The Ole (Oh-LEE) Store Restaurant in Northfield, near St. Olaf College,
has been a Northfield institution for years – although it did close and
get recreated several times over the years. But in this last iteration
last fall, it came back with significant improvements and a different
feel. If you go, you will notice the overall look of the restaurant is
more sophisticated, not pretentious or even upscale, but quite nice.
They redid the wood floors throughout, added some booths, and opened up
some areas – then sectioned off a small bar area. There is tasteful
art, some of which is local, and the layout is arranged very well.
The new menu has something for everyone. On the one hand, they have
standards like steak, fish, burgers, and the flatbread (pizzas) – but
the steaks can be dressed up, the flatbreads are served with less common
toppings as options and the sandwiches can range from simple to out of
the ordinary. They also change out the menu seasonally, and offer chef
inspired entrees and appetizers.
Over the course of two recent visits I experienced service that was
both genuine and efficient. The restaurant was relatively busy on both
occasions, and food was prepared and brought to us in a timely manner in
I was able to try several items including their pork tenderloin special
that was made with a fig reduction sauce and dried fruit, which was not
very sweet and was excellent. Local product is used to some extent,
like the grass fed bison combined with pork in the meatloaf – which I
also tried, and it was perfectly seasoned and delicious. The crab cake
appetizer was one of the best I have had in the Midwest, and like most
everything on their menu was presented beautifully.
There is nothing that feels “corporate” about this place, which I
personally appreciate, yet they do a good job of managing the flow of
food – it is clearly run by experienced restaurateurs. In the bar, they
carry only wine and beer (no full bar), but the selections are chosen
well. They offer some very good wines by the glass in the $5-$8 range,
and a few craft beers with a couple domestics, all for $6 or less – and
over half of these are made in Minnesota.
Kudos to the owners of this version of The Ole Store Restaurant, as it
balances the line between homey and a place for special occasions, with
a strong hook into local support. I highly recommend this restaurant if
you don’t mind the 15 mile drive to Northfield from Cannon Falls.