Foodies on Foot in Stillwater
By Kelly Fitzgerald
Host to an 1848 territorial convention leading to Minnesota's eventual statehood, Stillwater often is referred to as our birthplace. Add scenic bluffs, festivals, and charming waterside shopping, and there are many reasons to visit—but just one that brought my twin sister and I to town to celebrate our own birth 30 years ago: a culinary walking tour.
Mother-daughter team Nancy and Liz McNulty launched Foodies on Foot not too long ago, but the combo is so natural and enjoyable, it's sure to equal long-term success. Fifty dollars (plus $15 if you want adult beverage pairings—and you really, really do) means a leisurely afternoon exploring a few (because there are so many) highlights of Minnesota's historic town and the variety of high-caliber restaurants it has to offer.
I almost don't want to share what was served and where, because the surprise was half the fun. But here goes:
Stop #1 - Water Street Inn:Spinach and pear salad served with Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc or Leinenkugels Fireside Nut Brown Ale
A quick tour through the historic hotel showed grand finishings, a hand-painted ceiling, master suite with gorgeous view, and Charlie's Irish Pub, which I must come back to for live music! waterstreetinn.us
Stop #2 - Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque: Pimento wood-smoked pork shoulder and jerk sausage taco, plus grilled pepper & sea salt, served with a citrus cocktail or Lagunitas "Where's Waldo" double IPA
My favorite stop of the day sucked me in with sweet & spicy smells before we made it to the door. (Though we did linger at the autographed Diners & Drive-ins poster—watch May 7!) Killer hot peppers plus barbecue and mixology at its best got us warm and ready to dash back into the rain. smalleyspiratebbq.com
Stop #3 - Stillwater Olive Oil Co.: Numerous sampling, available for purchase
I'm not a balsamic connoisseur, but I may become one now. Black cherry, espresso, tangerine—it was surprising how perfect and potent each of the balsamic vinegars was, illustrating the labeled flavors. Little cups let us sample as many as we'd like, dipping in bread or sipping straight. Though full bottles are available, 4 oz. or sample packs seem like a brilliant gift idea for any foodie. stillwateroliveoil.com
Stop #4 - The Green Room: Halibut alongside gruyere risotto served with red wine or local brew selections
Once the First National Bank of Minnesota, the space is now home to a florescent green sign hanging over the bar, a more upscale dining space, and delicious food based on the creamy, peppery, return-worthy risotto that got this fish-adverse girl to eat a healthy portion of halibut. thegreenroomstillwater.com
Stop #5 - Staples Mill Brewing Co.: Chicago Dog served with two beer samples
We walked just a few more blocks to find a tiny craft brewery tucked along the river like many of Stillwater's hidden gems. Though the Chicago Dogs next door were a bit odd to highlight as "local eats," the casual stop was welcome, and I heard no complaints as we all gobbled down our half serving! staplesmillbrewingco.com
Stop #6 - Northern Vineyards: Ruby Minnesota dessert wine and Bread Art Chocolate Raspberry Truffle cake
A quick trip through the front door and up the back steps led us to an upstairs room with wine barrels and special seating. Our final stop after multiple "cheers to 30" was topped off with 16% rich dessert wine and a round of "Happy Birthday" with a decadent cake and candles! So thoughtful of our tour guides. northernvineyards.com
Ultimately tour stops can change, with different restaurant partners and varying dishes and drinks served, but you're bound to be pleased with what you get. I could have continued on four more hours! (Alcohol consumption levels aside, of course.) The "Savor the Flavors of Stillwater" savory tours like ours are offered Tuesdays and Fridays at 11 a.m., and Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. There's also the Saturday morning "Bloody Mary Brunch" for $50, which sounds equally tempting.
Our tour proved that they happen rain or shine (though walking is truly minimal and umbrellas are provided if needed), but it doesn't put too much of a damper on anything. Twelve guests is their max per tour, to make it an intimate experience, so organize a group and reserve your spot online as soon as interested.
In the end, it's truly great that a day in Minnesota's oldest town, on the weekend I got older, made me feel utterly young and carefree. And full.