Who here has ever heard of Pavillion, Wyoming? No one? Right.
So it stands to reason that no one has ever heard of Miss Ginny’s Roost Steakhouse, either, right?
Which is really too bad. This place is classic.
Pavillion is a town of fewer than 300 hearty residents and no less than 150 miles from any major road. In the middle of nowhere, this place looks up at the Wind River Mountains, down into the Wind River Indian Reservation, and over at the endless high planes of Wyoming. For most of us, there is no reason to ever go to the town; I’ve lived in the same county for four years and had never been there until this weekend. There is no way you would find yourself accidentally passing through. It boasts a post office in a double wide, a general store with a “Basketeria” sign out front, and a bar. And most importantly, The Roost.
The owner, Ginny Warren, came to Wyoming after Katrina when she had finally had enough of the hurricanes. Why she chose the little cattle ranching community of Pavillion, I don’t know, but she brought with her a love of crawfish, Cajun spices, and the NOLA dining experience. I’ve seen it described on places like Trip Advisor as a “typical” cowboy steakhouse or saloon, and it’s really not, unless you’re talking just about the Old West façade out front. The building itself looks like something out of Tombstone. But inside, there is very little that screams “Wyoming” except maybe the prevalence of cowboy hats among the clientele. In fact, the interior looks more like something you’d find in rural Louisiana: pink flamingo décor, faded wood accents, perpetual Christmas lights, checkered tablecloths, plenty of kitsch to go around.
And last weekend, thanks to a random Facebook post and a brilliant idea, we found ourselves making the 40-minute trek from Lander, WY, to Pavillion (even compared to a town in the middle of nowhere, this place is in the middle of nowhere) for a New Orleans Easter Sunday Brunch. Like most of the seatings, The Roost features a multi-course, prix fix menu with your choice of Cajun or Creole or otherwise New Orleans main course.
Be forewarned: the service can be a bit (a lot) slow. Partially due to the New Orleans culture—which generally encourages sitting and enjoying and sitting and enjoying some more—and partially due to the small town and limited availability of servers. So come prepared to spend time hanging out and socializing; trust me, it’s worth it.
Our brunch looked something like this:
Starter: beignets (of course)
Second Course: three shooters of delicious soups, including carrot bisque, sausage gumbo (of which I could eat many, many more shots!), and mock turtle
Third Course: shrimp rémoulade
Salad: baby spinach, berry, goat cheese, and candied walnuts
Main Course: between the two of us, we tried the cowboy eggs Benedict, with medium-rare, locally-raised steak medallions instead of Canadian bacon; and sautéed shrimp and baked cheesy grits with a homemade, whole wheat biscuit
Dessert: we had the lemon cloud (basically a lemon custard with a graham cracker crust) and the dreamsickle cheesecake, which tasted just like an orange creamsickle (I mean, JUST like!)
And drinks: a standard mimosa; a brandy milk punch with brandy, milk, sugar, and nutmeg; an Easter egg basket of (very adult!) cheery vodka, triple sec, cream, grenadine, a coconut rim, and a peep for posterity; and a Louisiana Purchase, made with Grand Marnier, grapefruit juice, and…. Other stuff? Honestly, by that point, who cared? It was dry, crisp, and refreshing!
I would just like to say that everything was delicious. The beignets were bite-sized and made a wonderful introduction to the meal. The gumbo was nothing short of amazing, and apparently Ginny serves it as a main course for dinner. The rémoulade was light and just a little spicy. My sautéed shrimp was flavorful but not spicy, but several shakes of hot sauce fixed that, and the grits were perfect. And steak instead of Canadian bacon?!?!? Holy cow! And the desserts were generous and refreshing and rich. Other main courses included a pain au chocolate, grillades (apparently akin to a chicken fried steak) with baked jalapeno grits, crawfish frittata, and biscuits and gravy. Not really vegetarian friendly, but what is in Wyoming? (Answer: absolutely nothing; this IS cattle country, after all)
The menu changes every day that they are open, and Ginny tries to emphasize ingredients that are seasonal or seasonally festive, and each dish is handpicked by the diligent, if a bit scatterbrained, owner. Currently, The Roost is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday starting at 5:00 pm. Sometimes she gives Sunday brunches a whirl, and she often does special meals for holidays. Keep up with (often last minute) updates on Facebook or give her a call at (307) 857-6019 and leave a message. Reservations are often recommended just so Ginny knows how much of each course to prepare.
Pavillion, WY, is certainly not a place you would stumble on by happenstance, and because of the remote nature of the community, Miss Ginny’s Roost isn’t the kind of place you would just drive by and think, “Man, that looks interesting; let’s try it!” (though if you ever DID find yourself in town, it certainly would be the kind of place that would draw in random travelers) And though it’s off the beaten path, this unique, Cowboy Cajun hidaway is worth a stop, whether you’re passing through Wyoming on your way to Yellowstone or you’ve lived in Lander for years.
A short stroll from our Painted Lady, past the modern metal pagoda, teak shutters and noodle restaurants of Japantown, we hit Fillmore Street, the backbone of the Fillmore Jazz District. The neighborhood, formerly an ethnic ghetto through the late 1800s, became a business center after the 1906 earthquake destroyed Downtown San Francisco and shops had to relocate. In the early 1900s, Japanese immigrants moved into town seeking work and achieving new-found success in the United States. When President Roosevelt relocated Japanese Americans to internment camps in 1942, the vacant homes and storefronts attracted a new wave of migrants: African American workers moving to the Bay Area to work in the shipyards, and they brought with them their art, music and unique culture. And The City’s jazz district was born.
The district is home to the historic Fillmore Auditorium, which has played host to the Grateful Dead, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Cream, Pink Floyd, and a slew of other world-famous musicians and featured in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as the center of the 1960s counterculture scene in San Francisco. The main thoroughfare also features a series of jazz and R&B clubs, boutique shops and grungy bars, each with libations to compliment the varied decor. It is in this neighborhood, along this stretch of live music venues tucked into fading brick facades and across from The Fillmore, that we found Rasselas Jazz Club.
This small, tightly-packed club features live music seven nights a week, a varied bill that includes classic and modern jazz, blues and Latin and such musicians as Tracy Chapman, Kim Nalley and Pete Escovedo. The event calendar on their website hasn’t been updated since September, but you can find more relevant information on their recently updated Facebook page. But whatever night you decide to go, you are guaranteed to see a musical performance that only adds to the sultry ambiance and the smooth taste of your favorite cocktail. The interior is dark: dark wood, dark brick, dark lights, dark dresses, each table colored with a small candle that flickers and reflects on the lounge’s brick walls. They have a full bar and a small but interesting wine list; you can also bring your own bottle for a $15 corkage fee. But try the syrupy-sweet Tej, an Ethiopian honey wine.
When we arrived, the place was packed with an elegant looking crowd, and the din was light and happy. The hostess took one look at our party of six with no reservation, smiled, and did some prompt rearranging to fit us in toward the back. The tables are close together and filled to the brim, making the experience that much more intimate. Service is relaxed, so if you’re in a hurry, try elsewhere. This is a place where people sit and linger, enjoying the music and the atmosphere, and appreciate the undisturbed experience. The restaurant features Ethiopian food, and while they do have a bar/appetizer menu with plates such as sliders and pita chips, the real gems are the traditional dishes. We ordered two vegetarian combos, the kitfo (a spicy steak tartare), the doro wat (chicken simmered in a berbere sauce of chili pepper, garlic, ginger, basil and cardamom) and a drunken chicken (grilled in tequila, ginger, garlic and lemon juice over turmeric rice), each for around $15 (this is San Francisco, after all!). The traditional dishes all come with injera, a soft, spongy flatbread that is slightly on the bland side but is fun to eat. Sauces are thick and can be as spicy or mild as you prefer, and it was great to be in a place where “spicy” actually meant it. My husband and I opted to eat our entire meal with our hands, scooping up chunks of meat and the various vegetable stews with the injera that lined the plates (we never miss the chance to eschew flatware!). The steak was juicy and flavorful with a rich, heavy flavor, and the chicken was so tender it nearly fell apart on the plate, and the proportions were ample enough to fill even the hungriest of our crowd. Copious amounts of food make it almost impossible to have room left for dessert, but Rasselas does feature baklava and tiramisu, if you need something to top off the meal.
Many people stop into this small jazz club for the bar scene and the live music, but with relatively reasonable prices for flavorful, spicy Ethiopian dishes, the menu is definitely worth a look. But perhaps most significantly, Rasselas is the perfect place to don your 30s-style cocktail dress and silk fedora, sidle up to the bar, order a slick-sounding martini and pretend to be celebrating life in the Golden Age of Jazz.
… we begin our Black Hills Road Trip with a historical venture into Buffalo, Wyoming, home of the Occidental Hotel and Saloon.
As True West’s “Best Hotel in the West” and one of the hotels that National Geographic Traveler loves to gush about, the 1880 Occidental has quite the seedy and wildly seedy reputation. It has been host to some of the most famous names of the Wild West: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stopped by from time to time on their way to Hole in the Wall; Calamity Jane passed through while pursuing in vain the notorious Wild Bill Hickok; and Buffalo Bill Cody called the hotel home when passing through town. Even Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway were rumored to tell wild stories of hunting, drinking and other adventures in the building’s romantic parlor.
As history slowly faded into the shadows of the Great Depression and the modernization of the late 20th Century, plans to demolish the building nearly became reality.
But in 1997, saviors Dawn and John Wexo bought the dying hotel and embarked on a 10-year restoration project to return the Occidental to its former glory and reclaim the history of Buffalo, WY.
Today, visitors can stay in the charming rooms that sit above the bar and restaurant, take in live bluegrass music (that happens every Thursday night!) in the Occidental Saloon, and share a romantic dinner among the Bordello tassels and tin ceilings of the building’s original vaults, a private getaway in the Wild West.
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