Homemade Cafe appeals with big heart and fresh fare

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2009 - 12:27 PM

Launching a restaurant in Pepin, Wis. must be daunting. The Mississippi River town has been home to one of the region's top day-tripper destinations -- the Harbor View Cafe -- for more than a quarter-century.

That kind of pressure hasn't stopped Homemade Cafe owner Julie Elwell. Now in its second summer season, Elwell's roadside cafe -- it's right on Hwy. 35, the two-lane artery that connects towns along the river -- channels the kind of Main Street USA eateries that glorified all-American scratch cooking and are now little more than memories.

The restaurant earns its name by turning out big-hearted, big-portioned and obviously fresh-tasting fare; no can openers or freezer bags here. Breakfast consists of omelets, bacon, waffles, huevos rancheros, blueberry pancakes and tender drop biscuits smothered in rib-sticking fennel-sage-pork sausage gravy. At lunch there's a terrific artery-clogging Reuben, a half-dozen lavishly topped burgers, a thin-cut fried pork loin sandwich that could easily feed two hungry farmhands and a BLT that's right on the money.

The brightly seasoned salsa, fruity jams and fizzy ginger ale are just a few of the memorable made-on-the-premises touches. Most daytime prices fall in the $7-and-under range. Starting this weekend, Elwell is adding Friday and Saturday dinner service (hello, popovers), including a Friday night fish fry.

Elwell is the cafe's pie baker, and whether she's tucking blueberries and peaches under a buttery lattice-weave crust or piling the coconut cream to gravity-defying heights, she has just the right touch, stocking the bakery case with at least a half-dozen varieties and charging just $3 a slice.

The unassuming blue-and-white surroundings include retro cake covers cleverly doubling as lampshades; there's also a large, sun-drenched patio. Oh, and a sign at the door nicely sums up the payment situation: "We love pie and tasty food but we don't love credit cards." Point taken.

RICK NELSON

  • HOMEMADE CAFE

    809 3rd St., Pepin, Wis., 612-396-5804, www.thehomemadecafe.com

    Hours: Open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

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