Finding the flavor of Red Wing
Summer is no doubt the time for picnics.
Sunny days, cool breezes and shaded parks with towering trees combine for the perfect setting to lay down a blanket, unpack a basket and feast on lunch with a loved one.
With the soft sounds of smooth-flowing water added to the mix, picnics are extra enjoyable when held along the Mississippi River.
And while you're taking in the sights of Red Wing, why not take in the tastes as well? Instead of making the average ham sandwich on wheat at home, hit an assortment of area establishments to give your picnic a local flare.
We've all comprised a different picnic basket based on our favorite foods around town, so take a peek inside each of them and get some ideas to create your own.
You can picnic anytime, anywhere. I learned that lesson at age 8 when my best friend's mother, Esther, rounded us up one crisp December day and we ate lunch on a blanket on a neighbor's yard.
I've been an avid picnicker ever since. I'll picnic on the living room floor if all else fails.
Since moving to Red Wing I invariably start the menu with Buchanan Grocery potato salad. Nothing I make has ever come close.
Stop No. 2 is Red Wing Farmers Market. Radishes and various greens are perfect right now.
Next comes seasonal fruit. This week there are raspberries in my garden. They need no recipe or dressing. The rhubarb is still plentiful and sweet, so homemade cake is for dessert.
Now for the sandwich, that perfect, packable picnic entree. If it were an Easter picnic, I would start with Jenny Lind Bakery's lemon raisin bread. Oktoberfest? Hanisch Bakery's rye.
But it's summer. I'm going with a baguette made using Sturdiwheat's can't miss mix. I'll stuff it with my greens, local cheeses and a tomato in a tasty vinaigrette.
Finally, you need something to toast your picnic. Two beverages come to mind: local wine and cider.
Pepin Heights sparkling cider is an obvious choice. The small bottles slip easily into a picnic basket or small cooler.
With thoughts of that first winter picnic on my mind, I added a bottle of Falconer Vineyard's new Snowy White. The Red Wing winery released the semi-sweet blend with its hint of apple last summer. The name reminds me of that first anytime, anywhere picnic.
Here's to you, Esther!
Red Wing may be a small town, but it certainly packs a punch when it comes to finding picturesque picnic spots.
You can take a break by the river at Bay Point or Levee parks, grab a seat and cool off in Central Park after walking around downtown, or sit down to a meal at Colvill Park after working up an appetite at the water park.
Personally I like the sight of the buildings, streets and river from the bluffs, so I'd tote my blanket and treats to Memorial Park and enjoy the views of the city as I dine.
And while you're picnicking locally, you might as well enjoy some local fare too, right?
Although it's not traditional picnic food -- and maybe wouldn't last too long in a basket on a hot summer day -- the grilled cheese from Randy's is a tasty treat. The crunchy, buttery bread and gooey cheese makes for a yummy, but a bit messy, sandwich, so pack napkins. Lots of napkins.
If you prefer something a little lighter, you also could stop by Subhouse and grab a more picnic-friendly sandwich. I'm a fan of the veggie sandwich on white bread, maybe paired with some crunchy chips.
Next I would cool off with an Italian soda from Smokey Row Café, home of the Jenny Lind Bakery.
I could add a fresh fruit bowl to my meal while I'm there, too. Or if I'm feeling a bit more adventurous, I could swing by the Red Wing Farmers Market to pick out my own. Prefer veggies? They have plenty of those, too.
So on the next sunny day, you can grab your checkered blanket and wicker basket and wander, well, pretty much anywhere in Red Wing to find both tasty foods and a great picnic spot.
I'll admit it. I'm not a huge picnic fan. In fact, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I've eaten sandwiches and salad on a blanket spread over the grass.
However, being the daughter of a farmer, my childhood was filled with dozens of impromptu picnics.
During seeding in the spring and harvest in the fall, I remember going with my mom and sisters to pick up chicken strips and fries from the local café. They'd pack the food in squeaky Styrofoam containers and then we'd grab a couple cans of Coke from the pantry and head out to bring supper to my dad in the field.
He'd see our vehicle coming and finish the row he was on, slowly driving his tractor or combine to meet us in the corner of the field.
My sisters and I would pile out of the car -- excited to see our dad -- and we'd all sit on the pickup tailgate or lean against a nearby vehicle while we ate.
This is my kind of picnic: easy, not fussy, basket-free and not really well-planned.
If I was to recreate this in Red Wing, my menu might be a little different, but certainly no more complicated.
One of my favorite grab-and-go meals is the Oriental chicken wrap from Subhouse. I request it on a wheat wrap instead of its standard garlic wrap and no sprouts, please. Then, add in a bag of Rachel's chips, pink lemonade and plenty of napkins -- the Oriental sauce has a tendency to drip -- and I'm off to my "picnic" in no time.
Another great portable food is the crunchy chicken wrap from Liberty's: chicken strips, lettuce, tomato and their ridiculously good house ranch dressing in a tortilla. With kettle chips on the side and a bottle of Coke, it's delicious.
Or, if I'm feeling especially nostalgic, I'll stop into Randy's and request their three-piece chicken tender meal to go. With classic crinkle fries and coleslaw on the side, it's the perfect throwback. As an added bonus, it even comes packed in squeaky Styrofoam.
Now, if only someone could find me a wheat field and a tailgate to sit on.
In my mind, the perfect Red Wing picnic would be held bright and early in the morning when the sun first starts to rise, the air is cool and the town is just waking up.
For that reason my picnic would focus on breakfast foods, namely a short stack of Sturdiwheat pancakes cooked up at Bev's Café. OK, so they aren't the easiest to pack and throw in a basket if there's syrup covering them, but I'd find a way to make it work.
While we're carbo-loading, let's add a blueberry muffin as a side dish, preferably one picked up from Clara's in the St. James Hotel.
Since I'm not one for juice, I'd grab a steamy cup of hot chocolate from Red Wing Confectionery as the perfect beverage to warm me up in the event of a brisk morning.
Finally, dessert. Regardless of the fact that this is a breakfast picnic, I'm sure health officials would certainly agree that dessert is required to make a meal nutritiously complete.
Wait, did I say health officials? I meant sugar junkies.
Let it be known that I had a very difficult time choosing just one dessert. Realistically, I'd like to create a picnic purely out of sweet treats. It would include red velvet cake pops from Hanisch, caramels from Knudsen's and a "brownie delight" from Liberty's, among other delicious options.
I have no doubt that my sweet tooth comes directly from my grandpa, and largely stems from a single trip we took to the grocery store together. I was about 4 years old and as I sat in the front seat of the grocery cart searching for the snack aisle, we both pounded our fists on the handle, chanting, "Cookies. Cookies. We want cookies."
While I'm unlikely to turn down a cookie if one is offered to me, my tastes have changed slightly as I've grown up.
My newest vice is ice cream. Put it in a bowl, a cone or an IV -- I'm not picky. That's why there's no way I would ever create a local picnic basket without including a caramel malt from Randy's.
Amazing. Enough said.
I am not an avid lover of the outdoors, so I do not go on many picnics.
However, what I lack in my love for the outdoors, I make up for with my love of food. I am a self-proclaimed foodie, so if I was to go on a picnic I would know exactly what to bring.
First, you need a good beverage that will fit in your basket and taste good on a warm summer day. Pomegranate ICES from Buchanan Grocery immediately come to mind. They are fresh and fizzy and the bottle is thin enough to wedge into your basket.
The chips and salsa from Fiesta Mexicana would be a good match to the drinks for your appetizer. The main course in the basket is Hager Heights Chicken. It's good, it's greasy, it's everything broasted chicken should be.
To accompany your poultry paradise, mashed potatoes and gravy from Randy's and coleslaw from the Bierstube Steakhouse and Grill will go along as the side dishes.
To top off this meal with a great dessert, one would need the baked bliss of Hanisch Bakery in the form of a Reese's Pieces doughnut.
The point of a picnic is to make you rub your belly in satisfaction and this food would make people do just that.