This lakeside dining spot offers waterfront views, delicious dishes and more.
There are just two seasons at Charlie’s on Prior: ice in or ice out. The lazy days of August are peak ice out season, which means diners enjoy their meal—along with gorgeous lake views—on three levels of outdoor patios and two levels of lakeside dining, while boaters pull up to the restaurant’s dock for a bite. “Be prepared to come out and relax,” says Randy Ehlers, vice president of operations and a partner of Water Street Restaurants Group, who has worked with Charlie’s for nearly five years. “It’s a great vibe with a great view from any of our indoor and outdoor spaces,” he says.
Make the most of the last few days of summer with Wednesday night “Live on the Landing,” an outdoor celebration featuring live music and local breweries, or just pick a perfect day to luxuriate in the view of Upper Prior Lake. Ehlers can even help you navigate the Prior Lake restaurant’s extensive options: “Start with Fried Avocados, beer battered [and served] with a queso fresco, Southwest seasoning and a jalapeño ranch dipping sauce,” Ehlers says. “Or try the Big Buoy Pretzel, served with a warm queso sauce. It’s made by Milwaukee Pretzel especially for us.”
After an appetizer, Ehlers recommends ordering Charlie’s Pan Seared Walleye while sipping Dreamyard, a New England IPA from Modist Brewing Co. in Minneapolis. Cap the meal off with bread pudding.
There’s plenty on the menu if you’re not feeling like freshwater fish. Lago Tacos, Firecracker Shrimp Bowl, BBQ Brisket Sandwich (smoked on site) or Dirty Fries are just a sampling of the restaurant’s expansive menu.
“Our family loves how Charlie’s brings the Prior Lake community together. The summer months are especially enjoyable as we boat over to listen to live music, have a delicious meal or catch up with friends and neighbors. The kids are always happy when we end with the various ice cream treats.”—Amanda Holcomb, diner at Charlie’s on Prior
As the days get shorter and that second season—ice in—begins to loom, Charlie’s still offers relaxation and beautiful views, with a slight vibe shift. “Our menu changes,” Ehler says. “We add fall- and winter-centric items as a separate menu in our ‘other’ season … In October, we host a Rock the Docks event with a bigger local (musical) act.”
In February, snowmobilers take part in a beer and barbecue festival as 25 local breweries pour beer samples on the ice and local musicians warm things up. A few weeks later, pond hockey takes center ice on the four rinks in front of the restaurant as part of Pondy on Prior: a pond hockey tournament that raises funds for a hockey family in need.
The season officially comes to an end with a springtime Rock the Docks concert, featuring a band floating on a barge.
For Ehlers, seeing summer staff return each year is proof the restaurant really cares about everyone’s experience. “My favorite part is seeing our seasonal employees come back to work on their summer and holiday breaks,” he says. “Now, they’re a little older, have more experience [and] they really want to be here. It’s a reflection of our managers, who make it a great place for everyone to come back to.”
Giving back is part of the focus at Charlie’s. “We partner with the Special Olympics once a summer and host Tip a Cop,” Ehlers says. “Our local police force joins Special Olympics athletes to raise money by busing and greeting guests at the restaurant with all tips benefiting the Special Olympics.” The restaurant also hosts a breast cancer fundraising fashion show and partners with the Prior Lake High School to support school activities.
Open year-round, the local favorite also welcomes company parties, rehearsal dinners and opportunities for guests to host special events. And, if Thanksgiving cooking seems like too much, the chefs at Charlie’s smoke turkeys on site (along with all of the holiday fixings) to bring home, so holiday dinners are all about the fun and not about the stress of getting the bird in the oven by 6 a.m.
But now is the time to soak up summer. It’s still patio season, and the lake is calling.