Saturday, July 3, 2010

Bike trip destinations: Amboy Cottage Cafe

Distance from downtown Mankato: 27 miles on back roads, and it's pretty similar distance-wise if you take Highway 169 the whole way as well.

Route I took: Only 6 miles of the route is on bike trails (Red Jacket Trail out of Mankato), but the rest of the route isn't too confusing. Just take a left onto County Road 9 when you get to Rapidan, a right onto Highway 66 and a right once you get to Good Thunder. Once in Good Thunder, take County Road 1 south out of town until it meets with Highway 30, where you take a right and follow for about 3 miles until you get into town. The cafe will be on your right.

General ease/challenge of ride: My opinions of the route's difficulty are skewed for two reasons: It was uncommonly humid out the day I took the trip and I had a 15 mph head wind blowing into my face for the entire way. It was also shortly after I ran Grandma's Marathon, so my legs were probably still recovering. Consequently, I had to hop off the bike and walk for a stretch after leaving Good Thunder. Looking beyond my circumstance, the route isn't that difficult aside from its sheer distance. The roads are generally pretty flat and traffic on the roads normally isn't too crazy. Beyond the distance, two factors make the route somewhat challenging: lack of shade and lack of any wind barrier along the way.

Safety of the ride: As mentioned above, traffic on the roads are generally pretty mild. However, there is still a safety concern, as none of the roads after County Road 9 have a shoulder to ride on and Highway 66 even has tire strips on the sides of the roads, further narrowing a biker's distance from traffic.

Another safety factor that came into play for my trip in particular was the weather. Due to ignorance on my part, I forgot to check the weather before leaving for Amboy, not knowing that severe weather was coming that evening. This was the same day as the vicious thunderstorm (and a few tornado sightings) that ripped through the Mankato area and even destroyed a townhome in North Mankato. The first hint of bad weather I had was around 5 p.m. when Amboy's severe thunderstorm siren started going off as I was leaving town to head home. I should've stayed at the cafe to wait until the storm blew over. But instead, I was worried about getting home before dark and decided to bike until I felt it became "too dangerous" out. Not the smartest move on my part. I made it home safely, JUST beating the hailstorm thanks to some adrenaline-fueled cycling on my part, but my narrow escape wouldn't have been necessary had I properly assessed the situation.

Lesson learned: Don't mess with Mother Nature when you're on a bike.

Appeal of the destination: When I first arrived in Amboy, I actually passed the cafe without noticing it. I had to get directions to it from a gas station a couple of blocks down the road. That pretty much sums up the size of the Amboy Cottage Cafe: Small enough to miss if you don't look hard enough. Believe it or not, the second photo is actually the entire indoor dining area of the cafe, though the cafe does offer outdoor seating as well.

Make no mistake about it though: This little cafe packs a pretty big punch.

I got to the cafe around 4 p.m., apparently perfect hours for someone to get a table because, according to the waiter, the place is usually packed during the evening. It is recommended to call ahead of time for reservations, as it's not only a popular eatery for Amboy residents, but for out-of-towners as well.

Not without good reason either. The food is expensive (my meal was $17 after tip) but worth every penny. Besides, as Marlon Brando probably said at one point: You can't put a price on good bread pudding.

The soup (I forget the name, but it had steak, potatoes and carrots in it, hearty fuel for a cyclist) was great, the chicken jambalaya was even better and their signiture dessert, raseberry bread pudding, practically knocked me out of my chair. I didn't even bother asking for the recipe of the pudding. Odds are, they wouldn't have told me and if they had, there's a good chance I'd weigh 300 pounds within the next year or so.

The chicken jambalaya was recommended to me by the waiter because it was basically spiced rice and chicken, a perfect combination of protein and carbs. But it is far from being the only good-looking item on the menu. The menu on the cafe's website is enough to make even the pickiest of eaters drool. I've heard from friends and locals around town that the cafe's breakfast is something special.

However, the food isn't the only thing that makes the cafe special. Its a quaint setting rich with Minnesota character and culture. Classical music from Minnesota Public Radio plays in the background, state-themed artwork and artifacts line the walls and Minnesota fact books are readily available for patrons to browse as they wait for their food.

The cafe also has a nice little slice of history attached to it as well. The building was initially a cottage-style gas station built in 1928 before being abandoned years later. It was about to be torn down in 2000, but the cafe's current owner, Lisa Durkee, bought the property, relocated it and remade it into a cafe. Considering Amboy is a community that values and embraces its history (this is the same town that has the Dodd Ford Bridge, after all), the cottage cafe adds a lot to the culture of the town.

Another apsect of the cafe that I found interestng was its sizeable rack of coffee mugs on display in the dining area (see last photo on the right). According to the waiter, the mugs are actually purchased by patrons at $125 a piece. The catch: After buying a mug, you'll never have to pay for a cup of coffee at the cafe. The waiter told me that people from as far away as California have bought a mug from the cottage cafe. I guess they've got their cup of coffee situation figured out whenever they come to visit the Midwest. I won't be buying a mug for myself (definitely not a coffee drinker), but the Amboy Cottage Cafe will definitely be getting my business again in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I never miss a trip to the Cottage Cafe when I'm in Amboy and the Rasberry Bread Pudding is to die for. When I first heard about it, it was from a total stranger I was sharing a table with with the cafe was really crowded. She told me not to forget to order it and I told the next person who also got addicted to it. Good thing I live 1500 miles away and can't get there too often or I *would* weigh 300 pounds. The camaraderie at the Cottage Cafe is as good as the food. You forgot to mention the bathroom that doubles as a gift shop! And in the back where you can eat outside, they have an interesting garden.