Haven't heard the buzz about the Konsbruck Hotel? The new boutique hotel harboring the seasonal/local Richard's Restaurant & Pub, where talented Twin Cities chef Emily Streeter landed? Blame it on location. The hot hotel/dining room combo fills a restored century-old brick building smack dab in the center of downtown -- downtown St. Peter, that is. The college town of about 10,000 rises from the southern Minnesota farmland about 70 miles off the metro area's central radar.
Still, word is starting to spread since a seven-figure renovation yielded this elegant yet unfussy 128-seat restaurant capped by a pampering five-suite inn. After opening this past April, the place was booked solid on weekends for months with Gustavus Adolphus College's visiting parents and alumni, folks in the Minnesota River Valley and plenty of St. Peter-area residents. "It was the missing piece to the town's cluster of shops and college bars," said manager/owner Erik Olson. "It's like people have always wondered when something like this would happen."
Roots as a colorful hotel
The timing was just right. In 2003 Olson worked as an actor in Los Angeles, but felt the pull of his home state. At the same time, his father, David, who had recently retired as an independent businessman, found himself with a newly vacated investment property in downtown St. Peter. The Olsons tossed around ideas: A café? Gift shop? Lofts? Digging into the history of the 1893 space, they discovered its roots as a colorful hotel. "That clarified everything -- what it should be, the ambience," said the younger Olson, who promptly left L.A. to channel his entertainment know-how into the new family business.
Joan Olson, Erik's mother and co-owner, managed the decorating, opting for an elegant version of the past, injected with sleek and modern touches. In the hotel rooms, for example, turn-of-the-century woodwork and antique furniture mingle with flat-screen TVs and remote-controlled fireplaces. She often summoned her favorite memory-making features from landmark hotels nationwide, such as the claw-foot tubs at the Claremont in Bar Harbor, Maine, and the copper bar from the Drake Hotel in Chicago.
A happy chef
Early on, the Olsons connected with Emily Streeter, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef with experience in respected Twin Cities kitchens such as Café Un Deux Trois, Bakery on Grand and her very own Emma's. "I started out consulting," she said. "We were on the same page with everything, from food to décor." Streeter welcomed the opportunity to design her own kitchen, as well as an ever-changing menu heavy on refined comfort food, often crafted from local ingredients. Sealing the deal: Streeter was pregnant, and itching to trade her urban apartment for small-town life, complete with a big house and yard.
Now, seven months after its opening, out-of-towners zip down for overnights at the Konsbruck. Sometimes groups of friends rent out the entire five-room hotel. Richard's has already earned a stable of regulars, too. (In fact, the braised lamb shank and wild mushroom strata caused such a stir when they disappeared that Streeter regularly works them back into rotation.) Locals continue to show up with antique leather-and-metal Konsbruck room keys and anecdotes. "One woman came in for lunch to celebrate her 79th birthday and announced that she was born here," Olson says. "I told her, 'Happy birthday. And welcome back!'"
IF YOU GO
VISITING FOODIES, TAKE NOTE
Good at being green: The current local-seasonal-organic trend has remained steady at the St. Peter Food Co-op and Deli for more than 25 years. Stop by for lunch or perhaps a class, such as hands-on lefse-making Dec. 4 at 6 p.m. (1-507-934-4880; www.stpeterfood.coop).
Summer-sausage jackpot: Meat lovers, consider a run out to the third-generation German family-owned Schmidt's Meat Market, about 15 miles west on Hwy. 99 in Nicollet. Look for holiday favorites, such as Swedish potato sausage, and samples--oh, the samples! Schmidt's is known for summer sausage. Try the jalapeño version. Closed Sundays (1-507-232-3438; www.schmidtsmeatmarket.com).
Chuck Norris could eat two: No talk of meat in the vicinity of St. Peter could omit reference to Patrick's on Third's Chuck Norris Burger, a grilled cheese sandwich nestled between two 1-pound beef patties, all topped with four strips of bacon, four slices of cheese and wedged into a giant bread-bowl bun. Patrick's offers many less challenging burgers, too (1-507-931-9051; www.patricksonthird.com).
Gifts for gourmands: There are just enough downtown stores, galleries and coffee houses to fill out a leisurely afternoon. The newest shop, Cooks & Company (1-507-934-1172), is all about kitchen gadgets and essentials.
Take Hwy. 169 south straight into St. Peter. The drive takes about 90 minutes from the Twin Cities.
Contact the St. Peter Chamber of Commerce for more information on attractions and events (1-507-934-3400 or www.tourism.st-peter.mn.us).