Friday, May 20, 2011

Bike trip destinations: Thunder Restaurant

Distance from downtown Mankato: 15 miles using the Red Jacket Trail. You might be able to shave a few miles if you rode on Highway 66 the whole way, but I wouldn't recommend it (it's a very meandering road with a lot of twists and turns to make it unsafe for cyclists).

Route I took: Like several of my previous rides, the route utilizes the Red Jacket Trail out to Rapidan, where you hang a left at the stop sign in town, follow the road about a mile, take a right onto Highway 66 and follow that into Good Thunder. Once in Good Thunder, take a right on Main Street. The restaurant will be on your left. If you're following my routes from last year, this would be the same way you'd take to the Amboy Cottage Cafe and Green Giant Statue Park, though both of those locations are further away.

General ease/challenge of ride: As I've stated before, rides don't get much easier than the Red Jacket Trail. The trail is well shaded and shielded from most wind, plus the incline out of the river valley (miles 4-6 on the trail) is very gradual and barely even requires you to down shift. However, with the trestle bridge out of commission, riders have to take the Highway 66 detour across the Le Sueur River, which requires going down a steep off ramp followed by biking up an even steeper incline to get back to the trail. After Rapidan, riders are more at the mercy of wind and the draft of vehicles on Highway 66 (I had a 20 mph head wind when I did this trip, not one of my more pleasant rides). On the upside, there aren't any real hills to worry about. Fair warning though: The hill out of Good Thunder on your return trip can be a doozie if you ate too much.

Safety of the ride: Since this is a route I've used on previous posts, I won't bore my readers by being overly-specific on safety. In short, the Red Jacket Trail is extremely safe for cyclists; Highway 66, not so much.

Appeal of the destination: One of the things I've always enjoyed about small-town restaurants is the unique setting they all have. Places like Applebees and Olive Garden are dime-a-dozen to the point where it seems like their menu choices and wall decor came off an assembly line or something. Places like that are meant to shuffle customers in and out as quickly as possible. Nobody stops to look at posters and pictures hanging on the wall at TGIFridays, unless they're either incredibly bored or in a drug-altered state of mind.

That's not the case at the Thunder Restaurant. It's actually encouraged to take some time to look around, as the pictures hanging on the walls all have meaning behind them. Matter of fact, the photos actually serve as a pseudo-history lesson on the town of Good Thunder. There's pictures of everything from old farm equipment to an early 1900s photo of the town's Main Street, giving the restaurant a very local feel.

(random side note: My grandfather actually grew up in Good Thunder, so I was half-expecting to find a youthful photo of him among the wall decor. No luck)

Beyond wall decorations, the general atmosphere of the restaurant has a small-town feel to it. Aside from myself, the waitress on duty knew the first names of EVERY customer that came in, no small task since the place was filling up fast with dinner patrons by the time I left (I got there around 5:20, beating the rush by a few minutes).

It also wasn't a place operating with a sense of urgency. Lazy country music played in the background, customers chatted it up with each other and the waitress took the time to make actual conversation with people (unlike the usual "I'm trying to act friendly so I can get a good tip" lip service you get at most places). For regular customers, the restaurant isn't just a place to eat. It's also a social meeting ground where they can catch up on each other's daily happenings.

Being a first-timer at the restaurant, I felt a little out of place with the whole social vibe of it. But I guess that makes sense. Nobody knew me at the restaurant, I was by myself, I was wearing biking clothes and I spent much of the time taking notes on my laptop. Considering the fact that Good Thunder is a bit off the beaten trail for cycling routes, I'm guessing they don't see cyclists there on a regular basis.

Food-wise, the restaurant has a surprising amount of variety on their menu. They have a full set of appetizers (mini tacos, mozzarella sticks, cheese curds, etc.) and dinner options that included salads, wraps, steaks, sandwiches, burgers (locals recommended Best Damn Burger) and pizza.
Since it was Mexican Night at the restaurant, I decided to go with the daily theme and ordered the nacho supreme platter. The waitress advised against ordering anything more than the nachos, explaining that it was a sizable dinner on its own. However, since I was famished from the bike ride, I decided to throw in a side of Mexican tater tots (basically regular tater tots with Mexican seasoning). Big mistake.

As the photo at right would indicate, the waitress wasn't lying about the nacho platter's proportions. The photo doesn't even do it justice, it was HUGE. Combine that with the tater tots and a couple glasses of Mountain Dew, and I needed every bit of the 15-mile bike ride (and 5-mile run afterward) to burn off the calories. On the upside, the food was very good and the price was crazy cheap ($12 collectively for the whole meal).

Another appeal in the Thunder Restaurant is that it's only a block away from the town's stunning grain elevator mural paintings. According to an MPR article, the paintings were done by Tacumba Aiken in 1987 and are meant to depict the history of the town and region. The dominant figure in the 40-foot portrait is the town's namesake, the Dakota Indian Good Thunder (on the far right in the photo).

I wouldn't look too hard trying to figure out a storyline or theme to the various images; there isn't any as far as I can tell. Just sit back and enjoy the mural for what it is: An artistic slice of small town Minnesota

1 comment:

  1. Oh, a tiring and challenging bike trip deserves a great food afterwards! Haha! Those paintings hanging in the resto will open up curiosity. These and the music create such a comforting ambiance. Good thing you didn't fall asleep. LOL!

    Cora Bullock