But First, Coffee: Four Key Cafés on the St. Croix Trail

White cup of coffee and deck of cards on a marble table

You’re on the road in the morning, and how do you survive that without a good cup of coffee?

If you’re taking the scenic route up north from the Twin Cities, you can find enough coffee shops on your first stretch to keep you alert all day. You don’t have to settle for Starbucks or Caribou, either. Here are four locally-owned shops I don’t miss when I head back home. This is the first in a series of posts done in collaboration with Chevrolet.

Downtown Stillwater looks ravishing, and it doesn’t matter how the city woke up.

Is the St. Croix River good and flooded again? Did it just snow the other night? Did a giant pumpkin just get dropped from a height over the weekend? Doesn’t matter. Downtown Stillwater has a charm other cities can’t even be mad at. Brick buildings and wooden signs line the old Main St. stretch of Highway 95, and you just want to chop everything up and puzzle it back together in your living room on the next family night. Even the bougie condominium castle south of the Isaac Staple Sawmill Building fits in acceptably. The castle north of it, not so much.

By the time you get down to Main Street, even if you’re coming in just behind the Saturday sun, Minnesota’s First City is already up and running. In the summertime, people are window-shopping at a hyper slow speed. The people dress like their own living Instagram feeds, and they don’t move in steps as much as they do a sequence of poses. They wear fresh, sleek looks in the wintertime. Their auras are stinky with wealth, but they waddle like penguins and blow into their hands as they go.

You’re probably coming in on Highway 95 north. Breakfast at the Oasis Café was a good idea, but you saw the parking lot and realized a lot of people had that idea before you. Well, fret not! One of those brick buildings downtown has a coffee shop tucked inside. They love their coffee, and I think you will too. I have no truly suitable words for their waffle sandwiches, but I’ll try.

Revival Coffee and Deli

The River Exchange Merchants building: Nelson Alley would run straight through the place if it reached that far. You can see Jelly Belly through the building’s front window, but you’re looking for the shop in the back. That’s Revival Coffee and Deli.

I always manage to get an armchair seat by the window, one with a little side table I can play cards on while I sip coffee. There’s a deck of blue-backed Bicycle cards that usually hides under a plant right behind my armchair. It’s a clean, quintessential deck with no missing cards. You could describe Revival the very same way.

There was a white chocolate raspberry scone I had there one time that drove me into happy hysterics, but you cannot pass on that waffle sandwich. Sweet, blankety Nordic Waffles (they’re the ones with the cult, or at least I was told when I had them at Tullibee) are folded like tacos and loaded with eggs, turkey, and bacon. I didn’t need to eat again for another 150 miles after my Turkey Bacon Club, and that’s saying quite a lot.

It would be one thing to call Revival “a proud carrier of UP Coffee Roasters” but these guys back it up at the counter. One gentlemen spoke at relative length about how UP is delivered weekly, and how he just loves their coffee. When I brought my mug and tray to the counter, he poured me a free cup for the road.

Marine on St. Croix

You already know about the frozen grinders and breakfast sandwiches at the Daily Grind Espresso Café on the north end of downtown. The Daily Grind is where my wife goes to be crushed by temptation: it’s adjoined to a bookstore, and Candyland is just across the street. It always starts innocently with a frozen grinder, but ends up with a new hardcover and a bag of Chicago mix in the back seat of the car. My drink is a frozen Megan, add peanut butter.

From there, you immerse yourself in Highway 95’s nature porn Whoa! factor for a while. The St. Croix Boom Site, just north of Stillwater, is an impromptu photo session waiting to happen. Marine on St. Croix is easy to just cruise through, but you shouldn’t pass with a Milan-style double espresso and a scone at the Marine Café. Should you remember to stop, you, too, will overuse the phrase “Milan-style double espresso” in regular conversation. In case someone is actually ever impressed by that, and actually asks you what the difference is, here’s an article that might help.

It’s a creaky space with old bicycle rims tied to the ceiling a tables situated throughout narrow, small rooms. Don’t overthink it; sit at the big table right in front of the counter if it’s open. Chef Jeff does a bang-up job with his chocolate chip cookies, but everybody must get sconed at the Marine Café. The T-shirts even say so.

RELATED: Daily Grind Coffee and Valley Bookseller were our first stops on the Riverside Bookships tour, a bookstore crawl that spanned nearly 200 miles!

Marine Café

Highway 95 ends just past the Franconia Sculpture Park. From there, Highway 8 takes you west toward Interstate 35. The highway guides you through little towns with big Dalecarlian horses and Scandinavian quilt pattern themes. Many of the towns you pass proudly shout sisterhood with a city in Sweden.

The capitol city on Highway 8 is Lindström, Minnesota’s self-proclaimed Little Sweden and sister city to Tingsyrd. It’s the capitol for two reasons. One is the umlaut in its name. The other is the Scandinavian donuts you must have at the Lindström Bakery. A stop there, and a stop at Deutschland Meats (it’s the building with the giant wiener on top), are mandatory. 

According to The Telegraph, the nations whose immigrants first settled here are among those who consume the most coffee on Earth. Your last cup is probably getting empty, or – even worse – cold. To solve that, your itinerary needs to be rearranged to fit Northwoods Roasterie in.

RELATED: A Visual Tour of Franconia Sculpture Park

The About page of the Northwoods Roasterie website tells the story of John Renaker, who in 2006 opened for business with a humble setup and willed it into a cabin paradise on the middle of town. Northwoods Roasterie is a lot of things. It’s a drive-thru coffee joint, a cute little gift shop, and the workspace you’d probably design at your upscale cabin if you had the resources (or, for that matter, the cabin).

At the ordering counter, your options glow at you on televisions and you study them the way Batman might study Gotham City in his private surveillance room. Options like Sleepy Bear Breve and Sven’s Steamer shimmer on a blueish pixel canvas. Renaker’s roasting style creates what the website calls “an adventure in every cup,” but no cup will be as adventurous as the YAHOO! espresso. How does six shots sound?!

Northwoods Roasterie

It’s an overpowering drink, and I don’t just mean the lightning I shot out of my fingertips after drinking it. Next time I order this, I’ll get a large cup of drip coffee and slowly work YAHOO’s contents into it. Northwoods Roasterie drip coffee would be my weekend coffee. If this is your weekday coffee, I envy you (and maybe despise you a little).

I don’t deviate from the simple cup of black very often, but let me suggest Northwoods’ Umlatte as a change of pace. If your plan is to bust out the laptop in the Lakeside Room, this almond and honey latte will pair perfectly with a pensive gaze at the lake. You might even get some work done.

They serve pastries and Norwegian waffles alongside the coffees and teas. The double chocolate muffins, in particular, I expended all of my day’s allotment of willpower preventing myself from purchasing one. You can see all of their offerings on their website.

Once you’ve got your heart rate good and rapid, and you’ve got your edible souvenirs from the bakery and the meat shop, now you’re ready for the Interstate 35 experience. You hope road work isn’t backing things up too far, but it probably is. You hope Twin Cities drivers aren’t clogging the fast lane driving at ungodly slow speeds, but they probably are. And you wish for a clean data connection for your Spotify playlist. At the very least, you’ll get that.


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