Today’s photo: this one is from Jonmikel, who managed to capture this beauty from the comfort of our backyard in Lander, Wyoming, right after a fall squall.
Big skies mean big fields, big spaces, big storms, and big rainbows.
Wyoming is known neither for its stand-up stand-up comedy nor its unique culinary traditions (steak!).
But every once in a while, in one of the quirky towns that dot the wind-blown landscape, the restless locals pull together an event — usually spawned by the long winter isolation and weeks of below-freezing (if not below zero) temps — that rivals anything you can find in the Big City. Good food, good drink, good laughs.
On this chilly September evening, as the nights grew longer and the days colder, all of us who appreciated good (crude) comedy headed down to The Middle Fork, a boutique, chef-owned restaurant in the heart of historic downtown Lander, to enjoy the acidic and surprisingly nostalgic humor of young Vince Tropea, an up-and-coming stand-up comedian working his way through the Western contingent.
During his two sets, Vince kept the audiences rolling with laughter, and he kept a good handful of jokes for us Ohio natives and Ohio University alum. His incredible eye for detail captures the absurdity of real life, and his twisted sense of humor leaves no inappropriate subject untouched.
In between sets, Vince sifted through the crowd, flirting and schmoozing with his adoring audience.
His show was accompanied by what has quickly become one of the staples of Lander life: food and drink from The Middle Fork. This breakfast and lunch place, tucked into a quiet venue next to Gannet Peak Sports on Main Street, is a relatively new addition to this small town, but an indispensable one. Everything is made in-house, including pastas, sausage gravy, handcut fries, and corned beef. They have a unique take on eggs Benedict that is worth the 2-hour drive up from I-80 (the nearest interstate), their French press coffee is strong and smooth, and their other seasonally-changing menu items are some of the best in the state and beyond. Not bad for a town of 7,000 people. Service can be a bit slow, but it allows for time to sit down, relax, sip your coffee, and enjoy some people watching from the sidewalk bistro tables or the gurgling flow of the stream that runs through their outside patio.
Inside, The Middle Fork takes full advantage of the historical details that dot every corner of the building: classic crown molding, restored wood floors, and a distinctive 1920s flair. It’s the perfect venue for any event, especially a stand-up comedy night full of gratuitous insults and acerbic wit.
If you ever get the chance to see Vince Tropea, sometime in YOUR town, don’t miss it. The guy is young and ballsy and terrific and puts on one helluva show. And if you’re ever in Lander, Wyoming, don’t forget to stop in for lunch or breakfast or brunch at The Middle Fork for one of the only gourmet, non-steak (and certainly one of the best) meals you’ll find in Wyoming.
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.
There’s not much to Hudson, Wyoming, anymore. A stonemason shop, a steakhouse (rumored to also be the first pizza joint in the state) that has been there since the mid-1900s and is run by a Yugoslavian family, and even a dodgy-looking “fine family dancing” establishment. A crumbling building from the Wild West days with fading advertisements for rooms and sheriffs.
For most people, Hudson is that annoying half-mile stretch of road where the speed limit goes from a loose 65 mph to a well-enforced 30. Or where we go to get our local, sustainably-raised beef from Wyoming Custom Meats. And you can’t see much from the road. Trailers. Dusty gas hills. Desert plains covered with little more than sage.
But the lonely highway and the fading Old West facade have their secrets, the little things they hide away from prying eyes. Hudson hides a century of mining, open hunting grounds, and, if you dig deep enough, a badlands playground.
Badlands are relatively rare geological features that appear when soft rock is worn away by wind and water, creating spectacular ravines and hoodoos of colors ranging from uranium green to sunset orange. To the Lakota, the features were Makhóšiča, bad land. To the French, they were les mauvaises terres à traverser, the bad lands to cross. Some are famous: Badlands National Park is a popular road trip destination on the way to or from the Black Hills of South Dakota. Hell’s Half Acre outside of Casper, WY, played host to Klendathu, the insectoid planet in Starship Troopers.
But often, badlands are abandoned, lost, places people pass by without stopping. Deserts devoid of water and life. In Hudson, the badlands are quiet, hidden-away nooks and crannies for skeet shooting, ATV racing and other adventures. They aren’t a closely-guarded secret as much as a forgotten pastime, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating, burnt scars in a desolate high desert.
These quietly stunning features are a few miles off Highway 789 in Hudson, WY. Take Ohio Avenue (not always marked) south out of town. Note: once the pavement stops, roads may be impassable when wet.
The die hard strap their gear to office-weary backs and hike up crevices in the foot-high slop to slip slide down, just to say they were the season’s first.
But it melted quickly, creeping back up the mountains, and remains in hiding for weeks.
Hunters, blindly blaming their poor harvest on the wolves that don’t exist here, come back empty handed, heads shaking. Without the snows, the elk are content to find safety and sustenance in their summer pastures high up in the Winds; they haven’t been frequenting their normal fall rutting grounds. The dry, warm air is taking its toll on all kinds of winter enthusiasts who had high hopes for La Nina again this year…
There’s no away to hide the dramatic backdrop that struts jaggedly behind the row of modest homesteads on Mormon Row. The Tetons are hulking and intimidating in their firm embrace of this open country, and the old barns and homes seem to hug to the shadows in an attempt to ward off the notorious Wyoming winters.
It’s quiet now, except for the bustle of photographers that come just as the sun rises or as the storms sets in. The images of these historic sites are so ubiquitous that we all fight tooth and nail for the one photograph no one has ever managed to capture, the piece that will pull us out of the pack.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were 27 homesteads here, complete with barns, drainage systems, barns and corrals, a tight-knit community called Grovont.
The Moulton barns are the most popular, built by John and TA Moulton on today’s Antelope Flats Road, just north of Jackson.
They lived and farmed here as late as the 1950s, and water still flows in some of their irrigation ditches.
The entire district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Jonmikel and I have lived in the area for years and go to Jackson many times a year, and this summer was the first time we wandered down into Antelope Flats. Not sure why it took us so long to see one of the most recognizable cultural sites in North America.
Hello Readers! Kat is just back from covering the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival! While there, she was tasked with spreading the word about Izilwane, reviewing films, meeting key conservationists to arrange future contact, interviewing delegates and blogging about her experiences. While she had a great time, it was a lot to take in! She is writing about the trip over at Izilwane’s blog; you can see her first post here.
Continue checking back with Izilwane for updates on the festival!
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