Our communities/Our magazine—the faithful masthead companion to Southwest Metro Magazine says a lot, but it doesn’t say it all. The table of contents has something to say, too. While it regularly lists this magazine’s staff writers and contributors, it should also acknowledge the best of this month’s contributors—our voting readers, who wrote the book on this area’s best of the best.
With 30 categories to ponder and consider, readers announced their top choices loud and clear, and through their votes, readers ably wrote The Best of 2017 issue. With a top pick and two runners-up in each category, readers present the best places to dine al fresco; enjoy a spirited sip; design a home (inside and out); tend our bodies (inside and out); find the perfect outfit or the best-fitting place for kids and pets; where to shop for items to suit a personal style, palate or décor; and much more.
FOOD & RESTAURANTS
Best Patio Dining
Come for the food, stay for the view. Talk about truth in advertising—Lola’s kisses Lake Waconia with adoring affection year-round, and its waterfront deck is what has voters buzzing. The outdoor deck runs the length of the restaurant and features seating for 100 patrons. Make it a long dinner and stay for the perfect dessert—a specially-created sunset over the pastoral framed view of Lake Waconia. “We’re just in a perfect spot on the lake,” manager Mike Wignes says.
Dining selections include American fare, and the seafood options serve a coastal vibe.
Runners-up: Redstone American Grill, Floyd's Bar
Crooked Pint Ale House
If it’s Minnesota, tater tots must be on the menu, and the Crooked Pint doesn’t disappoint with its jumbo version of the starchy, classic side dish. With about 60 menu options, the restaurant is known for its boastful version of traditional pot pies, inspired tacos and tender Lucy hamburgers. Located in the Chaska Curling and Event Center, the Crooked Pint often offers dinner and a show, if there happen to be curlers on the ice practicing or competing. The spot is also known for featuring 32 local and regional beers and a healthy wine and spirit selection, including select bourbons and scotches.
Runners-up: Crave, Victoria House
Best Tavern / Bar
It’s hard to argue with Floyd’s getting this year’s nod, especially since it is home to the original "Weekend Breakfast Bloody Mary (aka Floyd's Happy Meal) served Saturdays until 6 p.m. and Sundays while they last....so get 'em while you can,” according to the website. Serving much more than traditional bar fare, Floyd’s offers customers a full menu of good food, live music and neighborhood chitchat with plenty of regulars and visitors alike. Owner Katie Jensen attributes the bar’s popularity to a triple threat—live music (daily in the summer, three days a week other times of the year), the full menu and a committed staff. “Our staff has been here almost 20 years,” she says. “They’re fun and enjoy their job, and they relate well with our customers.”
Runners-up: Tavern 4&5, Lions Tap
Original Pancake House
Pancakes and waffles and eggs, oh my! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day—all day if you prefer—courtesy of the Original Pancake House. From full breakfast and lunch menus, diners know their favorites, but do they know about the quality of the food’s ingredients? Menu items include fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices; lingonberries imported from Sweden; daily-made syrups; locally-sourced bacon, ham and sausages; pure, heavy whipping cream; farm-fresh, extra large eggs. “Great food, great service, all made from scratch,” general manager Jake Smalkoski says. Guess what? The entire menu is available for carry out.
Runners-up: Pangea Cafe, Tavern 4&5
Editor's Pick: Best Cookie
At the Farm feeds the need for goodies.
If I’m craving the sweet embrace of a grandmother, I know it’s time to drive to Waconia’s At the Farm—not for a hug, but for a comforting bite of one of the farm’s just-like-a-grandma-would-bake cookies. Oh, I had grandmothers, and they were somewhat demonstrative, but as far as baking goes—the German grossmutter believed in baking hearty cookies (dry and drier). The Norwegian farmor never met an Archway cookie she didn’t like, buy and serve.
For $1.50, At the Farm customers can purchase individual cookies big enough to share, but why would you? The comforting confections are baked on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (At the Farm is open daily from May–October).
If you go, try the molasses cookie. “Like grandma made,” owner Donna Frantz says. These are my favorite, and I’m not alone. When tours pay the farm a visit, Frantz breaks out the molasses cookies. “We always serve that one,” she says. “It’s so nostalgic.”
Snickerdoodles, a close runner-up in my book, are baked, weather permitting. “When it’s humid, they don’t work,” Franz says, so visit the farm early or late in the season for a chance to sample the sugar-cinnamon sweetie.
Frantz knows the cookies are good, and she knows why. “The sugar is the cat’s meow,” she says, referring to C & H pure cane (not beet) sugar. Organic eggs, North Dakota flour, Watkins vanilla and real butter and cream also make their way into the cookies. “I’m a stickler for real flavor in what we make,” Frantz says.
For the record, Frantz has a Best Of cookie of her own—the Sister Jean (chocolate chip, oatmeal and coconut) “Oh, I have one a day, sometimes two,” she says. “I love that cookie—love that cookie.”
Best Pediatric Clinic
Lakeview Clinic (Waconia)
When it comes to kids, only the best will do, especially when it relates to issues of health. Lakeview offers a host of medical services, including pediatric care for children from birth to about 18 years old. The multi-specialty office offers a breadth of services. “We have a very collaborative relationship with the specialists,” Mark LaRose, M.D., says, noting that staff values creating independent relationships with patients.
Runners-up: New Kingdom Healthcare - Eden Prairie, Southdale Pediatric Associates - Eden Prairie
Best Senior Living Residence
Auburn Manor (Chaska)
In the heart of Chaska’s charming downtown, Auburn Manor offers independent living and specialized memory or rehabilitative care. Some activities include individual and group events with arts and crafts, exercise and music entertainment, as well as transportation to community events, shops or restaurants. Services include 24-hour nursing staff; specialized dietary accommodations; physical, occupational and speech therapies; massage therapy; short-term rehabilitation; memory care programming; and hospice and end of life care. “Our team empowers our seniors’ lives by being care partners, rather than caregivers,” Rick Krant, administrator, says. “Our approach is one of finding and enhancing each individual’s life passions. By cultivating genuine human relationships between our seniors, our team and the community at large, we are able to exceed expectations and foster purpose-filled lives for our seniors.”
Runners-up: SummerWood of Chanhassen, Good Samaritan Society - Waconia
Best Fitness / Yoga Studio
Life Time Fitness
“Know it. Nourish it. Move it.” is part of Life Time’s core philosophy. “Life Time gives you the tools for understanding how the body works and how to give yourself ideal nutrition and exercise to live the healthy life you imagine,” it attests. Armed with classes, trainers, individual fitness spaces, indoor and outdoor pools, a salon and a café to fuel up, Life Time offers its members a full scope of amenities. Riley McLaughlin of Life Time public relations says it’s an honor to be recognized in this fashion. “Our mission is to change lives positively every day, and we look forward to continuing to do so for many years to come,” she says.
Runners-up: Bring It! Studios/CrossFit Chanhassen, Shape It Up Fitness
Best Orthodontic Clinic
Ovation! Orthodontics (Eden Prairie)
The name may be new, but the services have stayed tried and true. Ovation!, formerly known as Hultgren, Hoxie & Waki Orthodontics, continues to offer services for patients of all ages. The practice’s mission is to create healthy, beautiful smiles for kids and adults. “At Ovation Orthodontics, our team believes in serving our patients and our community through the values that have shaped our practice over the past 37 years,” Michael Lee, D.D.S, says. “Our doctors design personalized treatment solutions to serve the needs of each patient. We believe in creating exceptional experiences for our patients through their entire orthodontic journey.”
Runners-up: Veil Orthodontics - Eden Prairie, Chaska Orthodontic Specialists
Best Chiropractic Clinic
Neubauer Chiropractic Health Center
The team at Neubauer offers a comprehensive set of services, including spinal correction and chiropractic adjustments using state-of-the-art techniques. Patients are availed information on corrective services, healthier lifestyle education, nutritional counseling, spinal and postural screenings and more. Chiropractor Matt Neubauer says the office is “happy to be nominated” and is pleased to help the community. The team’s focus on wellness and pain prevention is what Neubauer says sets the practice apart.
Runners-up: Soltis Family Chiropractic, Live Well Chiropractic Spa and Acupuncture Center - Chanhassen
Best Eye Clinic
Southwest Eye Care (Chaska)
The staff at Southwest includes optometrists, certified technicians and American Board of Opticianry certified opticians. The office offers a broad scope of services, including tending to eye conditions (cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration), procedures (refractive surgery, LASIK, PRK and cosmetic), pediatric eye care, comprehensive eye examinations, contact and optical needs and much more. Chris Freed, O.D., says his office features “relationship eye care,” which is “more than just having a patient in a chair.” The staff strives to learn everything it needs to know about the variables in a patient’s life in order to provide optimal care. “We are thrilled that [voters] recognized us,” he says.
Runners-up: Lakeview Clinic – Waconia, Wink Family Eye Care
Best Dermatology Clinic
Dermatology Specialists (Eden Prairie)
If you’re a seeking a chemical peel, acne treatment, laser hair removal or microdermabrasion, Dermatology Specialists offers services to get you looking great in the skin you’re in. The clinic also provides the latest in medical services like Latisse treatment for longer, fuller eyelashes; Radiesse for wrinkle reduction; or Vbeam laser treatments to correct skin discoloration, spider veins and more. The experienced board-certified physicians are ready to smooth out any dermatology issues.
Runners up: Ridgeview Clinic, Waconia, Associated Skin Care Specialists, Eden Prairie
Best Dental Clinic
Park Dental (Eden Prairie)
Since 1989, Park Dental Eden Prairie has offered area patients dental services including preventative dental care, teeth whitening, dental implants, cosmetic enhancements and sedation dentistry. Staff also performs extractions, root canals, periodontal treatment and emergency dental care. A preferred provider for most insurance companies, this office is available for early morning and evening appointments, and offers Saturdays for children’s hygiene appointments. “We believe Park Dental Eden Prairie appeals to area residents because of our focus on care, convenience and service,” says John Gulon, D.D.S., a dentist at the practice and Park Dental president.
Runners-up: Tweet Pediatric Dentistry, Relaxation Dentistry
LifeSpa at Life Time Fitness (Eden Prairie)
Life Time Fitness is on point with amenities, including the state-of-the-art fitness facility, healthy post-workout shakes and meals at the LifeCafe and the MediSpa, which offers one more way to help you look and feel your best. With laser treatment, medical peels and injectables for glowing skin and hormone replacement therapy to give your body the necessary boost it needs, the MediSpa technicians are ready to help you say hello to your new best self.
Runners-up: Envy Skin Clinic - Eden Prairie, Contour Clinic – Chanhassen
Editor's Pick: Best Volunteer
Ace Palm is remembered as Prop Shop fixture.
Our communities and residents are supported by and cared for by an incredible amount of even more incredible volunteers. If there is one person who embodied giving of self and spirit it is Ace Palm, who died February 21, 2017, at 98 after a short illness.
For 10 years, she was a committed and beloved volunteer for the PROP Shop, where she was a fixture in the housewares department. Palm began volunteering at the PROP Shop when she was 88 and could be found working up to seven-hour shifts. At the close of her shift, she’d take special care in reviewing sales for her department.
“Ace had a way of making everyone feel special, capable and strong. She worked harder than anyone and inspired other volunteers to work hard by the example she set, the strength she showed and the positive attitude she embraced,” Cindy Eddy, executive director, says, “Ace was an inspiration through being a great friend to many. She was always interested in everyone and how they were doing. She made everyone feel important."
Best Salon / Spa
Spalon Montage (Edina)
Spalon Montage at 50th and France has been serving clients for 25 years based on the company’s core values—the Golden Rule, leadership, diversity, responsibility and excellence, which drives everything it does. Enjoy a sea-soothing facial, hydrating pedicure or one of the retreat packages knowing you’ll be treated with exceptional care.
Runners up: Sanctuary Salonspa - Eden Prairie, The Parlour Salon and Spa
Best Hairstylist / Barber
Patty Fitzsimmons (Salon Concepts)
Whether getting foils, a conditioning treatment or a Brazilian Blowout, you can expect your appointment with stylist Patty Fitzsimmons to be a blast. Her friendly and fun-loving nature brings a positive vibe to the Salon Concepts experience. “I’m kind of like the girl next door, just easy to talk to, and I put people at ease,” Fitzsimmons says. She’s felt rewarded by her clients and her craft during 25 years in the industry. “I really enjoy what I do. I get to go to work and celebrate each new day; I feel so blessed by my clients.”
Runners up: Todd Leaf (Salon Spatoria), Beth Zimmerman (The Parlour Salon and Spa)
Best Insurance Agent
Laura O’Neill (Cornerstone Insurance Agency)
Since co-founding the agency in 2001, Cornerstone agent Laura O’Neill has loved protecting people with car and home insurance. Her clients will tell you the down-to-earth Cornerstone agent is skilled, knowledgeable and easy to talk to. The appreciation is mutual. O’Neill speaks highly of her southwest metro customers: “They’re the best consumers in Minnesota, in my opinion. They are good, safe drivers, and they don’t burn their houses down,” O’Neill quips. In all seriousness, she adds that for a career in judging risk, her clients make it easy for her— “They are smart, educated people.”
Runners up: Sharlene Downs (State Farm), Andrew Schultz (State Farm)
Best Law Firm
Melchert Hubert Sjodin (Waconia)
This experienced law firm doesn’t miss a beat with the number of legal services it offers for businesses and individuals. Services include sorting out issues surrounding real estate, intellectual property and litigation and dispute resolution. What sets them apart? Staff knows the importance of giving back to the community. Time, energy and resources are dedicated to Adopt-a-Highway, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and supporting local non-profits and others.
Runners-up: Hellmuth & Johnson, Fafinski Mark & Johnson
KIDS & FAMILY
Best Learning / Tutoring Center
Sylvan Learning Center (Minnetonka, with locations in Chaska and Edina)
Parents, who have forgotten the quadratic equation need not dread their child asking for homework help. The highly-trained tutors at Sylvan Learning Center will help guide students in math, reading and writing assignments, STEM projects and more. The mentors also go above and beyond to help students develop additional study and homework strategies.
Runners up: LearningRx, Huntington Learning Center
Best Preschool / Childcare
Children of Tomorrow Learning Centers (Chanhassen)
With infants to toddlers and preschoolers, Children of Tomorrow Learning Center is a busy place! A vision of “a rich foundation for a successful future,” informs the staff's care of the children. “Our enrichment classes include Spanish, music and movement,” says founder and president Aleta Mechtel. “Our teachers are trained in yoga and sign language, which are incorporated into our curriculum every day.”
Runners-up: Eastern Carver County Schools Early Childhood Family Education, Step by Step Montessori - Chaska
Best Place for Kids' Activities
Chaska Community Center
Crawl through tunnels, zoom through slides, jump in the ball pit and have a create-your-own-fun-filled day with endless activities that kids of all ages will enjoy at the Chaska Community Center. Between the indoor pool, 150-foot water slide, outdoor splash pad and gymnasium, the community center caters to kids’ interests. The venue also has you covered for special birthday celebrations with kid-friendly themes like Leapin’ Legos, Pirates & Princesses and Science Adventure. Whew. We’re exhausted just talking about it.
Runners up: Laketown Gymnastics, The Dance Warehouse
Best Doggy Daycare / Kennel
The Canine Club and Spa
One night at The Canine Club and Spa and your pet might think twice about returning home. Pups can enjoy the indoor and outdoor pools and run their tails off in the indoor and outdoor play spaces, and felines will love lounging in the Kitty Kingdom, complete with dim lighting, soft music and a comfortable night’s rest in the Kitty Condo. Full spa treatments to pamper your pet are offered. The facility also caters to hedgehogs, turtles, bunnies, iguanas, gerbils and ferrets—so no pet is left behind. “When the owners come for pick up, the dogs are always happy, barking and running,” manager Karen Jackson says. “When they are getting loaded back into the car, they often run right back up to our door, so that’s a good sign. We’re really happy about it.”
Runners up: Top Dog Country Club, Adogo Pet Hotel
Best Veterinary Clinic
Waconia Veterinary Clinic
If you notice that the staff at Waconia Veterinary Clinic treats your animals with exceptional care, it’s because the doctors and staff are animal lovers, too. The highly-trained veterinarians and vet technicians have collective experience in surgery, internal medicine, rehabilitation, dentistry and more. “We’re a mixed animal practice, so that makes us stand out,” says clinic manager Tracy Peterson. Small companion animals, equines and bovines are also given exceptional care.
Runners-Up: Chaska Valley Veterinary Clinic, ValueCare Veterinary Clinic
SHOPS & RETAIL
Bachman’s (Eden Prairie)
For a sunny pick-me-up, order Bachman’s rainbow-hued gerbera daisies, alstroemerias in vibrant oranges and pinks or a bouquet of premium yellow long-stemmed roses. Show that special someone you care any time of the year and send “Love Letters,” a classic black rectangular vase with two little rows of red roses tucked inside—guaranteed to make a heart melt.
Runners up: Victoria Rose Floral, Curly Willow
Best Apparel Boutique
Mainstream Boutique (Chanhassen)
“We really try to empower women and make them feel good,” says Jane Friedman, marketing and events coordinator. The franchised stores seek to help women of all ages feel great on the outside and inside, too. It’s not uncommon for customers to strike up friendly conversations and help each other shop. Whether in your 20s, 50s or 80s, you'll find chic styles in tops, tunics, dresses, shoes, purses and more. Mainstream Boutique also carries jewelry from local artists. “We do Girls' Night Out parties, where women will bring some wine and have appetizers for a few hours while they shop,” Friedman adds.
Runners up: The Stash of Waconia, Evereve
Best Gift Shop
Kowalski’s Market (Eden Prairie)
While you're shopping for your usual groceries, an easy detour with the cart will lead you to Kowalski’s haven of gift tables, laden with everything from trendy fashion items like handbags, wallets and necklaces to cookware, to plush stuffed animals and colorful children’s books. Shoppers will also find delightful displays geared toward the season or special holidays. They’ve thought of everything by stocking attractive wrapping paper, bags and bows to dress up your gift purchase.
Runners-up: Jim Gilbert’s Wild Bird Store, Seedlings Gifts & Books
Best Specialty Foods Store
Kowalski’s Market (Eden Prairie)
The fantastic thing about shopping at Kowaski’s is that you know you’ll get delicious, high quality foods. The drawback?—having to choose which mouth-watering option you want for dinner. With artisan breads, a full-service deli counter, an olive bar, salad bar, soups and sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, all natural choice beef, pork and fresh fish daily, healthy and delicious sushi rolls and signature cheeses from Minnesota and around the world, you’ll keep coming back for more.
Runners-up: Lakewinds Food Co-op, Chanhassen; Mackenthun’s Fine Foods
Editor's Pick: Best Little (Not So) Black Dress
Fancy Fab Boutique features fresh take on classic.
For years, the little black dress has checked off many social engagement boxes— un dîner pour deux, elegant gatherings, special holidays, wedding and showers. Update the look with Fancy Fab Boutique’s midnight blue, halter-style dress. The TCEC design features a pleated neckline, hidden pockets and what every dress needs—lining. The hidden button closure on the back of the collar adds to the dress’s classic, clean style.
John Kraemer & Sons
For John Kraemer and Sons, work is a 50-50 proposition—the company has split its time building luxury homes and remodeling residences since it launched in 1978. The company is now in its third generation, founded by president Gary Kraemer and his late father, John Kraemer, and also includes Gary’s sons, John and Jeff. John Kraemer believes much of the firm’s success rests in its transparency. “We run each job on a 100 percent open book basis, where every bid, invoice, receipt and discount is disclosed to clients at all times,” he says, noting, “John Kraemer & Sons is BATC’s only three-time Builder of the Year, which is an award given each year to the builder who best exhibits trust, ethics and customer satisfaction.”
Runners-up: Lecy Bros., Lennar
John Kraemer & Sons
When it comes to taking on a job, the firm doesn’t limit itself in the breadth and scope of projects, which feature larger homes, smaller residences and lake homes and can include complete or single room remodeling. John Kraemer says there are several keys to the company’s success and customer satisfaction. “Longevity, financial stability, quality and an unprecedented commitment to transparency is what sets John Kraemer & Sons apart from other builders and remodelers in the Twin Cities,” he says. “In the almost 40-year history of our family-run business, we have never reorganized, gone out of business or changed ownership. We find that our quality control is second-to-none in the fact that we employ our own job supervisors, project managers, finish carpenters and cabinet shop.”
Runners-up: Lecy Bros., Iron River Construction
Best Interior Designer
Yetzer’s Home Furnishings
From top to bottom, Yetzer’s has local homes covered in a host of décor styles, including traditional, country, cottage, modern and transitional. For homeowners who are a bit stymied when it comes to writing their home’s design story, interior design expertise is at the ready to assist clients with creating and reflecting their designs sensibilities. “That’s kind of a diamond in the rough,” owner Tom Wiest says about the store’s design service, which is, by the way, offered free of charge and includes store and home consultations.
Runners-up: Jessica Cook (JLC Interior Design), Martha O’Hara (Martha O’Hara Interiors)
Best Landscape Designer
The Mustard Seed Landscaping & Garden Center
From helping clients keep their homes’ curb appeals on par to developing outdoor living spaces, the staff at the Mustard Seed is at the ready. “Rooted in integrity and founded on faith,” the garden center carries a bumper crop of trees, shrubs, evergreens, annuals, perennials, Koi fish, aquatic plants, Christmas trees, wreaths, roping, gardening essentials and gift items. Bring the kids to enjoy the large play area and petting zoo, featuring miniature donkeys, chickens, pygmy goats and reindeer at Christmastime. “We really focus on customer service and meeting their needs,” design manager Cory Whitmer says.
Runners-up: Bachman’s Landscaping, Superior Lawn & Landscape
Editor's Pick: Best Shop to Find Greenery
Lotus Lake Gifts + Décor is awash in color of the year.
The Pantone Color Institute designated Greenery as the 2017 color of the year. “A refreshing and revitalizing shade, Greenery is symbolic of new beginnings,” it explains. If you aren’t interested in soaking your home in the yellow-green shade, Lotus Lake Gifts has you covered. Owner Katie Nordby sprinkled the store with greenery, offering perky pops of the hue. With framed elements, artificial succulents, planters, glassware, whatnots and more, it’s easy to be on trend without entirely rewriting a home’s color story.
Editor's Pick: Best Place for a Bibliophile
Our communities are privileged to feature not one but five local libraries. Collect more stamps on your literary passport and visit all of these well-stocked, purposefully-curated homes to some of the best literature; past and present nonfiction volumes; digital entertainment and information; programming and so much more! A special thank you to the staff at the Victoria Library for hosting Southwest Metro Magazine’s BEST OF photo shoot.
*Are you one of this year's winners? Find information on how to order a plaque and other materials HERE.