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The Bluestem focuses on fresh, local food

Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe Owner and Chef Skylar Hoiland (left) stands with general manager Matt Lais inside the dining room of The Bluestem, which opened one week ago today in the former Magnolia Steakhouse in Luverne.

LUVERNE -- With a focus on contemporary comfort food, The Bluestem officially opened one week ago today in the former Magnolia Steakhouse in Luverne.

Owner and chef Skyler Hoiland was challenged to return to his hometown after the Mag closed to "bring a little fine dining atmosphere" back to small-town southwest Minnesota, and he is already exceeding those expectations.

A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, a culinary arts school in the Twin Cities, Hoiland completed his externship in an Italian restaurant in Boulder, Colo., the "foodiest town in America." There, he learned to make fresh pasta and how to pair dishes with fine wines.

"It was a whole different thing than the Midwest," he said.

Once his three-month externship was completed, Hoiland stayed in Colorado to work in the ski resort town of Crested Butte.

"There, I learned use of product and controlling labor," Hoiland said. "At Boulder, I learned more about the traditions of food."

About the time Hoiland graduated from culinary school, the Magnolia Steakhouse had shuttered its doors. The combination of the two resulted in at least half a dozen people asking Hoiland to consider coming home.

"My ultimate goal was to have my own restaurant," he said. "What better place than where everybody knows you? The support, I couldn't get anywhere else."

Hoiland's parents, Mike and Lynette, purchased the Mag property on June 15. By then, the 21-year-old was already concocting recipes and dreaming up menus for his business. In the three and a half months that followed, he said he crafted about 200 different menus for The Bluestem before coming up with a mix of offerings that both appeal to the eye and please the palette.

His signature dishes promote local as much as possible, from the ravioli with bison meatballs (the bison meat is purchased from the Bowron bison ranch just north of Luverne) to dishes utilizing Berkshire pork purchased from a rural Beaver Creek producer. Hoiland also uses locally-produced honey and hopes to bring in locally grown fruits and vegetables when he can during the spring and summer months.

Burgers are made of a half-pound of pure Angus fresh, never frozen, beef, and he serves up a spinach-artichoke dip in a bread bowl that's large enough to double as a meal. Another favorite on the menu is a sun-dried tomato pasta. Hoiland makes his own pasta from scratch.

The French fries are fresh cut and the sauces and salad dressings are made from scratch. Hand-cut Angus beef steaks are aged a minimum of 35 days to maximize flavor.

"People were looking for something different and I wanted to bring that to them," Hoiland said. "I'm so passionate about (this opportunity). There's nothing I won't do to make it work."

The atmosphere of The Bluestem, as guessed by the name, focuses on the beauty of southwest Minnesota -- from the tall blades of bluestem grass photographed for a three-part mural along one wall of the main dining area, to the Blue Mounds and the prairie flowers. The photos were captured by local photographers Jim Juhl and Greg Hoogeveen, in addition to Luverne's native son and famed wildlife photographer, Jim Brandenburg.

The Bluestem features three party rooms in addition to the main dining area and the bar, all of which are served by the restaurant's 32 employees. Matt Lais, with a decade of experience at Sharkee's in Luverne, moved over to The Bluestem in early August to take on the role of general manager. He oversees the bar and dining areas.

"I've always had a passion for food, fine dining," Lais said. "I think this is very good for Luverne -- the sky's the limit and the staff here is top-notch."

The Bluestem dining area is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The bar is open from 4 p.m. to close Monday through Saturday, with a late-night bar menu offered from 9 to 11 p.m., after the dining area has closed. The restaurant is taking reservations for its party rooms. While people planning an evening out don't need to make a reservation, those coming in groups of 12 or more are encouraged to call ahead to (507) 449-2583.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

(507) 376-7330