The Ole Store (Northfield, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • Star Tribune South
  • April 12, 2006

Minnesota has too much experience with tearing down buildings and neighborhoods.

For some reason, we turn our backs on our history when we look ahead to the future. So we were delighted to make the trip down to the Ole Store in Northfield.

Here, a legendary local breakfast place and former general store has been updated with a bright spotlight on the past.

The old soda counter is now a wine bar with a small, good wine list. Not limited to California, the list features a few choices from all the major wine-making regions, at reasonable prices. The $20 Rioja might be the best deal on the list.

The breakfast place has been replaced by a coffeehouse serving fair-trade coffee and house-made or local pastries. But fans of breakfast should fear not, as the cafe part of the business serves marvelous weekend breakfasts. We especially like the Ole Egg Combo, simply because making the “toast or pancakes” decision has always seemed like an incredible burden. We like both.

The Ole Store has a deli, too, with panini and soups and quiches and such, all ideal for take-away fare. For the cafe lunch and dinner menus, the Ole Store steps squarely into the 21st century spotlight.

The food is everything we expect from a small American bistro, and finding it in a neighborhood landmark speaks volumes about the way Americans are dining today.

Our late-winter visit let us try the excellent Kalbi marinated short ribs with garlic noodles. The rib meat was so tender it fell from the bone, and the sweet soy garlic marinade permeated every bite.

We also liked the lobster ravioli special, served in a spectacular sherry red pepper cream sauce. That sauce was easily as good any we have ever had.

Scallops pan seared and served in a green pea puree made another wonderful combination. This was available as an appetizer or a main dish. Another good seafood dish was the signature Parmesan-encrusted walleye, although we found just a few too many bones to make this easy to eat.

The soups, on our visit a tomato basil and a white clam chowder, were good, although not hot enough. In fact, our main complaint was getting food that wasn’t really hot. Hot food, as the training manual says, is why we go out to eat. This sort of service glitch is easy to fix.

It’s easy, too, to stop serving tomatoes on the Caesar salad. Put them on a good mixed vegetable salad where they belong.

Desserts here can be good or great. The maple nut tart lacked enough maple flavor, but the Guinness gingerbread was spicy and good.

At the Ole Store, you can sit under 100-year-old tin ceilings and connect up to the wireless network. The integration of past and future works perfectly here.

Ole Store Cafe

Location: 1011 St. Olaf Av., Northfield.
Contact: 507-645-5558,
Hours: 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.
Atmosphere: Convivial and quiet.
Service: Not on par with the food.
Sound level: Unremarkable.
Recommended: Scallops with green pea puree, short ribs.
Prices: $11 for entree salads to $24 for filet mignon; most entrees $18–$22.
Children: Several choices for $6.

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.