FEATURE: A Foodie Christmas

By on December 22, 2015

After digging into Jackson Hole’s culinary milieu, a visiting food critic will never be the same.

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The Kitchen: Fried oysters rockefeller (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

Jackson, WY – As a food, wine and travel writer based in Salt Lake City, I’m never more than a half hour or so (with dry roads) from a choice of seven different top-notch resorts, plus the ski town of Park City. So I hadn’t thought much about visiting Jackson Hole, until I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse: an expense paid trip with the sole purpose of eating and drinking my way for a week (split between two visits) through some of Jackson’s premier restaurants and watering holes. Sometimes, my job doesn’t suck.

Keep in mind, however, that I am a trained professional. I wouldn’t recommend hitting 11 restaurants in a 48-hour period, as I did at one point during my mission, unless you are truly gluttonous or a competitive eater like Joey Chestnut, which I’m not. In other words, don’t try this at home… lest you don’t mind an extra 10 pounds resulting from your culinary conquest. That said, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

So, with the resolve of a Jedi warrior, I essentially dropped in blind armed with a list of restaurants and bars suggested to me by a team of Jackson Hole locals and foodies, knowing virtually nothing of the valley beyond spine-tingling tales of Corbet’s Couloir. It must be noted, I didn’t make it to every eatery I’d have liked to – that would take another month or more – but I visited enough restaurants and watering holes to get a pretty good picture of the Jackson dining and drink scene. And I have to admit, I came away very impressed. There is an abundance of excellent food, libations and skilled service professionals packed into this relatively small town.

Day 1: We’re not in Kansas anymore

A scenic four-hour drive from Utah to Jackson made my wife, Faith, and me wonder: Why hadn’t we done this before? Sitting on the sun-drenched deck (in September) at Café Genevieve (135 E. Broadway, 732-1910, GenevieveJH.com), with its rustic cabin-like exterior, I had my first revelation: We’re not in Utah anymore. Virtually every table during Sunday brunch was filled with wine glasses, mimosas, barrel-aged cocktails, brews and other libations that you rarely see midday in SLC. You also won’t see dogs in Utah restaurants – a decidedly pet-unfriendly restaurant culture – but on Genevieve’s deck, dogs are de rigueur. While I pigged out on decadent Cajun eggs Benedict with housemade boudin sausage, the missus enjoyed a great grilled cheese sandwich, elevated from the norm with the addition of basil, Vermont white cheddar, avocado and beefsteak tomatoes. Alongside was a cup of the best-tasting tomato soup we’d ever had.

Bin22: gulf shrimp (Photo: Carrie Patterson)

Bin22: Gulf shrimp (Photo: Carrie Patterson)

For a mid-afternoon nosh we dropped into Bin 22 (200 W. Broadway, 739-WINE) – a place I wish they’d clone in Salt Lake City. The combination tapas restaurant and wine/liquor store — buy a bottle of hard to find wine in the store and grab a table to enjoy it — turned out to be one of my favorite Jackson joints. As chefs busily prepared dishes in the open kitchen, we enjoyed friendly conversation at the bar with a terrific barkeep named Maggie who kept our wine glasses full while we nibbled on a cheese plate (loved the crumbly Shelburne Farms cheddar). Be sure to order the house-pulled fresh mozzarella when you visit.

I was struck by the combination of cozy and contemporary at The Kitchen (155 N. Glenwood, 734-1633, TheKitchenJacksonHole.com), with its bamboo bar and tables, eco-panel wave of light and the arched wooden wall on the dining side of the restaurant. Equally impressive is the food, which I’d rate right up with meals I’ve had at renowned Nobu restaurants. A Japanese-Irish chef who grew up in Mexico, Santiago Kano’s innovative, travel-based cuisine (he’ll tell you at least two countries are in every dish) included some of our favorites. We loved the tuna tartare kissed with truffled ponzu, and especially the wildly popular (so we were told by fellow diners) luxury shrimp — a serving of what had to have been at least 50 tempura shrimp poppers with sweet and spicy aioli. I look forward to returning to sample The Kitchen’s exciting new winter menu, which includes Kano’s piquant fried oysters Rockefeller (France, Morocco and the U.S.).  The chromatic dish happens to be featured on the cover of this issue.

Bin22: wine bliss (Photo: Carrie Patterson)

Bin22: Wine bliss (Photo: Carrie Patterson)

Nearly dizzy from our first day of food excess, we did manage to scarf down a handful of gorgeous artisan chocolates — literally works of art — from Coco Love at Atelier Ortega (150 Scott Lane, 734-6400, AtelierOrtega.Squarespace.com) in enticing flavors like wasabi white chocolate, raspberry, passion fruit and chipotle chile. These aren’t your granddaddy’s Hershey bars!

Coco Love: artisan decadence (Photo: courtesy photo:  coco love)

Coco Love: Artisan decadence (Photo: Coco Love)

Day 2: International delights done right

Well rested from a night at the Virginian Lodge, we made our way to the Four Seasons in Teton Village for breakfast at Westbank Grill (7680 Granite Loop Rd, 732-5000, FourSeasons.com). Deciding to forego the breakfast buffet, I ordered huevos rancheros, expecting them to be routine. However, they were anything but; indeed I’ve never had better huevos, with slow-roasted pulled pork, green chiles, cojita cheese, perfectly cooked eggs, ranchero sauce and more. My wife was equally pleased with her healthful Irish Steel cut oatmeal and dried berry compote.

Westbank gGrill: huevos rancheros (Photo: robyn vincent)

Westbank Grill: Huevos rancheros (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

A hike to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park had us famished for lunch, so we descended upon one of my favorite eating spots during the entire trip: Streetfood @ The Stagecoach (5755 W. Highway 22, Wilson, 200-6633, StreetfoodJH.com). The eclectic menu and friendly service from owner Marcos Hernandez made lunch on the patio truly memorable. I hadn’t planned to find the perfect Cuban sandwich in Wilson, Wyoming, of all places, but Streetfood’s Cuban is the real deal. Ditto my wife’s excellent fish tacos. And, the French fries were also fantastic — the dog begging at our table agreed.

Sadly, we never had time to eat dinner at Trio (45 S. Glenwood, 734-8038), but we will make sure to upon our next visit. We did, however, make time to stop in for a Blood Orange Margarita and a marvelous bowl of steamed Prince Edward Island mussels with grilled bread to soak up the savory broth.

After burning a few calories visiting some of the boutiques and cowboy shops in downtown Jackson, we made our way to Snake River Grill (84 E. Broadway, 733-0557, SnakeRiverGrill.com) for dinner. Although the place was packed, and tables are close and cozy, our window seat was divine and surprisingly quiet. Sharing an exquisite dish of sweet corn agnolotti, our server Lucas — one of the best servers I’ve ever encountered — suggested a glass of Moscatel alongside, a perfect match. A dish of wood oven-roasted organic chicken with späetzle in natural jus was outstanding, and my wife loved her Korean hot pot brimming with veggies and ramen noodles. I now understand why Snake River Grill is such a favorite among locals and tourists alike.

Day 3: We need more time!

Persephone Bakery: granola (Photo: lindley rust)

Persephone Bakery: Granola (Photo: Lindley Rust)

There’s a lot to like about Persephone Bakery (145 E. Broadway, 200-6708, PersephoneBakery.com), but one of my favorite details there is the old-fashioned typewriter that sits next to the water closet, inviting people in-wait to type messages and tack them up on the bulletin board above it. While Faith chose a healthy muffin and granola for breakfast, I found the croque madame on levain toast calling my name. It gave me the sustenance and energy I’d need for a tour of the National Museum of Wildlife Art, where we spent much of the morning in awe.

Hatch Taqueria: bison sausage a la plancha (Photo: paco elenes)

Hatch Taqueria: Bison sausage a la plancha (Photo: Paco Elenes)

With just enough time for lunch before heading back to Utah, we met a Jackson foodie friend, Michael Krulin, on the patio at Hatch Taqueria & Tequilas (120 W. Broadway, 203-2780, HatchJH.com). Timing is everything, as they say, and I wish my timing had been better. Because had I not been faced with a four-hour drive back home, I’d have loved to sip my way through some of Hatch’s remarkable selection of tequilas, mescals, brews and cocktails. But, I settled for a bottle of Mexican Coke and tender, slow-roasted carnitas tacos instead. The highlight of our lunch, however, was a sizzling iron pan of bison sausage a la plancha with poblano chiles and salsa verde. Ole!

Day 4: Mountain comforts

During our second Jackson Hole excursion, we got an early taste of what winter here is like: cold. Eleven degrees at 10 a.m.? Brrr. However, a gargantuan sausage egg bagel — the biggest I’ve ever sunk my teeth into — at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Café 6311 (Bridger Center, 733-2292l, JacksonHoleWY.com) provided the carbs I’d need for my first day of Jackson Hole skiing. Although not all of the mountain and runs were open, I can see now why JHMR is considered one of the world’s best.

Warming up at the Mangy Moose (3200 W. McCollister Dr, 733-4913, MangyMoose.com) for lunch after shopping for Jackson Hole 50th anniversary gear, I immediately understood why the place is so iconic. In a world where restaurateurs think nothing of spending millions on décor and ambiance, the natural, funky feel and look of the Moose is entirely refreshing. But what really surprised me was the quality of the food in the bar. We tend to be taco fiends and the machaca and mahi-mahi tacos were superb, particularly washed down with a Pako’s IPA from Snake River Brewing Company.

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Super Salsa

I’ve eaten salsa all over the U.S. and in many of Mexico’s states, but I have to say that I’ve never tasted salsa that I liked better than the Mangy Moose’s. Who knew? Fresh-cooked tortilla chips (somehow made without being greasy) come with a tangy red salsa (smooth, not chunky) with just the right amount of cumin and chile de árbol spices. It’s superb salsa.

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Joined by Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Amy Jimmerson, we cozied up next to the fire pit at Teton Village’s Handle Bar (Four Seasons, 732-5000, FourSeasons.com) for a surprisingly economical après ski. Still stuffed from lunch, however, we eschewed eating but I’ll certainly return for their elk and red bean chili.

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Inside The Spur (Photo: Spur Restaurant and Bar)

We happened to be staying at Teton Mountain Lodge this trip, and so it was a convenient walk downstairs — after enjoying the rooftop hot tub — to The Spur Restaurant and Bar (3385 Cody Lane, 732-6932, TetonLodge.com/spur) for dinner. To be honest, I was at first a bit concerned about the noise from the busy bar area. However, seated at a table in the rear of the rustic dining room, you could hear a fork drop (which I did). By the time we’d finished dinner, I’d come to the conclusion that The Spur was my favorite Jackson Hole restaurant. For starters, it’s much more economical than most of the higher-end eateries in which we dined. An absolutely stunning herb-roasted half chicken with sweet potato gnocchi, spinach, crisp speck pieces, shiitake mushrooms and goat cheese was a mere $24. And the chile and citrus gravlox are simply to die for. The house wine is cheap, but of very high quality, and the regular wine list is excellent. I am now a fan of The Spur’s Executive Chef Kevin Humphreys, who — perhaps not surprisingly — was named Best Chef for seven consecutive years in The Planet’s Best Of Reader’s Poll.

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French fry Shangri-La

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Spur: French fry Shangri-La (Photo: Spur Restaurant and Bar)

A truly great French fry is a wonderful thing, but not as easy to make as you might think. French fry aficionados know that the secret to a fabulous fry is in double cooking it. The fries are fried first at a relatively low temperature, and then finished around 375 degrees. I’ve tasted French fries from Paris to Brussels and from Rio to San Francisco, but I’ve yet to encounter a better French fry than Chef Kevin Humphreys’ paprika-dusted pommes frites at The Spur. They’re fab.

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Day 5: Praise be to Italy

If there’s a classic, old-school diner-style spot for old-fashioned home cooking in Jackson, it’s gotta be The Bunnery (130 N. Cache, 733-5474, Bunnery.com). The log cabin that was once a blacksmith shop serves breakfast, brunch and lunch anytime, so no matter the time of day you can always stop in for their famous cinnamon rolls, a full breakfast or perhaps a slice of very berry pie.

And while we’re on the topic of baked goods, E.Leaven Food Company (175 Center St, 733-5600, Eleavenfood.com) is a terrific spot for flaky croissants, can’t-miss muffins, artisan breads, bagels and more. I enjoyed the best cheesesteak for lunch I’ve had outside of Philadelphia — what a surprise! My wife equally devoured her roasted veggie sandwich on multigrain bread with zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, red onion, tomatoes, provolone and yummy salsa mayo.

Il Villaggio Osteria: fusilli (Photo: robyn vincent)

Il Villaggio Osteria: Fusilli (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

With a new executive chef — Serge Smith — and a new winter menu focused on its specialty, rustic Italian fare, Il Villaggio Osteria (3335 W. Village Dr, 739-4100, JHOsteria.com) is the perfect spot for a cozy lunch or fantastic dinner in Teton Village. Take a ski break and enjoy a quick plate of antipasti such as tuna tartare, meatballs with house-pulled mozzarella or venison carpaccio — its silky meat juxtaposed by crunchy granola. Or, you can go whole hog with dishes like truffle-infused pappardelle with mushrooms, pork cheek with braised cabbage, or perhaps something simple but sensational such as the classic pizza margherita, fresh and gooey from the eatery’s wood-fire oven. Pair any of these dishes with wine from Osteria’s extensive and thoughtful vino list, or saddle up to the bar and enjoy a creative libation at the hands of the cordial Sam Miller. Next time I visit JH, one of my first stops will include a visit to one of Osteria’s renowned sister eateries, Rendezvous Bistro.

Day 6: Uniquely healthy and genuine spice

Lotus Cafe: Bodacious Bloodies (Photo: courtesy photo: lotus cafe)

Lotus Cafe: Bodacious Bloodies (Photo: Lotus Cafe)

I’ve eaten in restaurants all over the globe, of every style and stripe, and yet Lotus Café (145 N. Glenwood, 734-0882, TetonLotusCafe.com) is one of the most unique I’ve found. It’s not too often that you can have your organic meat and raw, living, unprocessed plant foods under one roof. So I only felt a slight tinge of guilt ordering the grass-fed, all-natural, bison burger on brioche bread while Faith opted for the Lotus veggie burger, made with quinoa, brown rice, gold flax, sunflower seed, carrot, legumes, basil, parsley and thyme. Both burgers came with awesome roasted garlic aioli. Whether you’re a carnivore, macrobiotic, gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, or you name it, Lotus Café has something to satisfy.

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Bodacious Bloodies

In addition to their very extensive menu, Lotus Café also offers a terrific selection of wines, cocktails, beers, organic smoothies, fresh extracted juices and more. But the big surprise for me was their Bloody Mary, which they call “Fresh Mary.” And boy oh boy, is it fresh.  This isn’t Mr. T Bloody Mary mix. The Lotus mixologists make their Fresh Mary juiced on the spot with tomatoes, carrot, celery, lemon, parsley, ginger, spices, Burn Baby Burn hot sauce, GF Wizard’s Worcestershire sauce and peppercorn-infused Grand Teton Potato Vodka. It’s a Bloody Mary marvel.

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Teton Thai: cashew stir fry (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

Teton Thai: Cashew stir fry (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

A number of locals recommended Teton Thai (7342 Granite Loop, 733-0022, TetonThaiVillage.com) to us during our Jackson Hole visit. Thai food in Teton Village? I was skeptical. But even on a Monday night, Sam and Suchada Johnson’s intimate joint was packed, mostly with young folks still in their skiing/boarding gear. I seemed to be the only patron not wearing a beanie or ski hat of some sort. Teton Thai definitely attracts a local crowd. Well, thanks to our terrific server, Calee, we felt like locals ourselves in no time at all. If you’re looking for a quiet dining scene for a romantic meal, this isn’t it. But for a vibrant, bustling atmosphere and authentic Thai cuisine (thanks to the Thai ladies cooking in the kitchen), you’d be hard-pressed to do better than Teton Thai. And it’s inexpensive to boot. I’m not used to seeing duck, which I love, on Thai menus, so I quickly decided on Teton Thai’s roasted duck curry. I’m glad I did. Tender, moist, boneless pieces of duck breast were bathed in a coconut milk red curry with tomatoes and basil, plus pineapple to sweetly offset some of the curry’s heat. Faith ordered the cashew nut stir-fry with celery, peppers, onions, mushrooms and chili paste and was equally satisfied. Portions are huge, so plan on having leftovers for lunch the next day.

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Dope Dumplings

I’m a sucker for Chinese potstickers and Japanese gyoza, but I’m not used to ordering dumplings in Thai restaurants. Well, if most are as delicious as Teton Thai’s steamed/fried dumplings, I’ll order them every time. This was an order of five hefty, beggar’s purse-style dumplings stuffed to the brim with a hearty and heavenly mixture of minced pork, shrimp, chicken and shiitake mushrooms, served with sweet and sour sauce. Those dumplings are dope!

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Day 7: Dreaming about Jackson Hole

I had to say, I wasn’t looking forward to leaving Jackson Hole. In less than a week, I’d come to love it more than the over-commercialized town of Park City, which I used to call home. But, we still had a couple meals left to enjoy in Jackson.

Remembering how much I adored our dinner at The Spur, we decided to try breakfast there, just to make sure the whole thing wasn’t an illusion. It wasn’t. Throwing caution (and calories) to the wind, I ordered the most decadent breakfast I’ve had in years. It was four pieces of banana bread French toast, drizzled with Nutella, sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with strawberry compote and fresh fruit. My teeth hurt just thinking about it, but it was absolutely delicious.

Noodle Kitchen: build a bowl ramen (Photo: courtesy photo: noodle kitchen)

Noodle Kitchen: Build a bowl ramen (Photo: Noodle kitchen)

With only one meal left before our drive back to Salt Lake City, we decided on lunch at Noodle Kitchen (945 W. Broadway, 734-1997, NoodleKitchenJH.com). There’s a long bar/counter area that’s perfect for solo diners, as well as booths and tables for larger parties. The key to Noodle Kitchen is customization. It’s a place where you can “have it your way.” There’s a regular menu with an assortment of Asian-inspired dishes, but most customers seem to choose the “Build Your Own Bowl” option. It’s a checklist where you choose from starches such as ramen, glass, rice or udon noodles or jasmine rice. Next, there’s a choice of broth (dan-dan, bone broth, roasted peanut, miso, yakitori, etc.). Vegetables are then chosen and, finally, a protein: chicken, tofu, shrimp, beef, or pork belly. Faith opted for the jasmine rice bowl with lots of veggies and roasted peanut sauce, which was delectable, but I liked my ramen with pork belly and bone broth even better. Like so many restaurants in Jackson Hole — even smallish ones like this and Teton Thai — I was impressed by the wine selection.

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Fab Fondue

Taking a break from skiing, we were walking past The Alpenhof Lodge (3255 W. Village Dr, 733-3242, AlpenhofLodge.com) when a fellow said, “Hey, c’mon in for some fondue.” It turns out that in the upstairs bar at the Alpenhof they serve chips and salsa along with cheesy fondue with bread morsels. And here’s the kicker: it’s free. Now that’s what I call happy hour. The free fondue was fabulous, by the way.

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 Ted Scheffler

Ted Scheffler

And so, now I’m back home in Utah and find myself eagerly anticipating another Jackson Hole excursion. Now I get it. Park City gets a lot of accolades for its impressive dining scene and rightly so. But, pound for pound, I’d put my money on Jackson Hole. For a place the size and population of Jackson, it is teeming with truly excellent restaurants, and I barely put a dent in them.

The other reason I’m compelled to return to Jackson is the unparalleled service. There wasn’t a single restaurant or bar that we visited where the service wasn’t incredibly friendly, but also professional. That’s especially impressive in a seasonal town like Jackson Hole where year-round help is hard to find. I can’t list everyone’s names, but servers such as Amber at Genevieve, Caitie from The Kitchen, Westbank Grill’s Kelly, The Spur’s Marielle, Micha from Mangy Moose, Allison at Lotus Café, and Josh at Trio — these and many more top-notch pros made our Jackson Hole visits truly memorable. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.” PJH


About Ted Scheffler

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