You know, when I moved to Winona 16 years ago, the chief complaint I heard from everyone was that there was no fine dining in Winona. At the time it was pretty much true – if you wanted a linen napkin you were getting in the car and heading for Wisconsin.
There was, of course, the Winona Country Club, a beautiful private enterprise tucked in a valley just on the edge of Winona. But the thing was, you weren’t eating at the Country Club unless you were a member or a guest of one, and plenty of Winona’s regular folk who just wanted a little good food weren’t.
Something kind of magical for Winona happened a few years ago, though I think some people still don’t realize it. The Winona Country Club transformed itself into Winona Golf and Dining, which doesn’t sound like a big whoop-de-doo until you know what that *meant.* No longer was this jewel shielded by the invisible gates of privacy – for the first time in history the doors were flung wide to all comers and oh man, I’m there.
Now the restaurant is called Signatures, and any Winonan can sit on its elegant porch and gaze off at the rolling green of the golf course with deer prancing around on it (seriously) and song birds flitting by while polite servers bring you another mint julep. I’m just kidding about the mint julep, I don’t even know if they make them there, but it sounded like something wealthy folk who sat out there in the 1920s would have drank.
The place has come a long way since the 1920s, besides the fact that it is now a public restaurant. There is no more swimming pool but there is a sunny patio with brilliant gardens and a spectacular view. And there is no more “men’s” room for cigars and brandy – ladies can have all the cigars and brandy they want in there too. Haha, okay, kidding. You can’t smoke cigars indoors in Minnesota anymore.
The one thing that is probably exactly the same as 80 years ago or so is that the food there is local, like right next door local. Chef Doug grows an herb assortment outside the back door, and many of the ingredients in his signature dishes come from growers around Winona.
It would be hard for me to overstate how much I love the food out there… I’ve just never had a bad meal no matter what was being thrown at Doug. Mediterranean theme? Okay. Venetian? No problem. I was out there a couple of weeks ago for the Winona Community Foundation annual dinner – a celebration with a Taste of Brazil theme. Now, I’ve never had Brazilian food, but if it tastes like what those servers brought me I’m in. Skewers of grilled meat, salads, polenta, potatoes, the spread went on and on – and these amazing little cheese rolls that we sent our server back for more of. I mean come on, they were *warm*, and I could actually hear myself getting fatter but I didn’t care – it was the best thing I’d tasted in forever. If there had been another basket I would have put them