Picnic Foodventures in Mankato
Location, location, location…and food! Travel writer Anita McVey of Picnic Life Foodie is all about finding perfect picnic spots and the foods that make it memorable. Read all about her finds in Mankato!
By Anita McVey
If I invited you to share a picnic with me and gave you the opportunity to choose one of the following settings, which would you choose?
1. Wine & Live Music
2. Waterfalls & Pie
3. Military Tanks & Beef Jerky
Did you think I was going to make it easy for you to choose?
What if I told you all of these options are available in one Midwest city and that my husband, Marty, and I enjoyed all three picnics … and so much more … in one weekend?
Welcome to Mankato, Minnesota!
Mankato is located 90 minutes southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota and has a population of about 42,000 … big enough to have the advantages of a larger city but small enough to foster the hospitality of a small town. The key to having a true Mankato experience is to talk to the people.
Erin and Tammey. Jane and Kent. Jim, David and Jenny. Angie. Karla.
In 48 hours, these people … and many more but I apologize for the limits of my ability to retain names … transformed our trip from a bunch of awesome stops to a place we want to visit again. Here’s the scoop …
You must understand. My husband is my camera-holding, make-a-u-turn, let’s-stop-here, patient-beyond-reasonable, designated driver on these foodventures. I know how to get a trip off to a great start for him … ice cream! Add to that the warmth and conversation of Erin and Tammey, owners of Mom & Pop’s Ice Cream, and a beautifully restored 1856 building (complete with artifacts found in the renovation), and we were truly impressed. For the purpose of quality research we felt obligated to try several different flavors: (left to right) This $&@! Just Got Serious, Chocolate-Cherry Bomb, Exhausted Parent, and Carrot-Mango Italian Ice. Ice cream AND a sense of humor … go get some soon!
His weakness is ice cream … mine is wine.
Wine & Live Music Picnic
There were several wineries in the Mankato area and, someday, I hope to visit each and every one. For this trip, we were lucky enough to experience Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery and meet Jane and Kent Schwickert. The Dakota Indian word “Chankaska” means “forest enclosed” … perfect word for this private, gorgeous setting just north of Mankato and outside the town of Kasota.
Jane and Kent clearly understand what it takes to make people feel comfortable and relaxed. The ambition, hard work and commitment that it takes to create wine, hospitality and a retreat like this is remarkable. Did I mention food and live music?
After completing a wine tasting, I found my personal favorite: the Creekside Red. Two things I can guarantee:
1. I will be toasting Jane and Kent as I enjoy the bottle I brought home, and
2. We will return for an outdoor picnic on their amazing property in warmer weather!
Cheers Chankaska Creek!
Returning to Mankato to call it a day, we checked in to the Motel 6.
You heard me … Motel 6. You know … “We’ll leave the light on for you!”
Let me convince you to think about Motel 6 in a new way:
2. Saving money for things like food and wine.
3. No more carpet.
4. Simple, bright and clean.
Perfect for our trip. We were out and about so much, we didn’t need breakfast (but the coffee sure helped) or a pool. We just needed a quiet, convenient, clean, comfortable place. If you want more amenities, there are lots of other options around Mankato.
Waterfalls & Pie Picnic
I said before that wine was my weakness. I didn’t say it was my ONLY weakness.
About 15 miles southwest of Mankato is a beautiful spot. It’s called the Rapidan Dam on the Blue Earth river. Mother Nature is working overtime in this area and so are Jim, David and Jenny. What’s not working overtime? Cell and internet reception.
Go back in time to the Rapidan Dam Store … where the water, conversation and jokes center around the dam. Play the Wurlitzer jukebox … no coins needed … it’s part of the ambiance. Dance in the isle if you like. Watch the milk shakes blend in the coolest, mint green, Hamilton Beach antique malt machine. Listen to the tables of friends and family laughing and talking without a cell phone in sight. Ask Jim, David and Jenny about their history and the area. Be prepared to be amazed and entertained. Sign the guest book and read the quotes from those who came before you. Eat pie.
Paraphrased telephone (attached to the wall with a cord) conversation heard:
Jenny: Yes, we have the rhubarb-sour cream pie today … no, we don’t sell whole pies … seven pieces is a whole pie … all right, I’ll hold seven pieces of the rhubarb-sour cream pie for you … see you then. (She hangs up the phone and walks to kitchen.) Sorry David … just sold one of your favorites again.
If you are looking for a fishing/camping spot, pie, a break from your cell phone or laptop, or the epitome of “Minnesota Nice”, Rapidan Dam Store is your destination. Still not convinced? Maybe you should ask the people at Food and Wine Magazine.
So we have the pie … where are the waterfalls?
Waterfalls in Minnesota? Absolutely! Minneopa State Park is not only a perfect spot for a picnic but also the much-needed hike and fresh air following the overindulgence of pie. A lingering winter here in the Midwest has provided plenty of water for the thundering of the falls. Despite the snow on the ground and the lack of green grass often associated with picnics, the beauty of a park like this is evident all year. After a stop at the visitor’s center and a chat with Angie, we knew what our options were for hiking and setting up our picnic photos. According to the website, “GPS units, kids’ activity bags, birding kits, fishing rods and tackle, volleyball, soccer ball and horseshoes” are available on loan from the park office.
You have to bring your own pie though.
We’ve covered ice cream, wine, pie … what other Mankato cuisines shouldn’t be missed?
Oh that’s right … Lebanese food.
Welcome to Olives!
Shawarma … hummus … tabbouleh … baba ghanoush …
Even if … especially if … you’ve never tried Lebanese food, let the Massad family expand your horizons. Owners John (also head chef) and Najwa Massad, along with their daughters, Meray and Karla, will make sure you enjoy every bite! Trust me … I’ve been trying for years to get my husband to share my love of hummus (hum-us). After a few minutes talking to Karla and learning about the restaurant, the family, and her menu recommendations, he was willing to try it again. Karla pronounces it “hoo-mus”. On her next visit to our table, he tells her that he doesn’t like “hum-us” but he does like “hoo-mus”.
Seriously though … the food was amazing!
It’s not just the food that’s amazing here. There’s a strong family feeling throughout the restaurant. Our waitress, Annie (hope I used the correct spelling), was incredibly attentive and patiently answered our many questions even though it was clearly a busy night. There were two gals eating at the bar that seemed to know everyone … Karla pointed out that they were former restaurant staff who came back for visits. Karla’s eyes sparkled as she talked about them and called them “a couple of her kids”.
Unfortunately, we missed what has become a cornerstone event for the restaurant … the gathering of the Massad family at the corner table. The family has two other restaurants as well as a flourishing catering business and this was one of those nights when they were needed elsewhere. Pictures of Meray’s son donning a chef’s hat are on display as are many other pictures of the family. A small statue of a family of 4, seated at the dinner table, is on display at the entrance to the restaurant. The Lord’s Prayer is engraved on it. It was a gift from a customer.
Faith. Family. Food.
Oh yeah … we’ll be back.
Military Tanks & Beef Jerky Picnic
If you type “Mankato” in the search bar of Pinterest, you will get a plethora of fun things to do in the area. Now type in “Kasota, MN” and watch the tanks appear!
Drive A Tank is located on the western edge of the town of Kasota. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you with a greater appreciation for the conditions and danger our military personnel experience. The experience isn’t cheap but neither are the memories.
I booked this as a gift to my husband for an early Father’s Day and Anniversary present. We spent about 4 hours at the site, rode in a transport vehicle and a Humvee, Marty drove the tank and I rode along with a view from the top.
And if you’re really lucky, someone in your group will book a bigger package and you’ll get to watch them drive a tank over a car. Literally!
Just to really cap off the experience, there’s an indoor shooting range for firing machine guns.
Where’s the beef jerky, you ask?
In Marty’s pocket. I actually had it for a picture and for once in my life was so distracted I didn’t even think about food. They even had picnic tables out by the course. Best thing about beef jerky …. it’ll keep for the next picnic.
Much Much More
If you still need more reasons to visit Mankato … check out the pictures below!
Start planning your weekend trip or vacation now. Remember, I define a picnic as “simple food, good company and a comfortable place”. You are in good hands in Mankato, Minnesota!
Full Disclosure: Thank you to Visit Mankato and the incredibly hospitable businesses of the greater Mankato area for sponsoring a good portion of our stay. The opinions and recommendations of this post are my own. The kindness and generosity of this city are genuine and greatly appreciated.
April 2018: Mankato
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