Where We Eat: Urban style in a small town at the Henderson RoadHaus

We find ourselves at a bar in Henderson, Minnesota, where food and music go hand-in-hand.

Some of Minnesota’s best restaurants are hidden in plain sight, out past the suburbs and miles off the interstate.

We asked readers for their favorite eateries in communities with 10,000 people or fewer — sometimes far fewer. The Where We Eat team will visit some of the top choices and feature them here. Today, we’re talking about the Henderson RoadHaus.

How to get there

You can find RoadHaus on the Main Street in Henderson, population 875. It's 45-60 minutes southwest of the Twin Cities off Highway 169, about 7 miles after Belle Plaine.

What to eat

The reader who recommended the place told us the RoadHaus has great pizza, and if you check on RoadHaus' Facebook page you'll see they have some spectacular-looking burgers on the menu too.

If you're up for it (which I wasn't), the $22.75 Super Crazy Big Haus Burger has a mesmerizing 24 ounces of hamburger meat, eight slices of bacon, piles of Swiss cheese and thousand island dressing between three slices of bread.

The wait staff recommended several dishes, including the smoked turkey gouda melt and the chicken tortellini. But since I find it hard to turn down lamb I had my arm twisted into ordering a gyro with feta fries – intrigued by what I'd consider an unlikely dish on a rural menu.

I also couldn't stop myself from having a side order of glorious, golden onion rings.

Just as impressive as the extensive menu is the choice of beer, not something you always find outside of major cities, with a broad selection of craft brews on tap including the one I opted for – the pineapple-tasting Grass Skirt ale by U4IC (pronounced "Euphoric," I eventually realized) based in nearby Belle Plaine.

Food is in the blood of owner Danny Ross, whose mother Denise Swenson has run the Arlington Haus (about 13 miles away) for the past 30 years. Ross said his mother has been an inspiration for Henderson RoadHaus, which opened in 2011.

It's perhaps not surprising that patrons rave about the pizza, given that Ross' grandfather Bill Ross used to work at the revered Mama's Pizza on St. Paul's Rice Street.

The prices

The gyro with fries was only $8.99, though adding the huge onion rings portion and a U4IC beer bumped up the cost of my meal to $21.

Pizzas range from $9 for 9 inches to up to $18.50 (depending on toppings) for a 16-inch pie. Burgers don't go above $9.25 for a one-third pound patty, and $10.99 for half-pounders.

The vibe

Although the sizable dining hall is very much rooted in small-town Minnesota, the bar area decor, beer menu, entertainment lineup and little menu flourishes have hallmarks of the Twin Cities.

Ross tells me he was looking to create a "niche" in southern Minnesota, aiming to introduce some creativity and variety into the scene.

Doing it in a city of 850 people might be a tough ask, but the RoadHaus seems to have found its niche being a community hub for locals and a destination for travelers who are told to "Come for the food, stay for the entertainment."

Its location along the Minnesota Scenic Byway plays a big role, with hundreds of motorcycle riders making the journey along the curving road that follows the Minnesota River in the warmer months, and the city hosting a number of classic car shows.

With Henderson within easy reach of both the Twin Cities and Mankato, Ross tells me the place is "hopping" during spring, summer and fall.

"On a sunny Saturday or Sunday in the summer you'll probably see around 150 bikes on Main Street," he says.

He keeps festivities going year-round, with the drum kit on the righthand side of the entrance hinting at its commitment to music. There's an open mic night every Tuesday giving an opportunity to local musicians, while an 18-piece jazz band plays the venue once a month. Dance classes are also held at the bar run by Ross, who is a former instructor at the Arthur Murray Dance Studios in the Twin Cities.

You can find out more about the Henderson RoadHaus on its Facebook page.

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