Stunning lake views. Sun-drenched deck seating. A wear-what-you-want vibe. They’re things you could find in a real estate listing for any Lake Minnetonka home. But when you add “historic property overlooking Big Island,” “crazy drink specials,” and “waffle fries for days,” the list can only describe one place: Maynard’s.
Excelsior’s lakeside institution is celebrating its 20th summer this year (the anniversary is next year, technically) and it’s ramping up for the busiest season yet.
“It’s like two completely different animals,” says Maynard’s general manager Jack Stevens, whose team adjusts from the Pond Hockey Championship and intimate winter dining crowds to a vastly different vibe come summer. “But summer or winter, it’s one of the best dining venues on one of the most iconic lakes in the area. We’re proud of our location and our consistency in food and service,” he says.
The restaurant and its gigantic grounds sit on what was once the Excelsior Amusement Park, which catered to the weekend crowd from 1925 to 1973. The feel of the lake—and the people who hang out there—has admittedly changed since then. But Maynard’s has been attracting boaters, bikers, nibblers and fun-seekers of all ages since it moved to the spot in 1998.
Voted Lake Minnetonka’s Best Outdoor Dining in Lake Minnetonka Magazine for five years running, Maynard’s approachable, expansive American casual menu includes something for every appetite, and it’s become central to the lake scene for those who call Lake Minnetonka home as well as the droves who visit for their sunshine fix.
And for good reason. The expansive “Wharf” has 100 tables that can accommodate 500 guests from mid-April to mid-October-ish; that’s in addition to the patio and year-round indoor dining room. There’s also parking for 60 boats.
“We set a record last year. The patio was open on and off from February all the way through November. I guess global warming has been good to our business,” Stevens says. “But whether it’s Fourth of July weekend or the dead of winter, people are always amazed at the consistency of the food and service. People get their money’s worth, and we enjoy providing it.”
The jury’s out on whether Maynard’s just had good timing or was partly responsible for Excelsior’s transformation, but it goes without saying that the town has seen a renaissance in recent years. “It’s really the lake city to be at,” Stevens says. “It’s an up-and-coming community with a loyal, local following—and we’re happy to be a part of it.”
So what does Stevens order? He has to think for a minute to answer that question, but it’s a toss-up between the famous Franny’s chicken salad with its decadent coconut-crusted chicken breast, tomato, egg, avocado, artichokes, cheese and honey mustard, or the walleye. It he’s on the deck, that’s a seasonal sandwich, but it’s a dinner plate if he’s dining inside. He admits that the extensive menus—yes, plural—make zeroing in on a selection all the more reason to linger with a beer before deciding.
“It’s so hard to take anything off the menu. We’ve been here so long that no matter what, every dish is somebody’s favorite,” says Stevens with a laugh as he adds the Cajun pork chop with horseradish sauce to his list of must-haves (it’s a fan favorite at $15.95 for a 12-ounce cut or $19.95 for two).
Excelsior native Angie Bean has been coming to Maynard’s—and Park Tavern, at the same spot before that—since she was a little girl. She even remembers celebrating her 16th birthday there.
“It’s like Cheers—everyone really does know your name,” Bean says.Maynard’s is her family’s go-to for local dining and the source of some of their strongest friendships. “They do such a wonderful job of giving back to the community, and you can’t go wrong with their twice-baked buffalo wings. They’re a football-season staple.”
While the action never quite freezes over in the off-season, there’s a distinct thaw happening at Maynard’s as summer inches closer.
“On the first warm weekend of the year, when there’s a good 80-degree Saturday—that’s my favorite day of the year,” Stevens says. “The energy of the boaters coming off the lake, you can’t really describe it. There’s a certain happiness—the place is just buzzing.”
That’s about when you’ll find the Bean family staking out a spot at the high-top tables with a good view of the motorcycle lot. “You can watch all of them come and go, but also have a great view of the lake and the wharf,” says Bean. “We really don’t go looking for an experience, but you will always see people you know and have some fun.”
About Those Fries
There’s no waffling about how to start a true Maynard’s meal. The waffle fries with seasoned sour cream are a staple appetizer, and most guests don’t even think twice before ordering for them.
“They’re a crowd favorite—many people order those before even glancing at the drink menu. The amount we serve is staggering,” says Stevens. He admits that on a hot summer day, it’s nothing for Maynard’s to go through 30 gallons of the seasoned sour cream. “Yeah, they’re addictive,” he adds.
While they might not taste as good as when they’re served lakeside at Maynard’s, you can try your hand at the signature seasoning and sour cream.
Seasoned Sour Cream
3 cups (24 oz.) sour cream
1/3 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. ranch seasoning
Stir ingredients together, chill and serve with seasoned fries.
Fresh rosemary, chopped
Minced garlic, drained
Mix in equal parts, season frozen or freshly-cut fries to taste, and think about summer.