‘Best of’ winners represent Bluff Country well

By: 
David Phillips

The 15th annual Best of Bluff Country contest features many familiar names along with some new ones as local readers filled out their ballots throughout the summer.

At least once a month since spring, ballots were printed in the Bluff Country Reader for readers to fill out and mail in to vote for their choices. An online survey was also set up so readers could make their choices on their computers. The module prevented multiple voting so one person couldn’t stuff the ballot box.

The Best of Bluff Country contest is the longest running “best of” survey in southeastern Minnesota. The contest features many non-commercial categories and winners aren’t solicited for advertising so the results remain true “people’s choices” for the best businesses and favorite spots in the area.

For the 2019 contest, survey questions remained the same from 2018. However, the results changed significantly as some new businesses rose to the top of certain categories, although many old favorites remained the choice of readers in select categories.

Dining

The always-competitive dining categories changed significantly in 2019, but one restaurant that had won every one of the previous 14 contests, dropped down to second this year. This had been the only winner in any category every year of the contest prior to this year. Winners seem to go in cycles in most categories with new names cropping up among the various food and drink options preferred by residents and visitors exploring Southeastern Minnesota Historic Bluff Country.

Annual church dinner: Fountain Lutheran Church. People will have to wait another year to attend the annual lutefisk and meatball dinner, which was held Oct. 5 this year at Fountain Lutheran Church. The church dinner was a co-winner of this category in 2017. First English Lutheran Church in Spring Valley, which holds a spring dinner each year that includes baked ham, meatballs and real mashed potatoes, tied second place after taking third place the previous year and sharing top honors the year before with Fountain. Christ Lutheran Church of Preston tied for the second place honors. The Preston church, which will have a Norwegian lutefisk and meatball buffet Dec. 8, was a winner the first two years of this category, which was added to the list five years ago.  

Bar/lounge: High Court Pub, Lanesboro. High Court Pub, located in an 1876 building where a judge dispensed justice from the third floor, is a repeat winner in this category, running away with the top honors. The Old Barn, Preston, which has a bar and restaurant located inside a 130-year-old historical barn, was runner-up. A large group of bars tied for third place this year.

Breakfast: B & B Bowl, Preston. The Preston establishment, which has come back stronger than ever after a fire destroyed its previous building Jan. 1, 2016, took top honors in this tightly-contested category after taking third place last year. Harmony House, Stockyard Cafe of Lanesboro and the Pastry Shop of Lanesboro all tied for second place.

Burgers: Stockyard Cafe, Lanesboro. The Stockyard Cafe narrowly beat out Estelle’s Eatery and Bar in Harmony. Estelle’s had tied for second place last year. The Bite in Lanesboro took third place this year.

Dessert: The Bite, Lanesboro. The Bite, which opened in January of 2017, kept up its status as the best place to go for dessert. The restaurant, known for its excellent cheesecake, won this category for the third straight year in the three years this category has been part of Best of Bluff Country. Aroma Pie Shoppe in Whalan, Village Square in Fountain and Falcon’s Nest in Harmony, a new restaurant, tied for second place.

Fish fry: Lanesboro American Legion.  The Lanesboro Legion, which has taken top honors the past three years, ran away with the title this year. The Legion holds regular fish fries with the next one scheduled for Nov. 23. Burdey’s Cafe in Peterson, a newcomer to the list, took second place while B & B Bowl and the Branding Iron, both in Preston, Jac’s in Chatfield and St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Spring Valley all tied for third place.

Friendliest service: Pedal Pushers Cafe, Lanesboro, and Lanesboro Legion.  Pedal Pushers, which took second place last year, tied for first place with the Lanesboro Legion, a newcomer to the list in this category. The Old Barn Resort near Preston and the Falcon’s Nest in Harmony tied for second place.

Fries: Pedal Pushers Cafe, Lanesboro. The Lanesboro restaurant, which made its debut on top of this list in 2017, repeated once again to take top honors as the cafe, known for its healthy, local food, is also a favorite for its fresh-cut fries. Another Lanesboro restaurant, the Bite, took second place and the Falcon’s Nest in Harmony took third place.

Ice cream: Another Time Ice Cream Parlor, Lanesboro. Another Time, which features Bridgeman’s ice cream, has been first or second for the past four years, won again this year. The Bite in Lanesboro took second place and Breakers in Harmony, which just opened in April, finished third.

Pie: Aroma Pie Shoppe, Whalan. Aroma Pie Shoppe, located along the Root River Trail, overwhelmingly took top honors for the second year in a row after finishing second in 2017 and 2016. The Falcon’s Nest, a new restaurant in Harmony, and Burdey’s Cafe in Peterson tied for second place.

Pizza: The Bite, Lanesboro.  The Bite, which tied for second place last year, had a stronger showing this year to move to the top. Casey’s in Preston (although some voters didn’t specify location as there is one in Spring Valley, too) took second place while the Creamery in Rushford and the Falcon’s Nest in Harmony tied for third.

Restaurant: Estelle’s Eatery and Bar, Harmony. Estelle’s, which has a scratch kitchen with a rotating menu depending on the season, moved up from second place to win this year. IL Luigi Italian Restaurant in Rushford, which opened in 2016 but has recently closed, finished second while several tied for third place.

Steaks: Old Barn Resort, Preston. The Branding Iron in Preston has dominated the steaks category since the inception of Best of Bluff Country, but this year the Old Barn edged the perennial winner, which was closed for a portion of the year due a change in ownership. Following the Branding Iron in voting, Susie’s Roadhouse in Ostrander, which has polled well in the past, finished third for the second year in a row.

Shopping/lodging

The categories not involving food also had a mixture of old favorites and newcomers to the Best of Bluff Country list. Here are the favorite shopping and lodging options in the 2019 Best of Bluff Country poll.

Antiques: New Generations of Harmony Antique Mall. New Generations of Harmony, with 130+ booths in more than 10,000 square feet of space, was a runaway winner in the antiques category, which has been the case for the past several years. Old River Valley Antique Mall in Stewartville, which has more than 30 antique dealers displaying goods, was runner-up.

Bed and breakfast: Habberstad House, Lanesboro. In tight voting once again, the Habberstad House, which is located in an 1897 Queen Anne Victorian home, took top honors for the third year in a row. Anna V’s Bed and Breakfast, also in Lanesboro and located in a 1908 Victorian home, repeated with second place honors tied with Stone Mill Suites, also of Lanesboro, which is located in a limestone building that dates back to 1885.

Camping: Highway 250 Campground, Lanesboro. Highway 250 Campground just outside of Lanesboro between the Root River and the Root River Trail tops the list of camping spots for the fourth year in a row with a decisive victory. Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, which had won in 2015 and 2014, took second place again this year.

Farmers market: Lanesboro. For the seventh straight year, Lanesboro’s farmers market with its ample fresh vegetables, fruit and homemade treats won this category decisively. The market in Harmony took second place and Rushford’s took third.

Friendliest business: Granny’s Liquor, Lanesboro. Granny’s Liquor, which also delivers to area campgrounds, was voted the friendliest business in Bluff Country for the fourth year in a row, far outpacing the other entries. Lanesboro Arts finished second while a pair of Harmony businesses — Kingsley Mercantile and Harmony Gardens and Gift Shop — tied for third.

Hotel/motel: Green Gables Inn, Lanesboro. Green Gables, which has a relaxing courtyard for guests, was the top establishment in this category for the first time. Stone Mill Suites, housed in a historic limestone building, finished second.

Retail store: Amish Experience Gift Shop, Lanesboro. The Amish Experience, which has a variety of items including groceries and clothing, is a newcomer to this category. Lanesboro’s E2 Boutique, which had finished first the past two years, tied for second place with Kingsley Mercantile in Harmony and Lanesboro Arts.

Unique shop/store: E2 Boutique, Lanesboro. E2 Boutique, which offers women’s and children’s clothing as well as home decor, gifts and other items, took top honors. Lanesboro Arts finished second as it did in 2018 while Harmony Gardens, the Sparrow’s Closet in Spring Valley and Urban Artifacts in Preston tied for third place.

Entertainment/recreation

Lanesboro continues to have a strong presence in the entertainment and recreation listings in the survey, as Lanesboro locations won six of the nine categories.

Arts/culture: Lanesboro Arts, Lanesboro. Lanesboro Arts, a multidisciplinary arts organization that has been expanding its footprint in the community, took first place again. All of Lanesboro, a small city that has made a name for itself in the arts, was the second place winner. Lanesboro didn’t make it a sweep in the category again this year as the Chatfield Center for the Arts took third place.

Park: Sylvan Park, Lanesboro. A consistent choice, Lanesboro’s Sylvan Park once again took top honors as the favorite park of readers with the most votes of any winner in any category once gain. The park has a variety of activities with two spring-fed ponds for fishing and a campground located just off of downtown Lanesboro. Spring Valley’s south park, which has a swimming pool, tennis courts, softball fields and playground equipment, took second place for the third year in a row while Chatfield’s city park in the center of the city, which placed third last year, tied Spring Valley for second place honors.

Family destination: Niagara Cave, Harmony. Niagara Cave, which has dominated this category for several years, was voted the best destination to explore with the family this year. Niagara Cave continues to expand its family offerings above ground with activities such as miniature golf and gemstone mining. The entire community of Lanesboro took second place as it is usually ranked near the top in this category.

Fair or festival: Buffalo Bill Days, Lanesboro.  Buffalo Bill Days along with Ag Days in Spring Valley have been leading this category for several years. Ag Days won last year, but Buffalo Bill Days came back to reclaim the top spot. Harmony’s Fourth of July celebration finished in second place this year. Art in the Park in Lanesboro took third place again this year.

Golf: Lanesboro Golf Club. The Lanesboro course has taken the top spot the last four years. A newcomer to the top courses, Harmony, took second place while River’s Bend Golf at the Old Barn Resort, the region’s only 18-hole course located between Preston and Lanesboro, a perennial favorite, took third place after finishing second last year.

Hiking: Root River Trail. The Root River Trail, a favorite among bicyclists, is a newcomer to the top hiking spot. Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, a perennial winner, took second place. The park, which boasts 20 miles of hiking trails along the Root River and on the bluffs of the park, is located between Preston and Spring Valley.

Historical site/museum: Lanesboro Historical Museum. The Lanesboro Historical Museum, which took second last year, is a three-story, downtown building along the Root River that features an extensive photograph collection. Fillmore County History Center in Fountain took second place and Historic Forestville, a living history site, finished third.

Scenic view: Inspiration Point, Lanesboro. Inspiration Point on Highway 16 near Lanesboro took top honors for the third year in a row with strong support. Inspiration Point, a wayside rest, had its stone walls restored and vegetation blocking the view removed in 2015 so it looks much like it did in 1934 when it opened. The Rushford overlook debuted among the top spots this year as it finished second.

Swimming pool: Old Barn Resort, Preston. An always-competitive category that includes votes from each pool in the region, best swimming pool went to the Old Barn Resort between Preston and Lanesboro, for the third year in a row. The Preston swimming pool took second place while several tied for third place.