HOW SWEDE IT IS
A Road Trip Through Minnesota Shopping Territory
A spin along the southern Minnesota–Wisconsin border leads to charming, lost-in-time towns with some of the best scenery and shopping this side of the Mall of America.
You know you're in Cheesehead territory when you drive across the Wabasha-Nelson truss bridge and walk into the Nelson Cheese Factory (S237 Hwy. 35, Nelson, Wis., nelsoncheese.com, "traveler's chubs" from $3.50). It's a dairy lover's dream, selling "traveler's chubs" (half-pound chunks) of dozens of cheeses, both typical (pepper jack and Colby) and artisanal (including Amish Gorgonzola and Valdeon, a Spanish-style blue). From there, meandering Highway 35 snakes around limestone bluffs and leads to Pepin, home to a Laura Ingalls Wilder museum. The author was born near here, and the town now hosts the Laura Ingalls Wilder Days every September, a two-day festival with bonfires, fiddle concerts, and a Laura Ingalls Wilder trivia contest (306 Third St., lauradays.org). Open from May through October, The museum's artifacts include her needle-work, metal stocking stretchers, and school records. Pepin is also home to the area's most renowned restaurant, the 31-year-old Harbor View Café (314 First St., harborviewpepin.com, open mid-March through first Sunday before Thanksgiving, entrées from $14). In the summer months, you'll often find a line out the door for dishes such as Alaskan halibut in a black-butter caper sauce or braised pork in a seasonal-fruit glaze.
Six miles farther, in the town of Stockholm, I check into the Spring Street Inn, a charming but somewhat tattered 1879 cottage with a sunken butterfly-and-bird garden in the yard (N2037 Spring St., 651/528-9616, doubles from $100). The walls of the house are two feet thick and made entirely of stone, and except for the occasional whoosh of a Twin Cities-bound train on the tracks nearby, it's utterly silent.
STOCKHOLM, WIS. TO MINNEAPOLIS
The next morning, I'm tempted by Spring Street's complimentary breakfast, but I have bigger plans in mind, namely a visit to the Bogus Creek Café & Bakery, just down the street (N2049 Spring St, 715/442-5017, breakfast from $7). The restaurant serves breakfast all day on a sunny garden patio, and I'd heard good things about their Swedish pancakes with lingonberries and bacon. Ultimately, though, I give in to their signature dish, the "Bogus hash": grilled hash browns mixed with eggs, peppers, scallions, sausage, and cheese.
Set beneath picturesque Maiden Rock bluff, tiny Stockholm (population: 97 or 82, depending on which sign you read) has better shopping than a lot of towns 10 times its size. (Spring Street, for instance, has eight shops and galleries alone.) But what really sets the retail here apart is that many of Stockholm's boutiques go beyond selling wares. They serve double duty as Scandinavian cultural centers. The town was founded by Swedish immigrants some 160 years ago, and the Scandinavian influence is still prevalent.
Not far from the Palate Gourmet Kitchen Store, the Stockholm Pie Company sells a veritable smorgasbord of baked goods, from classic fruit-and-nut pies like apple pecan to savory options like spinach-and-mushroom quiche (N2030 Spring St., Stockholm, Wis., stockholmpiecompany.com, desserts from $2). Nearby, Ingebretsen's av Stockholm is chockablock with Scandinavian imports, such as Swedish wooden candleholders, hand-painted bright red with floral accents, and gray hand-knit mittens from the Arctic Circle (W12092 Hwy. 35, ingebretsens.com, hand-painted, wooden candleholders from $26).
The family-owned, third-generation shop also offers Scandinavian-themed classes on crafts (a recent series highlighted Swedish folk painting, or dalmalning) and cooking. "A lot of people in Stockholm grew up with Swedish recipes in their family," says Carstens Smith, the class coordinator. "But you know, Grandma doesn't always write down each and every step, so we help them fill in the blanks." The tutorial on baking kransekake, an intricately constructed iced almond cake, is particularly popular with locals, Smith says. "It's not the kind of thing you can just pick up in any bakery," she points out. Or-for that matter-in any of the 520 stores at the Mall of America. Shops like Ingebretsen's are worth the drive indeed.
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