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FEED ME: Take your date to Jenny Lake Lodge
Jackson Hole, Wyoming – It’s no secret my favorite breakfast in the valley is at Jenny Lake Lodge. Their buffalo hash has haunch-sized pieces of meat on top of a bed of perfectly seasoned potatoes. They do an eggs benedict served atop the world’s best crab cake (and I’m from Maryland, so I know my crab cakes). Butter for the multi-grain pancakes comes in the shape of a moose. You get pastries, fresh fruit juice, fresh fruit, and anything on the menu you want – order the eggs bene, buffalo hash and pancakes if you want! – for $23.
It was only several weeks ago that I learned the historic lodge just east of the String Lake parking area also does lunch. I was up there within a week.
It pains me to report it was one of the biggest culinary let downs of my life. The food was fine – the sautéed Snake River trout ($15) was excellent – but the service was the worst ever. I won’t go into all the details, but I will say the waiter was ready to shoo us out without even offering dessert.
Last summer season was the first in my 17 years here I didn’t make it to Jenny Lake Lodge, the most expensive and most exclusive of the park’s lodges. Had they gone that far downhill in just one year?
Jenny Lake Lodge being Jenny Lake Lodge, I couldn’t write it off so hastily. So I quickly returned for their four-course prix fixe ($125) dinner.
The dining room has a suggested dress code for dinner: no shorts or T-shirt and sport coats for men. Most of the time I love the anything-goes-anywhere Jackson dress code. That night I loved seeing my super-hot boyfriend all spiffed up, sitting across from me at a table covered in white linen.
It felt like a proper date, combined with one of the greatest culinary adventures of my life.
When I couldn’t decide between a starter of Coconut Steam Mussels and the dining room’s iconic “Scalloped” potato, waiter Jim Friend, who has been at the lodge for the last 16 (or maybe it was 17) summers, brought me tastes of both. It was all I could do not to pick up the bowl the mussels came in and lick every last bit of the broth made with kaffir vinaigrette and roasted chili oil. Instead, because I can sometimes behave myself, I asked for a second piece of the lodge’s focaccia bread (served warm) and sopped up all the sauce with that.
The salad course was easy. I’m sure the Jenny Lake Signature Salad is perfectly fine, but how could you consider that when the other option is an Orange, Fried Avocado Salad?
Why haven’t more chefs thought of deep-frying avocado?
You wouldn’t think a lightly fried wedge of perfectly ripe avocado could be improved upon, but the smoked cumin vinaigrette that dressed the salad made my taste buds dance. Not that I’m enough of a super taster to have identified the smoked cumin in the dressing without help from the menu. I just knew there was something in the dressing the chef had put some serious thought into.
I put serious thought into my entrée order. Lavender Steamed Snapper or Wagyu Hanger Steak? And then Mr. Friend announced a special: pork loin atop a bed of some carbohydrate (polenta?) mixed with bacon. One of the reasons I love Derek is his willingness to share. We ordered the pork loin and the snapper with the understanding we would share generously.
You know it’s a great meal when you can’t pick a favorite dish. I expected the snapper to melt in my mouth. And it did, in all of its lavender-y goodness. I didn’t expect the pork, cooked to a perfect medium-rare, to be almost as tender as the fish. You could cut it with a fork.
We left before the bear that had been making nightly appearances at the window next to our table showed up. Walking outside, the front lawn was bursting with flowers and the setting sun had Rockchuck aglow.
Yes, a Jenny Lake Lodge dinner is expensive, but it’s worth every penny. And if you can’t afford dinner, do breakfast or lunch. I’m fully convinced my bad lunch experience was an anomaly. The lodge is the most unique dining experience in the valley.
The Jenny Lake Lodge dining room closes for the season after breakfast on October 5. Non-guests are welcome in the dining room for all meals, but reservations are required. 307-543-2811, www.gtlc.com