Moving to the Great White North - how to be prepared?
October 22, 2010 6:00 PM   Subscribe

What do we need to know about moving to Rochester, Minnesota? Do I need to learn to cook ethnic food if I want to eat it? Do we need engine block heaters?

My husband and I are moving to Rochester, MN from the northeast. We both have lived most of our lives on the East Coast, and we're not sure what to expect of the Midwest and particularly Rochester.

We've tried searching online and are getting a little bit scared that we are moving to an ethnic-food wasteland. There seem to be very few highly rated restaurants. We know Minneapolis is not too far for a weekend trip, but we don't want to be driving there all the time. Can anyone out there reassure us on what kind of food for people who love good ethnic food (or any kind of good food) is available in Rochester? Also will we be able to buy food directly from local farms?

We are used to living in snowy weather, but we also want to know if we need anything in particular for the weather there, such as engine block heaters for our cars. We are planning to have a two car garage. We both have jobs where we must go to work no matter what the weather is.

Finally, if anyone has recommendations for the best neighborhoods to live in, and best things to do in the area (day trips or in town), we'd love to hear them. Thanks in advance!
posted by treehorn+bunny to Travel & Transportation around Rochester, MN (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Twin Cities resident here, but I think you should be fine in Rochester. With the Mayo Clinic in town, you get thousands of people from all different cultures, so your ethnic-food options might be even better there than in Minneapolis. The closer you are to Mayo, the more options you'll likely have. I can't speak to any of them in particular though.

As for the engine heaters, there shouldn't be any need. I park in the street, in the snow, and as long as I start my car on a regular basis, I've been fine. Make sure you have a good ice scraper, and I've found it helpful to keep a collapsible shovel in my car in the winter-time.
posted by JannaK at 6:30 PM on October 22, 2010

I live in a suburb of the Twin Cities so I can't speak to any specific to Rochester but I can answer your question about engine block heaters.

Simply put, you don't need them but you might like to have them.

The only caveat is if you're driving diesel engine vehicles since they might need them to start. For everything else, they are mostly a convenience item. It means that it takes the engine less time to heat up to the air will blow hot sooner after you set out in the morning. On those rare days when it gets really cold (as in, less than 0 degrees Fahrenheit) you'll want to let your engine run at idle for about 30 seconds before you drive anywhere. Longer if the car has been out in the cold (IE not in a garage) for a couple of days or more. You battery has more to do with your car's ability to start in the cold than almost anything else. Once they get to be over five years old or so, you might start having issues and extreme cold can exacerbate those issues.

If you're used to snowy weather, you won't really be surprised by anything except maybe for how similar it is to the weather you're used to. It doesn't really get that cold all that often and the extreme cold usually doesn't stay for long.
posted by VTX at 6:32 PM on October 22, 2010

Rochester is home to the Mayo Clinic. Three of the first six restaurants on Yelp in Rochester are Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese. I suspect it's better than average for a medium-sized upper Midwestern city.

That said, it never hurts to learn to cook good food, whatever kind!

Where on the east coast have you lived? Rochester is pretty far south, almost in Iowa. If "east coast" means New England, you'll need to get used to earlier winter, later spring, and winter lows that are 10-15 F lower than what you're used to (unless you're from the County in Maine, northern NH, or the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont, in which case the temperature differential will be a lot lower).

If you have a modern car that's well maintained, and you park in a closed garage, you shouldn't need an engine block heater. The average low temperature in Rochester in early February is 9 F, according to Weather Underground. When I lived in northern Vermont, my Mazda Protegé started up in temperatures that were 20 degrees colder, and it was parked outside.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:40 PM on October 22, 2010

Response by poster: brianogilvie, thanks for the helpful tips. We live in New England but not the far north of New England.

It's good to know that it doesn't sound like we need the block heaters. Maybe we should just get remote starters?

We've scoped out Yelp. I notice that Applebee's has better reviews than the sushi place. ;-)
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:49 PM on October 22, 2010

I'm from Minneapolis, but I'd say you should stop worrying. Rochester feels like an east coast suburb, not a hick town. There are lots of Indian and Chinese engineers and scientists, so there are lots of Indian and Chinese restaurants. No idea if they're decent.

You can drive to Minneapolis in 1 hour 10 minutes (if you speed and it's not rush hour). I've done the drive just for an evening a couple of times. A surprising number of people commute every day. I even know college students in Minneapolis who live down there.

Northfield is a 20 minute drive and a college town, so you can do college plays and concerts if you like. The St. Olaf choirs are awesome to see. Winona is another very close college town. There's also a growing arts scene in the city itself.

There is a farmer's market. I don't think you can buy food from the farms around the city...they mostly grow corn and soy.

I have never met anyone with an engine block heater. Remote car starters are more common (so your car is nice and warm before you get to it), but not a necessity at all.

Look forward to your new home, Rochester is great!
posted by miyabo at 6:57 PM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: My inlaws live in Rochester. They live in the "Pill Hill" section which is walking distance to downtown Roch, with a lot of stately-type early 20th century homes, some very grand, but also a few smaller and more reasonably priced houses. If two-car-garage is a need for you, a lot of those older homes have very tiny garages but there are some post-war neighborhoods whose houses do have bigger garages and are very nice.

Rochester has a reputation for being somewhat provincial but it's an okay town, really. There's a good Asian supermarket there, the grocery stores in general tend to stock a lot of different ethnic ingredients, and there are some very good restaurants of various cuisines. You'll probably find that the Vietnamese food is very, very good (I've had better Vietnamese food in Minneapolis than I could find in San Francisco). Mayo and IBM are/were the two big employers, so by pulling top talent from all over the world there's some pretty good ethnic diversity. There are farmer's markets, and also farms just outside of the city which have produce stands.

There are some neat local sights--Quarry Hill, the raptor center. There's a nice art institute. There's a good community/technical college associated with the U of M if you are interested in further education or just continuing-ed-type fun stuff. Nice rec center. Good parks. Nice public library.

I don't know that my inlaws ever use a block heater. We moved to the Twin Cities last February and didn't need one during the last gasp of winter, and we were parking outside.
posted by padraigin at 6:58 PM on October 22, 2010

Best answer: I live in the cities and our friends who live in the Roch lament the food scene there. We'd all love to be proven wrong, so I'll keep an eye out for that.

There's a tiny co-op and there will a Trader Joe's opening "this year." So there's hope on the grocery front. Farmer's markets and a few CSAs are available, so you can certainly get local produce in the summer months.

Road trips from Rochester are plentiful. I love that corner of the state. The Minnesota/Wisconsin/Iowa border areas are full of small river towns with quaint downtowns, great places to be outside, and festivals all through the summer.
posted by advicepig at 7:03 PM on October 22, 2010

I notice that Applebee's has better reviews than the sushi place. ;-)

Probably has more to do with the reviewers than the Sushi place.

Count me as another who can't really speak about Rochester, but as a native Southern New Englander who lived in the Twin Cities for 6 years: winter is quite different. Much colder, but also much sunnier. Very dry. It snows less frequently than it does in New England, but the snow hangs around forever. You don't really get sleet or freezing rain, which is a bonus. You will grow to look forward to predictions of snow, because it will mean it's warm enough to snow. No kidding. But the clear skies make the winter so much more bearable than you think it'll be.

But honestly, there is nothing as great as spring in MN. It's not that gray, muddy disappointing spring you get in New England - it's fresh and warm and sunny and everyone is so freaking happy.

You should be able to buy local food pretty easily from farms.
posted by lunasol at 7:05 PM on October 22, 2010

Not ethnic in the least, but consider treating yourself to Culver's for butter burgers and frozen custard.
posted by Work to Live at 7:10 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are great tips! Thank you. I am looking forward to a sunny winter!

Work to Live, we are vegetarians, which is part of our concern because when we picture typical Midwest food, we picture what they serve at Culver's and fear we won't fit in... but we love ice cream!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:20 PM on October 22, 2010

It may not be the "ethnic" you had in mind, but I heartily recommend Jasper's Alsatian Bistro.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:23 PM on October 22, 2010

I've always preferred the Minnesota colder drier winters over the wet winters of the Northeast. When I get chilled to the bone in the damp cold, I have a hard time warming back up, but here in the dry winter, I just hop inside and take off my coat. Oh and it really is amazingly sunny in the winter. I wear sunglasses in the winter much more than in the summer! It's blinding when it reflects off the snow.
posted by advicepig at 7:28 PM on October 22, 2010

Lived in Rochester for a summer and, well, food options weren't great. Our best food experiences were based around the 4 hour round trip to MSP. Northfield has some good food, too. I recall good indian food (chapati and another whose name I cant remember), decent mexican (las delicias) and great pubs (Contented Cow and Froggy Bottoms)
posted by jz at 7:33 PM on October 22, 2010

Hey, welcome to MN! I live in a suburb of St. Paul, but I have a relative who lives and works in Rochester. He likes it OK but I think he misses the big city scene of Minneapolis.

You absolutely don't need engine block heaters. Especially if you will be parking overnight in a garage. Remote start would be a nice luxury but it's not something I have ever bothered with. It does get awfully cold here in the winter.

If you are working in downtown Rochester, see what you can find out about what your parking situation will be. I know a lot of people drive to Park and Ride spots and then take the bus into downtown - I think Mayo encourages employees to do this. It's an extra hassle, especially in the winter, but on the other hand you save money and do less driving so maybe it's a plus.
posted by beandip at 8:20 PM on October 22, 2010

I live in Minneapolis and with a reasonably modern car kept in a single detached garage I've never needed a block heater. We take snow removal very seriously here, no joke, and I literally cannot think of a personal example of winter weather keeping me from getting to work.

I can't speak to the current restaurant situation in Rochester but I will say that the cuisine situation in the Twin Cities metro has come a long way in the last decade and I think it's not overly optimistic to suspect these trends will be finding their way into other thriving MN metros including Rochester. Local/seasonal food is in in a big way these days and there are some really stellar regional food producers.

Don't forget to also explore the Southeastern Twin Cities suburbs as potentially more accessible destinations, it's a pretty big sprawly metro and as I say, the whole thing has been getting substantially better on the food front. Rochester has been doing better than average job-wise for MN lately, it's a pretty dynamic community so I think you're moving there at a good time in terms of cultural development.
posted by nanojath at 10:23 PM on October 22, 2010

Rochester's food is sadly not great. The people who come to work at Mayo might be too busy to open restaurants :) It's a theory at least! Rochvegas closes early as well. Minneapolis has a splendid food scene, and there are good restaurants in neighboring cities (Northfield, Red Wing (e.g., Norton's), Lake City, etc.). Typically, the City Pages doesn't even review many suburban restaurants, but ask around and you will undoubtedly get better tips when you arrive.
posted by gregglind at 11:32 PM on October 22, 2010

I actually live in Duluth, but I'm in Rochester once in a while. It's not the most exciting city in the world, but you'll be fine. Your culinary options tend to be more along the lines of Applebee's and Buffalo Wild Wings, but I'm sure you'll be able to find some local places. The city is fairly diverse, by Minnesota standards. It's also very conservative and kind of stuffy; IMHO, that might be your biggest adjustment. The major employers for decades have been Mayo and IBM, until fairly recently Western Digital also had a big presence; I think that largely explains the conservative culture of the city.

You definitely don't need a block heater. You also don't need a remote starter, though you might *like* one. A good battery is the cheapest, most effective thing you can do to make sure your car starts. Throw a shovel in the trunk for the winter, just in case. Rochester is considerably warmer than Duluth, and we survive the winters here. You will get some snow blowing around, though.

A lot of people commute to Minneapolis/St. Paul. It's a quick drive, about 60 miles of fairly low traffic. You're not going to want to go to the 'Cities every night but when you do go you can make an evening out of it, it doesn't have to be a weekend. I have a good friend who commutes to St. Paul for work daily, goes to about 1/4 of the MN Wild hockey home games, and frequents Twins games, all while living in Rochester.
posted by LowellLarson at 7:58 AM on October 23, 2010

I live in Minneapolis. I used to live in southern MN, and I've spent time in Rochester.

Winters in the Rochester part of the state are the equivalent of what you get in Buffalo, NY. Plan accordingly.
posted by medea42 at 12:51 PM on October 23, 2010

My lasting memory of Rochester from a stopover there years ago is Silver Lake. It never freezes because an electrical plant uses lake water for cooling. The consequence of that is geese find Rochester winters pleasant from their giant heated pool. My favorite goose is the one flying away, but if it's your thing, like it was my friend's who wanted to stop there, check it out.
posted by tenaciousd at 2:25 PM on October 23, 2010

Response by poster: medea42, I've lived in western NY (Rochester NY in fact) and the winters there neither include less frequent snow nor sunny/clear skies. My experience there was neverending gray days, with snow almost daily from December through March, that typically does not accumulate but melts into the mud unless it is a big lake effect blizzard. There also are ice storms there such that keeping a snow shovel or scraper in your car (as a number of people here have recommended) may not be a good idea, because I've had to chip through thick ice just to be able to open the car doors/trunk.

I'm thinking you just mean temperature-wise?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:08 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

You should be fine with the weather. I grew up in the Ciites -- and my SiL is from Rochester -- but have been in New England for twenty years (the last ten in Rhode Island). YES, it's colder, but that means there's less rain. People say to me, "Minnesota? Our winters must be nothing to you!" But I reply, "I may be used to it, but I didn't enjoy it": we all just learn to live with it. Awesome wool sweaters, heavier coats, and very good regional beer are among the remedies.

A friend of my wife's is married to a doc at Mayo. They moved out there from the Boston area, and she's settled in just fine. So unless you've got a jones for the smell of salt air, you're going to love it. (The people are nicer, too.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:59 AM on October 25, 2010

treehorn+bunny> actually, I've lived here ten years and I've experienced everything that you describe in Minneapolis/Saint Paul at some point.
posted by medea42 at 10:16 PM on October 27, 2010

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