Five Foods Your Friends or Family Must Eat When They Visit the St. Cloud Area
When friends or family come to town hungry, what do you put on their St. Cloud Area Good Eats Bucket List? There's lots of great, local food out there. But here are my picks for steering cousins and old friends from back home to the great tastes of St. Cloud.
Giant Popovers with Honey Butter
Anton's Restaurant, Waite Park
Yes, Anton's is a great place to eat. The rustic decor, the location on the shores of the Sauk River, great steaks and seafood and a great selection of Scotch.
It's also the place my wife and I had our first date.
But the real reason I go back to the log cabin restaurant with the ducks and geese in the backyard is the giant popovers with honey butter served with most meals.
Imagine a hot fleshy, almost-as-big-as-your-head popover, slathered in honey butter. Not too sweet, but oh-so-satisfying with a great meal or as a poor man's dessert.
Anton's even uses these baked masterpieces to make a killer "Chicken Almond Stuffed Popover". $9.95 -- great for lunch or a light dinner.
But for me, I like them piping hot right out of the oven, a little underdone and drenched in honey butter.
My wife and I have taken extras home for a late night treat. Your friends and family will want to, too.
Wood-Fired Grill Chicken
Grizzly's, Waite Park
From the moment you step into Grizzly's Wood-Fired Grill in Waite Park, you know this isn't your usual restaurant.
The place is thick with the smell of wood fire and grilled meats. A scent so intoxicating, you'll be glad your clothes hold onto the aroma for the car ride home.
Grizzly's menu is full of burgers and steaks, pastas and salads. But it's their wood-fire grill chicken that steals the show for me.
The chicken is juicy, tender and smokey -- better than any grocery rotisserie bird I've ever had. And they roast several whole birds at a time on a huge rotating rotisserie, over a wood fire, just behind the restaurant's hostess station. Very dramatic for the Central Minnesota foodie.
Grizzly's chicken on the bone pairs nicely with a baked sweet potato and a side of their barbecue sauce. Or try it shredded on a salad or pasta.
The wood fire grilled chicken is like really, really good backyard grilling for Uncle Matt and Aunt Val -- without having to call the fire department.
Val's Rapid Serve in east St. Cloud
Val's is a weird place. So weird in fact, your friends and family just have to experience it. The iconic little burger-fries-and-shake-shack on East St. Germain has no indoor seating. Instead, it has computer terminals for you to place your own order. On those computers you'll pick condiments and other fixin's and ponder endlessly over the 30 or so types of shakes they sell. And yet, it's not all that novelty that keeps me coming back.
No, it's the seasoned fries with the spreading grease spots on the take-out bag that woos me. Ordering a "small" fry means getting the bottom of a take-out bag filled with golden brown and delicious fries, sprinkled with season salt. So simple. So addicting. And such a great, eclectic place for friends and family to remember from their trip to Cloud.
Fritter French Toast
Nelson Brothers Restaurant in the Clearwater Travel Plaza
I've had French toast made from a lot of breads. Sourdough, French, brioche, Texas toast, Wonder bread. All are good. But none take me to breakfast nirvana quite like Fritter French Toast at Nelson Brothers Restaurant in Clearwater. The restaurant makes Fritter bread fresh every day in apple, raspberry, blueberry and cinnamon varieties, each frosted with a just-enough sugary glaze. Then the cooks fry the battered Fritter bread until it's golden brown and delicious and serve it with wild rice sausage. Hand to heaven, this is the best French toast I've ever had. It's denser than any other French toast and very satisfying. And if you want to sample all four flavors, get the Fritter French Toast Nuggets with wild rice sausage. Unbelievable. Tell your best friend from high school to buy a few loaves of the fritter bread in the bakery on the way out and take it home for their own French toast experiments. (And the loaves freeze great, too.)
Bravo Burritos, St. Cloud
St. Cloud has a lot of Mexican food prepared a lot of different ways. And I love them all. But there's something about Bravo Burritos that just rings authentic. I don't know why -- I haven't been to Mexico. But I pray this is how Mexico tastes! Nothing on the menu is as good as their combo burrito.
Pick three meats from eight different varieties including beef colorado, shredded beef, chicken verde, chicken mole, bravo chili, Carnitas, pork verde and chorizo. Add rice, beans and cheese and spice it up with one of four levels of hot sauce, roll it up in a huge flour tortilla, wrap it in aluminum foil, steam it and voila! -- a Bravo burrito is born. Grandma will appreciate grabbing a Dos Equis, Corona or some other tasty Mexican beer with her huge burrito and complimentary tortilla chips. Might I suggest the combo burrito with chicken verde, chicken mole and spicy chorizo with some extra verde sauce?
Delicioso and oh-so Mexican by way of St. Cloud.