a new dessert spot right across the street from the Ramada hotel downtown. Even better, I got to be among the first customers of Dessert First Bakery Cafe because we happened to be in town on their opening day. Their selection was somewhat limited on day one, but I was enormously pleased with the chocolate mint cookie and mocha cupcake I got there. I hope that the next time I'm in Eau Claire, I'll get to sample from their planned full assortment of cupcake flavors.

3. Dan's Bakery & Coffee Shop, Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. Whilst driving across Minnesota on a rainy Saturday, we were zipping through the town of Sleepy Eye. My eye, however, was not sleepy when I espied Dan's Bakery & Coffee Shop. I picked up a couple of bags of cookies (peanut blossoms and M&M cookies); both provided vital sustenance during our travels.

4. Lange's Cafe, Pipestone, Minnesota. I'd seen Lange's referenced at Jane and Michael Stern's Roadfood web site. They raved about a beef sandwich at Lange's (no beef for me, thanks) and also raved about the sour cream raisin pie. When I realized we'd be in the area to visit Pipestone National Monument, I knew we'd have to eat at Lange's. The dinner (a super-loaded grilled cheese) was fantastic and left no room for dessert. So we got pie to go: lemon meringue for me, French silk for Claire, and a cinnamon roll for Karen. Lange's: definitely worth the stop.

5. Hagman's Bakery, Brookings, South Dakota. When I went running Sunday morning, my goal was to find Hagman's. Brookings' downtown isn't too big, and a nice run from the hotel got me there. On a Sunday morning, their bakery selection seemed limited, so I got a cinnamon roll. It was a totally OK cinnamon roll, but I didn't eat much of it. I think it may have looked better than it tasted. Or maybe I wasn't really craving a cinnamon roll.

6. A Piece of Cake, Rapid City, South Dakota. En route to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, we drove past A Piece of Cake. This quaint spot is more of a small teahouse or lunch place than a bakery, but the assortment of baked goods was worth the stop. I tried an apple maple roll, which consisted of an apple filling inside a crispy, maple-glazed rolled crust. Think of a churro, but filled with apple. I liked it enough, but I think I'd have appreciated it more with a non-apple-pie filling. (My sense is that it was a canned filling.) I also tried a slab of banana-chocolate cake. The cake had a top layer (banana-walnut) and a bottom layer (chocolate), all coated with frosting. (I'm pretty sure it was vanilla buttercream.) Not bad, and it definitely gave me some ideas for cakes I could make.

7. Jerry's Cakes and Donuts, Rapid City, South Dakota. We stayed in Rapid City for three days, and for those three days, I availed myself of a nice running trail through a park along a creek. The first day through, I saw Jerry's Cakes and Donuts across the way and tucked the thought of going there into the back of my mind. As we were leaving Rapid City on Wednesday morning, we dropped in at Jerry's before heading to the Badlands. All I can say is thank you, Jerry, for some of the best doughnuts I've ever eaten. We purchased a selection of items from Jerry's: cake doughnuts, raised doughnuts, a cookie. I'm still swooning over the memory of biting into the chocolate-glazed, cream-filled long john I got; I'm also still mad at myself for sharing it with Claire. (Just kidding.) (Or not.)

8. The Cookie Jar, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We'd stayed overnight in Sioux Falls en route back to Minneapolis, and quite unintentionally drove past this bakery while we were heading out of town after an unplanned excursion to see the falls. It was a fortuitous happenstance. The Cookie Jar's salad-plate-size cookies are exceptional. I couldn't resist a sampler, so I got a big variety: chocolate-frosted chocolate-chocolate chip, chocolate-frosted chocolate, peanut butter-chocolate chip, frosted ginger, ginger, frosted sugar, Heath crunch, and a sour cream-raisin bar. The cookies are big and soft, definitely meant for sharing. Then there was a cinnamon roll -- and not just any cinnamon roll, but quite possibly one of the best cinnamon rolls I've ever eaten. Pillow soft, laced with a swirl of cinnamon, and capped with a luscious frosting, this cinnamon roll will stay in my memory as a benchmark.

9. Denny's Fifth Avenue Bakery, Bloomington, Minnesota. This bakery was up the street from our hotel in Bloomington. While they have a big variety of items in the store (cakes, cookies, doughnuts, breads), I limited my purchases to a couple of "wedges"(triangular doughnuts with a cream filling) and a chocolate nut roll (chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, rolled in chopped peanuts). The yellow-coated wedge has strawberry filling and a banana glaze; unfortunately, it tasted medicinal. The chocolate-glazed wedge, however, was thoroughly traditional and fairly tasty. The nut roll was fine, too.

10. Nestlé Toll House Café, Bloomington, Minnesota. In the Mall of America, amid scads of places to shop, eat, and play, you can find a couple of Nestlé Toll House Cafés. Plenty of cookies and brownies to choose from, along with beverages. Claire and I each had a mini-chocolate chip cookie sandwich (the perfect recovery food after a dozen roller-coaster rides), and I had a Butterfinger brownie. It was like something I'd make myself, a frosted brownie dusted with Butterfinger pieces.


Dave in Toronto said...

Maybe you should write a book: "Bakery Tour: America" ... I think I'll need to print this out for future ref. Nice read!

ryan said...

Good work getting to all of those places! And nice photos, too!