Feed Me! Gather’s got it going on

By on February 10, 2015

021115feedme.pastaJackson Hole, Wyoming – Two restaurants have opened downtown this winter. The first one I ate at was less than inspiring. Hatch was alright, but it could be anywhere and there was nothing on its menu or about its service that I felt was totally original.

I ate at Gather, in the former home of LeeJay’s (if you’ve been around more than 15 years) and Burke’s Chophouse/Garage (if you’ve been around more than five years) on the corner of Pearl and Glenwood twice last week. This spot has it going on. Not only did one of last week’s specials include grilled nopales, a type of cactus, but the menu also includes beef tongue, in the form of “fries.” Best of all? It’s guaranteed. If you don’t like them, the $9 comes off your bill.

Does any other restaurant in the valley guarantee menu items? Granted this might be because no other restaurant in town has beef tongue and it might be incredibly gross to a majority of diners. But if it’s free to try, some diners will try them. And maybe they’ll love them.

We tried them. And didn’t love them. My mom, who is of an age that she grew up eating beef tongue in its non-fried form, thought there was too much fried breading that masked the taste of the beef tongue.

021115feedme.leadI, on the other hand, loved the thick breading, along with the accompanying red curry coconut sauce. I loved these probably because they masked the flavor of beef tongue. I pulled a bit of solid beef tongue out of its delicious battered robe to see what it tasted like on its own. That’s what I didn’t love.

I’m glad I didn’t have to grow up eating beef tongue.

Gather’s co-owner Graeme Swain says my mom and I are in the minority when it comes to these fries. “Most people that go out on a limb to try them, are surprised they love them,” he said as he briefly sat down with us to see what we thought about them.

Gather’s menu is smallish and I love that. Part of the reason I go out to eat is to select from a curated list of items. I want to pick only from the best items the restaurant makes. When I see a menu with 20 entrees, I can’t help wonder how many that the kitchen is truly proud of. At Gather, you get the sense the kitchen is proud of everything that comes out.

If you go to one of Gather’s Tuesday Tastings at 2, you’ll see exactly how much the chefs care. Gather isn’t just bringing fresh tastes and the idea of a guaranteed menu item to the valley, but fresh ideas. Every Tuesday of the week, Swain and the restaurant’s chefs invite the public, though reservations must be made in advance, for an intimate meal consisting of that week’s specials. Throughout the meal criticism is expected, even encouraged. At the end, the chefs behind each of the three dishes come out to hear what you loved and hated. I don’t know what’s more impressive, their culinary skills or their ability to graciously take constructive criticism. Swain also relishes comments on other parts of the menu too. He is an owner/manager on a mission: to figure out what locals want and do it the best way he can. I haven’t witnessed such a conscious opening – it seems every little detail has been thought through – for a new restaurant in years.

I was at last Tuesday’s tasting and then in the restaurant for dinner the following night. I saw that some of the comments made during the tasting about regular menu items had already made it onto the menu. The dessert “Banana Cream Pie” was now just “Banana Cream.” It was the exact same dessert, but the new name set diners’ expectations more in line with what came out of the kitchen.

My favorites from the menu so far? As silly and simple as it sounds, the spatzel ($8) with gruyere and mushrooms is my new go-to food after a long day outside. The Snake River Farms Filet, atop garlic confit mashed potatoes with roasted wild mushrooms heirloom carrots and a green peppercorn demi-glace was the far superior entrée to my mom’s deconstructed Jambalaya, made of shrimp, Andouille sausage, and chicken served atop a plateful of dirty rice. The portion was substantial, but the whole dish was dry. The rice tasted like it could have been a box Zatarain’s.

Other standouts? The beet salad. With gorgonzola, crispy baby kale, and candied walnuts topped with an herb white balsamic dressing, I’m going to say it’s one of the best salads in town.

Another place to improve? The appetizer plate of three scallops. I have to wonder why three scallops here are $7 more expensive than Trio’s app with the same number of scallops. Also, all three of Gather’s scallops were gritty. However, the ginger edamame puree beneath each scallop is genius. PJH

Reservations recommended; 72 S. Glenwood; open daily 5-10 p.m.; 264-1820; gatherjh.com.

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