I bet there are local gems like the Old Mill Restaurant in towns like Austin all across America. But how do you find them? Mostly, I suppose, by meeting or knowing someone who gives you a recommendation. So here’s my recommendation: If you’re traveling in southern Minnesota and you find yourself in Austin around dinner time, give yourself a treat and go to the Old Mill.
Why might you find yourself in Austin? Well, maybe for business; it’s the headquarters for Hormel Foods. Maybe for tourism; the Spam Museum is quite entertaining. Maybe just because you’re driving from Wisconsin to South Dakota; you’ll pass through Austin on I-90 (which happens to be the longest interstate highway in the United States). Or maybe you have family in the area, like I do.
My parents live on a farm about 20 miles from Austin. For the Krikava family, the Old Mill has been our reliable restaurant for celebrating special occasions. In July, my wife and I went to the Old Mill with my parents to celebrate my recent retirement.
Part of the appeal of the Old Mill is the view of a dam on the Cedar River which flows past the restaurant. As you might have concluded, it used to be an actual mill. Really, no matter where you are seated in the restaurant, you can see out the large windows to the dam and the river and the trees. But, if you can get a window table, so much the better.
If you dine at the Old Mill, don’t expect an unusual innovative menu. The menu features a repertoire of reliable stand-by meals to suit the tastes of its regular clientele. You can expect high quality beef. They have some fish and seafood on the menu. They even have a burger and some fried food for those who are so inclined.
For our celebration dinner, I had prime rib. I don’t see prime rib on the menu of many restaurants anymore. The Old Mill offers three choices – a 12-ounce boneless prime cut, a 16-ounce Old Mill cut, and a bone-in king cut. Under normal circumstances, I would have ordered the small cut. But I was afraid that it would be cut thin, so I ordered the middle cut. I didn’t expect it to come bone-in, but it did. It was excellent. I ordered it medium rare. The piece that was served to me was a little more well done than medium rare. But it was thick and juicy and tender. I was pleased.
My wife and my mom ordered shrimp scampi. They gave it two thumbs up. My dad ordered walleye. It was moist and tender and very nicely presented.
Entrees at the Old Mill come with a soup or house salad and a choice of potatoes, wild rice, or vegetables. They have a full bar and a respectable wine list. We had no trouble finding a nice wine that suited all our tastes at a reasonable price. I noticed that they did have a few high-end wines on the menu as well, I suppose for the occasional expense account meal.
Here’s the real question – If I didn’t already know about the Old Mill, would I drive 100 miles from Edina just to try it? To be honest, no, probably not. But how can a person discover the local gems if you’re unwilling to do just that?
So in retirement, I have to resolve to be more adventuresome and get out of town to discover and try more restaurants like the Old Mill. And meanwhile, if you find yourself near Austin around dinner time, do give it a try.