by Abby Wright, CEDA
Tarsilla’s Family Kitchen / Tarsilla’s Café at 112 N. Main St. is the highest rated restaurant in Stewartville on TripAdvisor, with 43 reviews averaging 4.5 stars, plus 31 reviews with a 4.5-star-average on Yelp, and 106 reviews over the last seven years on Facebook with a 4.6 rating—yet Tarsilla’s has no website and does not actively advertise. Yet Tarsilla’s gets hundreds of customers per week from all around the area, including Rochester.
Co-owner, Karrie Heydt, says customers like the fast and friendly service. Plus, most of her employees have been there for a long time, lending a “personal touch” to the atmosphere. Shannon Rabe is one of them and has been serving at Tarsilla’s since before 2011 when Heydt bought the business from Don and Darlene Mueske, who had opened the restaurant in 1968. If you go to Tarsilla’s to eat, you may notice that the biscuits and gravy, Heydt’s and many others’ hands-down favorite menu item, credits the Mueske’s for their original recipe still used today. The wild rice soup is also famous and an original Mueske recipe.
All the menu items are homemade. The biscuits and gravy, fried chicken dinner, and country-fried steak are talked about a lot on TripAdvisor and Yelp. Tarsilla’s even offers liver and onions, which is a big hit for some, says Heydt. Tarsilla’s also offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner any time during its business hours on Sundays 7a-1p; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 6a-7p; and Fridays 6a-8p.
People also like the “homey feel,” says Heydt. Some groups of customers have coffee or dine daily to congregate and socialize. The staff at Tarsilla’s have gotten to know most of their regular customers too, down to what they order.
Heydt says, “I think Stewartville needs a restaurant like this . . . where people can feel at home.”
Heydt has continued the practices and traditions of the Mueskes, who she says were her mentors and instilled in her the love of the restaurant. Heydt, who came from Hayfield to Stewartville in the 5th grade, grew up in Stewartville most of her life and was best friends with Dawn Mueske, Don and Darlene’s daughter, in elementary school. The Mueske’s had lived in the story above the restaurant and raised their six kids there, bought the restaurant in 1968 and kept the original name. They also owned D&D’s Diner in Plainview.
Heydt began waitressing and hostessing at Tarsilla’s for the Mueskes at age 14, had lived upstairs, and was good friends with the family. She eventually quit to raise her kids, then came in to eat one day and was asked to come back. Many of her current customers are the same ones she had when she worked there as a teenager, she says, “so it’s like home here.”
Last year, Don and Darlene Mueske passed away, within three days of each other. “They were just some really, really good people,” Heydt says, “They always instilled a good work ethic, and some of the stuff that we do today is still how they did it years ago.”