Ask me which Stillwater restaurants are a must-go-to, and LoLo American Kitchen makes the top of the list every time.
Their famous house-made cocktails, alluring ambiance, and exciting twists on gourmet street food (let’s take a moment of silence for their bacon jam) are why many venture from all around the Twin Cities to visit LoLo. It’s also why I love this Stillwater restaurant.
But it’s not THE reason I love LoLo.
There is a bit of magic in the dimly lit air at LoLo. Call it gin, or vodka, or tequila or tacos, but it’s there. The energy that bounces from bartenders to customers to servers to line cooks is unlike any other I have witnessed in a restaurant. Unfortunately, you can’t place that kind of energy in a take-out box. I can’t get a happy, calming Sam Ziemer to-go or put Joe Ehlenz behind my bar at home and fascinatingly watch him create a cocktail from scratch with the same precision Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello.
Earlier this month, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz allowed restaurants to open indoors at 50% capacity. Half capacity is a lifeline to many restaurants struggling since November when ordered to close down for a second time. No matter your stance on the issue, half capacity is still not enough for our much-loved restaurants.
LoLo’s delicious entrees will continue to call me, and I will always answer that call, whether in a take-out box or sitting in a half-empty restaurant. But, the concept of that restaurant, like countless others, was not meant for half capacity. I haven’t spoken to LoLo owner Joe Ehlenz specifically about this issue, but I can assure you he didn’t design the restaurant with the idea of, “how awesome would this be with only half of the seats filled every night?!” LoLo’s magic is in the people.
LoLo’s ace up the sleeve is their creativity.
While LoLo flourishes when it’s busy, it doesn’t mean they just sat on their hands and hoped for the best during the two significant shutdowns.
LoLo, along with its sister restaurant Lolito located down the street, has come up with some creative concepts while undergoing the pandemic shutdown. They were one of the first in the area to offer cocktail kits to go; they create weekly family meals feeding up to 4 people, including burgers, seafood sticky rice, and BBQ, and they offer a la carte options and their full menu. Lolito boasts massive nacho kits and a marketplace where you can buy their meats, spices, produce, and sauces to make incredible meals at home, which is genius. Creativity is at the heart of these restaurants.
Let’s get down to the food.
Ok, confession time. Besides bites from other people’s plates, I have only eaten the duck tacos at LoLo with various sides. Taste their duck bacon (that’s right, duck mother-effing bacon) and tell me you wouldn’t do the same.
I honestly can’t not order the duck tacos. And, oh, how I have tried. I go in with the mission to request one of the many entrees I have heard people rave about, like their Jamz Burger or Hanger Steak Bowl. But, in the minute it takes the server to take my order, the words “duck tacos!” sling out of my mouth in such haste it’s as if I am a ravenous bear just waking up after the longest winter known to man.
To be clear, I love their duck tacos.
I would also give up some of my cherished possessions for the Brussel sprouts. Fried and made with a fish sauce vinaigrette, mint, basil, cilantro, and topped with shallot crisps, their Brussel sprouts are almost a meal by themselves. Don’t even try to mimic these at home – you’ll embarrass yourself.
Mad Men has nothing on their cocktails.
Sometimes I browse LoLo’s cocktail menu just to chuckle at the hilariousness of the names. The “Scary Carrie Bradshaw” is a remake of the Sex and the City’s famed Cosmo, “Lady Glitter Sparkles” will have Troll fans delight in tequila, and “Coffee & Cigarettes…A Joe Goulet Story” is named after a Stillwater local and made with a burnt matchstick. Their cocktail menu often changes while some like “Pears Gone Wild, The Nicollet, and Lolo Old Fashion” remain constants.
Don’t let the hilarity of the names fool you; the house-made cocktails are no joke. These fantastic drinks concocted with homemade bitters, eclectic flavors, various shrubs, and excellent liqueur will make you thank God for fermentation. LoLo is not the place to order a rum and coke.
Support, support, support.
While I can’t wait for LoLo to open up to full capacity, I will continue to support this local restaurant that houses so many fond memories of mine, in whatever capacity the powers that be see fit. Through ordering take-out, dining at half capacity, or picking up a cocktail kit – let’s help our local restaurants; they need us more than ever.