Monthly Archives: June 2019

Five sweet treats you shouldn’t miss on the Great River Road

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Save room for dessert—here are some of the most iconic desserts you’ll find along the Mississippi River, from handcrafted pies to freshly fried pastries.

Homemade candy, ice cream and chocolate at Lagomarcino’s

If you’re in the mood for ice cream when you’re driving through the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa, there’s one place you have to stop: Lagomarcino’s. With locations in downtown Moline, Ill., (the original) and Davenport, Iowa (opened in 1997), this soda fountain/candy store/ice cream parlor has been in business since 1908 and still makes their own candy, chocolates and ice cream to this day. In 2006, Lagomarcino’s received a James Beard America’s Classics award.

World-famous beignets at Café du Monde

There’s no shortage of delicious food in the Crescent City, and that applies doubly to anything targeting your sweet tooth. Pralines, bananas foster, bread pudding, pecan pie—that’s enough to satisfy any connoisseur of desserts. But the one thing that’s sure to draw a crowd are Café du Monde’s world-famous beignets. Head to the French Market (or one of the eight other locations in the New Orleans metro area) to sample these fried-dough delights that are covered with powdered sugar. Don’t forget the chicory coffee au lait!

Pie at the Stockholm (Wis.) Pie Company

Want a pie like the ones Grandma used to make? Well, there’s no place that’ll get you closer than the famous Stockholm Pie Company, where fruit and nut pies are handcrafted from scratch daily at this store in the charming Wisconsin Great River Road town of Stockholm. You’ll also find cream pies, seasonal specialties and travel-size 6-inch pies available daily, as well as a general store featuring Wisconsin cheese, craft beer, wine, local specialties and gift items. Find more of Stockholm Pie Company’s delicious pies—as well as sandwiches, coffee drinks and more—across the river at The Pie Plate Café in Red Wing, Minn.

Banana pudding at the Fulton Banana Festival

When you think of bananas, your first thought probably isn’t a town of 2,500 people on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. But Fulton, Ky., (and South Fulton, Tenn., its neighbor to the south) have hosted the Banana Festival for more than 50 years, commemorating Fulton’s location as a prime railroad spot between New Orleans and Canada in the late 1800s. (At one point, more than 70 percent of the bananas consumed in the U.S. passed through Fulton.) A highlight of the festival, held annually in September, is the creation of a one-ton banana pudding—said to be the world’s largest, and who are we to argue—that is distributed to hungry festival attendees.

Mississippi mud pie at The Crown Restaurant

Head south to Indianola, Miss.—home to the B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center—to find this Mississippi delicacy at the highly regarded The Crown Restaurant, which has received attention in everything from Southern Living to Cook’s Illustrated. This cozy restaurant is only open for lunch (11am-2pm Tuesday through Saturday), but offers great confections from head cook Evelyn Roughton, including the famous Mississippi mud pie—a rich dessert made with pudding, cake, whipped cream, biscuits, chocolate and other delights (it gets its name for its resemblance to the state’s dark soil).

(Photo: Illinois Office of Tourism)

Breweries, wineries & distilleries on the Great River Road

Monday, June 24, 2019

Cheers!

Whether you’re looking for unique microbrews, handcrafted spirits or a winery with an amazing view, you’ll discover some great places to raise your glass along the Great River Road.

Here are a few spots to spend your next happy hour.

North

  • Minnesota: Beer lovers are in luck when they visit the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. There, you’ll find literally dozens of breweries, from sprawling complexes with on-site restaurants to tiny taprooms. Local favorites include Surly, Fair State Cooperative, Indeed Brewing, Bad Weather Brewing and Summit.
  • Wisconsin: You might think you’re in Napa Valley as you enjoy a crisp white or full-bodied red on the patio at Elmaro Vineyard in Trempealeau and gaze over the awe-inspiring landscape of nearby Perrot State Park and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Iowa: A true “grain to glass” distillery, Mississippi River Distilling Company creates its small-batch gin, vodka and more with grain harvested within 25 miles of their facility in downtown LeClaire. And don’t miss the vineyards of the Iowa Wine Trail, which passes through towns like Clinton, Marquette and Guttenberg.
  • Illinois: In the charming town of Galena, you’ll find great shops, a historic downtown, and tasty restaurants. You’ll also find Blaum Bros. Distilling Co., one of the state’s #IllinoisMade businesses—makers, creators and artisans that show off the state’s entrepreneurial spirit. Stop by for a tour and a taste of their gin, vodka, bourbon and other spirits.

Middle

  • Missouri: Sure, St. Louis is famously home to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, but there are plenty of other beermakers in “The Lou,” as well.  Take a tour and stop for a tasting at award-winning breweries like Schlafly, Urban Chestnut and Perennial Artisan Ales.
  • Tennessee: The Volunteer State’s claim to spirits doesn’t just come from Mr. Jack Daniel in Lynchburg. Memphis is home to Old Dominick Distillery, founded in 1866 by Domenico Canale. Five generations later, business is still booming—Memphis visitors can tour the factory, sample Old Dominick’s whiskeys and vodkas in the tasting room and grab a bite at the on-site restaurant.

South

  • Mississippi: Founded in 1716, Natchez is the oldest city on the Mississippi River. Amidst all that history, visitors will find great food and drink, too, including the Natchez Brewing Company, which offers tours and tastings at its facility downtown, and Charboneau Distillery, home to the first legally distilled rum produced in Mississippi.
  • Louisiana: Where to start? (New Orleans. New Orleans is always the answer.) OK, so the Big Easy might not technically be “the city that invented the cocktail,” but you’ll find several drinks that were perfected here, including the Hurricane, the Rum Punch and the Pimm’s Cup. Thirsty to learn more? Visit the Museum of the American Cocktail, which offers education programs, tastings and more.

(Photo: Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. in Galena, courtesy of the Illinois Office of Tourism)

The best barbecue on the Great River Road

Monday, June 17, 2019

Where there’s smoke, there’s… some of the best barbecue in the United States.

Sure, you might automatically (and correctly) think of St. Louis and Memphis as barbecue hot spots on the Mississippi River, but the truth is, you can find delectable BBQ at restaurants up and down the Great River Road—it’s just a matter of knowing where to go.

Here’s a region-by-region breakdown of where you can find the best brisket, ribs and more along America’s greatest drive.

North

Even if they don’t have the traditions of their Southern cousins, the states of the northern Great River Road still have plenty of restaurants that produce delicious barbecue. In the Twin Cities, visitors can find authentic Carolina barbecue at Revival, which has restaurants in Minneapolis and Saint Paul (and also sells smoked meats at the Keg and Case Market in Saint Paul).

Head to La Crosse—the biggest city on Wisconsin’s section of the Great River Road—for great bites at Piggy’s (and don’t miss live blues music in the Smokin’ Blues Lounge downstairs on Saturday nights). Across the river in Bellevue, Iowa, you’ll find another barbecue-and-blues restaurant at Flatted Fifth Blues & BBQ, housed in a historic grist mill on the banks of the Mississippi.

A short drive from St. Louis, Beast Craft BBQ Co. in Belleville, Illinois, has won lots of awards since it opened in 2015, including nods from Thrillist (who called it one of the 33 best BBQ joints in America) and Food & Wine magazine (Illinois’ best barbecue).

Middle

Now this is barbecue country. We could do a whole article—or several, in fact—on the offerings in St. Louis and Memphis alone, but we’ll pick a few that you must check out. In St. Louis, don’t miss Pappy’s Smokehouse near Saint Louis University; while you’re waiting in line for their award-winning ribs, check out the autographed menus plastered on the walls.

In the tiny town of Bardwell, Kentucky, locals flock to Prince Pit BBQ (which also has a store in nearby Barlow). Further south in Memphis, you’ll find delicious barbecue almost anywhere, but be sure to visit the iconic Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, which has welcomed rock stars, presidents and regular folks alike to its alley-front location since 1948.

South

Did you know that Arkansas’ only James Beard Award-winning restaurant can be found in a town of just 3,500 people? Well, that’s how good the reputation is for Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, which has been serving customers since at least 1910 and may be the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the state.

Clarksdale, Mississippi, is home to the infamous Crossroads—the place where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul in exchange for his unearthly musical talent. Just a few steps away from the marker commemorating this location is Abe’s Bar-B-Q, which has been serving locals and visitors to unfettered acclaim for decades.

Louisiana is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, so it only makes sense that you’ll find po’ boys and fried chicken in addition to the barbecue favorites on the menu at The Francis Smokehouse & Specialty Meats in St. Francisville. What started out as a specialty meat shop now serves hundreds of sandwiches daily; don’t miss their fancier relative, The Francis Southern Table & Bar, next door.

Celebrate June Dairy Month along the Great River Road

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Summer is here, June is National Dairy Month, let’s talk about the (very) serious subject of cheese and ice cream.

Photo via The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor Facebook

For an old-timey ice cream experience, hit up The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor in La Crosse, Wisconsin. This charming stop is a “Best of La Crosse County” winner for both its ice cream and old fashioned candy. Located in the historic downtown of this beautiful river town, the store looks almost like a museum, beautifully preserved. They make their ice cream in house (nearly two dozen flavors from real Wisconsin cream) along with fresh baked waffle cones. The Pearl is located a couple of short blocks from the Mississippi River so you can take your ice cream and stroll down by the water on a warm afternoon.

Photo via Nelson Cheese Factory Facebook

Feeling cheesy? Head to the Nelson Cheese Factory in Nelson, Wisconsin. Not only do they sell real Wisconsin cheese, but varieties from all over the world, so it’s a great place to pick up a rare or hard-to-find cheese for the connoisseur in your life. They also sell to-die-for garlic cheese curds and homemade ice cream (we recommend rum cherry!). While you’re in the area, make a stop at the National Eagle Center across the river in Wabasha, Minnesota to watch our national bird!

Photo via Red Wing Confectionery Facebook

Another worthy stop in Minnesota is the Red Wing Confectionery in Red Wing. They have tons of rotating flavors of ice cream (try the hand-dipped waffle cones!) and happen to make some of the best root beer floats you’ve ever tried. Not related to dairy, but still delicious, are their homemade candies, including salt water taffy, chocolate-covered fruit and nuts and gourmet truffles. Take your treats across the street to LaGrange Park and sit by the fountain, or walk a quick block to take in views of the Mighty Mississippi.

Photo by Tripadvisor.com user DawnH007

Last on our list is the Hastings Co-Op Creamery in Hastings, Minnesota. Known as the “shake place,” you can get an unbelievable milkshake for an equally unbelievable price here. They’ve been in business for more than 100 years, so they know their dairy! They’re also famous for their soft serve ice cream, fresh milk and cheese curds. It’s a great place to stop after a hike or a bike ride!