Pine Island is a quaint town in Southeastern Minnesota. Home to about 3300 people, you wouldn’t expect it to have a hidden treasure of a restaurant, but that is exactly what you will find if you venture off the beaten path to Pine Island’s charming Main Street where two young chefs have managed to not only serve amazing food that rivals big city fare but are doing so at an incredible price point and with a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere that makes you feel more like you are at a friend’s table. This would be a perfect stop before or after Gold Rush on August 19-21 if you are making the trip to see the almost 3,000 antique booths on display in both Oronoco and Rochester that weekend.
We stopped by last weekend on our way home from Rochester since Pine Island is right on Highway 52, the main artery connecting Rochester and the Twin Cities. And thankfully, they were open for business. It was an off time so it was not very crowded, which was a refreshing change of pace from some of the restaurants we frequent near us. The first thing you notice on your way in is a chalkboard with the daily specials.
Of course we were so hungry that this picture was snapped on the way out when they were switching over to dinner. That happens. The chalkboard specials make your mouth water though, and when you make it into the restaurant you automatically pick up on the casual vibe. You pick your own table and are almost immediately greeted and given menus.
They have a wide selection of salads, sandwiches and entrees (most for around $7-10). They also had a nice beer list with local brews. We unfortunately had to abstain since we still had to drive home after lunch.
It’s really just a one room place with a few old-fashioned bar stools and a great view into the open kitchen.
We couldn’t resist starting with the cheese plate, and we were really glad we did. It was incredible. The cheese was Spanish Iberico, a very smooth blend of cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk. It was served with a homemade jalapeno mustard, locally grown cherries, and prosciutto. And it was truly amazing. Our server (who is also one of the owners and chefs along with her husband) told us that she’s been experimenting with her own mustard lately, which of course got us thinking that we should try that too…in our own amateur-ish way of course. Because the mustard was amazing. Store-bought has nothing on this stuff. And it paired really nicely with the cheese and the tiny, tart cherries.
All of the meals also come with soup or salad, and we opted for salad on a hot day. They were nothing elaborate, but they were incredibly fresh. So often I order a “garden” salad, and I want to ask who’s garden did this come out of and when? Last year? I usually refrain myself so as not to embarrass Dain who would give me the “you are making a scene” look. But I didn’t even have to consider it at this place. The lettuce, cucumbers, carrots and onion topped with fresh balsamic vinaigrette were crisp and crunchy. Spot on for a starter salad.
Then it was on to the main event. Dain ordered one of the daily specials, the salmon burger with asian pickles. He loved it so much that he was a proud member of the C.P.C.
I noshed on the cod fish and chips, and it even came with asparagus. It was really good, especially because it wasn’t too greasy like a lot of fried fish can be.
Our other diner (my mom) enjoyed the french dip with piping hot au jus. She reports that it too was excellent.
While we fully admit that we ate too much to really justify dessert, the menu had some amazing items so we went all out. The server/owner/chef is a classically trained pastry chef, and she did not disappoint. The brown sugar cheesecake that we shared was quite possibly the best cheesecake we’ve ever had. Complete with an ornate sugar piece and raspberry sauce, it was to die for. The menu described it as being with “pineapple sauce,” but as soon as we ordered, she asked us if it would be ok to substitute raspberry since her husband had forgotten the pineapple at home. Talk about putting someone on blast. Totally busted. And yes, it is that kind of “mom and pop” place where you get to hear things like that because they are keeping it real.
We basically had to roll ourselves out to the car after how much we ate, but it was truly good food. So if you ever find yourself down in Southeastern Minnesota, you should definitely consider the Rainbow Cafe. And like I mentioned before, if you have never been to Gold Rush, you should go. It is like heaven for anyone who likes antiques or delights in finding a cool piece for their home that they can refurbish or repurpose. We have our fingers crossed that we can find one of those old library card catalog file cabinets to makeover (like this or this). In our price range. And that will fit in our little car.