Cafe Dining in the West
Last fall, Don and I ate lunch at the Red Lodge Cafe. It was during our road trip, traveling to lots of National Parks and staying at some pretty iconic rustic lodges.
So, the cafe was not part of a real lodge... it was just a little old cafe in the town of Red Lodge. But it did have a mighty fine neon sign!
We left Yellowstone Park that morning. It was a fun drive with some buffalo in the road and then some breathtaking views along the Beartooth Highway. By the time we finished that drive, (The road looked like an endless squiggly rubber band on the map) it was time for a late lunch.
Flower Baskets and Brick
We pulled into Red Lodge about 1:30 and the little town looked picture perfect, with colorful flower baskets and charming storefronts.
Red Lodge Cafe
We are always ready for a small town cafe and this one was hard to beat, with the red teepee sign.
We walked up to the door and noticed the CLOSED sign. My watch said 1:45, but the cafe still had a lot of diners. Sometimes you just pretend you don't know how to read and you open the door, if it's unlocked.
In We Go
A somewhat weary waitress approached us from the back of the room. "I'm sorry, we're closed." She spoke with just a hint of a question in her tone. I tried my overly enthused, rather than demanding tone. "Oh! I'm sorry, I thought you were open till 2:00."
The waitress fidgeted nervously and I continued. "Oh, I'm just so disappointed, we were so eager to eat here! I really love those murals!" She looked back towards the kitchen and said she would see if the cook would change his mind. "Oh tell him we'll order something easy and we'll eat fast!" I chimed in.
While we waited I had quite a good time studying the murals. They were signed and dated 1962. The images looked just like the views I had photographed from the car window while driving the Beartooth Highway.
Taking it In
We were so obviously first-timers as we pivoted around, checking out the totem pole inspired carvings and the murals. The place was just curious. Even the old-timers sipping their coffee at a nearby table, seemed sort of interesting.
Another waitress came over and saw the upturned cup and tried to give Don a fill. He explained that he wasn't having coffee and she clunked that mug down in it's proper "No Coffee" position. Whew, it helps to know the rules.
Our menus were covered with a crackly layer of plastic, so it was kind of hard to see the nighttime image of motorcycles lined up outside the cafe. But I could read the note in the corner. "Due to Avian bird flu, all breakfasts will have an increase of 25 cents per egg."
The mention of flu on the menu should have made me loose my appetite. But I was so distracted by my surroundings I cheerily ordered, " A half egg salad sandwich and cup of beef and barely soup, please." What was I thinking? That was an egg thing. But, I was never charged 25 cents extra and I didn't come down with Avian bird flu. And hopefully the cook appreciated how I ordered something speedy.
More to See
I'm guessing my soup was from a can and Don's tuna sandwich wasn't all that exciting either, but we enjoyed everything around us. The opposite wall had a carved structure holding mirrors ( that reflected the murals) and old wooden skis and some Native American figures.
The topographic map mounted on the wall, made me kind of feel like I was in a classroom. But we actually had fun with it, retracing our travels in the last few days.
Gotta Love the Wheels
You can be sure there wasn't another diner in the place, taking notice of the wagon wheel light fixture or the yellow, pressed tin ceiling. And you can be even more sure that other no diners took out cameras to capture the images of the cafe.
We Weren't Last
There were two tables lingering over coffee by the time we were ready to check out. So we weren't the last, after all.
I so wish I could have done a little magic and cheered our waitress a bit. She never quite warmed up to us and that's okay. Maybe it was the cook who had made her a little grouchy. We'll never know. Chances are we'll never be back. But I am glad we had our Red Lodge experience.
Following Our Cookbook
On recent travels, Don and I had one night in Cody.
We were pretty darn delighted to learn that Cassie's Supper Club was still a happening place after many, many years. How did we find out about Cassie's? Once again, we were traveling with a few vintage cookbooks, put out by Ford Motor Company. Whenever we're lucky enough to find a restaurant that is still in operation, we stop!
Cassie's Supper Club
We headed west of downtown Cody and spotted the snazzy sign! It looked pretty much the same! In the cookbook illustration you can see the showgirl, tipping her top hat and the parrot perched on top. I read later that the owners, Ole and Mabel Nelson (in 1963 when the book was published) had a pair of parrots that were well known to customers.
The facade had changed from stucco to an Old West Saloon look, but it was still set far back from the road, like the picture. We were just a mile and a half from downtown, so I had expected to see the place squished in between shopping centers. That's one big parking lot and I believe it actually gets filled up.
There were quite a few cars, considering the time of day. We headed towards the door near the Buffalo Bar sign.
Hungry, Curious, Thirsty?
The "Howdy Folks" above the door was welcoming enough, but I kind of liked the other words... especially the word "curious".
Greeted by Beasts
Just inside the door, we met up with lot of stuffed fellows. They were keeping a good eye on the huge space. Over the years, Cassie's has expanded to 20,000 square feet, with numerous levels and rooms.
We stepped in to get a look at the first bar, which wasn't open, yet. There were some rustic stools around a curved cedar bar and lots of goodies you'd expect in western bar, like mounted longhorns and cow skulls.
Greeted by Melody
Then we met Mel who filled us in on some more history after she had a good laugh at the book. She tole us about Cassie, who opened the Supper Club in 1933.
Cassie had already spent a number of years running a house for "Ladies of the Night" in Cody. She and another madam were encouraged to close their establishments, so they opened Cassie's for dancing, liquor and later dining. Mel was kind enough to pose with the fine cookbook, right in front of Cassie's original "cabin", which is behind the Restrooms sign. I'm still a little unclear about what this "cabin" was all about. But I know the rest of the building is built up around it.
Mel was pretty amused by the recipe for Chicken Cream Salad. "No, I'm afraid we don't serve this." She laughed as she studied the ingredients with minced chicken, gelatin, mayo and heavy whipped cream... Mmmm. Not to mention, celery, stuffed olives, shredded lettuce and tomato!
Saved for Later!
Mel made sure she got some pictures of the colorful page with her cell phone. The old cookbook claimed that the creamy chicken dish was a favorite of the diners! I don't picture the loyal customers today begging for this salad. Most come in for the huge steaks!
Mel told us to feel free to look around and there was plenty to see. We heard the dance floor gets pretty crowded, especially on rodeo nights. We could barely make out the letters that spelled Cassie's, engraved into the wood floor.
The room was surrounded with western art scenes. The painted wood panels were spotlighted high on the walls. Just past the first piano, were a couple levels of dining areas with white tablecloths and some very early (or late lunch) diners quietly eating. Every room seemed to have its own flavor.
Towards the rear, we found a completely different style of bar. Smooth, polished wood, stained glass, Victorian style wallpaper. I would have loved to have lingered till the place was filled with customers, to see if the two bars attracted different kinds of crowds.
And the Lounge!
The only bar that was open before 5 was a lounge that took me to a completely different era. There were painted western murals and some knotty pine... slick orange booths with branded wood trim. We so wished it had been dinner time or later!
Sharing with Steve
As Don and I headed to the car we heard a voice coming around the side of the building. "Is that the cookbook?"
We stopped and had the best time chatting with Steve Singer, who grew up a couple houses down from Cassie's. His parents knew the Nelsons and sometimes on weekends, he and a few other kids (sibs or friends?) would get to pretty much have a sleepover in the old "Cassie's Cabin" area.
Steve studied the book illustration and pointed where the big trees in the picture once stood. He also remembered how the place looked before the 1980's, when new owners gave the rambling building a wooden facelift and covered all the bumps and warped features.
He clearly had an appreciation for preserving the past.
Steve had fond memories of Cassie's, not just from childhood, but from performing there as a young man. His band West The Band, entertained regularly for 20 years and then he bought the place in the late 1990's. He and Mel have continued to serve up great meals and provide almost nightly live entertainment, but they've also spent time retrieving a lot of Cassie's old history. Many of the original treasures from Cassie's have surfaced in recent years.
Off to Our Hotel
Don and I headed to our hotel, knowing we would eventually be hungry and regret what we'd missed. The Irma Hotel also had lots of history, as well as a restaurant and saloon. It was built in 1902 by Buffalo Bill Cody and there was much to explore while we worked up an appetite.
The Cherrywood Bar
Eventually we ate a simple salad and a sandwich at this gorgeous carved bar. It was a gift to Buffalo Bill from one of his big fans, Queen Victoria. That's an amazing story. But we were served by a summer worker from Eastern Europe and she knew nothing about the history. There was no live music and no dance floor.
Dining in Cody?
We left Cody with some good memories, but our travels only allowed us enough time for 1 meal in Cody. Next time, we will come hungry and have a real dining adventure at Cassie's! Not just juicy steaks, but maybe some dancing on the big wood floor! Next time!
Another Cookbook Dining Adventure!
It's hard to tell this hotel is 126 years old. The fresh yellow paint makes the colonial style hotel look pretty young. It's actually a pretty swanky place that we couldn't afford. We were staying in a cabin, down the road.
Our Lake Lodge Cabins had a cute dining room, but it was cafeteria style which sounded less appealing. Plus, our Lake Lodge was not one of the hotels or lodges featured in our silly 1950 Ford Treasury Cookbook, with recipes from restaurants around the country. Lake Hotel did have a page in our book!
Down the Road
We grabbed our cookbook and headed down the road to check out Lake Hotel and its dining room. The parking lot already made us feel like we might be out of our league.
The ritzy lakeside entrance was made extra snazzy with the yellow tourist car resting in the shade of the modern (added 1928) porte cochere. Looking down at Lake Yellowstone it was fun to imagine the wealthy guests arriving by ship. This was much preferred, since stage coach travel was bumpy and dusty!
Don and I had only traveled 2 minutes from our lodge, but we needed to sit and settle our nerves for a bit in the lovely lounge, surrounded by windows. We sipped on lemon water and pretended we were guests until we got up nerve to peek at the menu and ask about reservations.
The Pre Happy Hour Crowd
We wandered past the small crowd gathering early at the tiny bar near the dining room entrance. The earliest reservation opening was 9:30. "We'll take it!" We decided after a quick look at the menu that didn't look much steeper than most National Park Lodge dining rooms.
After spending time at our own sweet lodge on porch rockers, we returned later in the evening to the lounge. There were indeed some snooty guests, giving the poor bartender a very hard time. But there were some delightful and possibly sober guests, who were enjoying live piano music. Some sang along while others danced. We finally entered the dining room, only a little famished by 9:30.
Sharing the Book
Most National Park lodge employees are international students, which could make my "cookbook encounter" extra tricky. But we lucked out with a young and relaxed American student named Dominique. He was chatty and comfortable and made no attempt to hide the fact that he was glad his busy night in the dining room was almost over... and that his long work season was about to come to an end. He seemed to be the kind of guy that could handle a lady and her cookbook.
Time to Order
because young people don't generally care a bit about an old cookbook. He continued to explore the book, the date and pages. I announced, "Now you know you're going to have to be in a photo with that book? Is that okay?" "Sure." he answered with out paying attention. Then he asked if he could borrow the book for a minute and he ran off and returned with the manager and two servers.
Jim took our photo while Dominique held the book. A few diners seemed to be wondering what was going on, but no one bothered to ask. We placed our ordered and teased about expected spareribs, next time!
We did eventually eat. It was late and we didn't order big or linger long. Don's bacon cheeseburger with truffle fries was just about perfect. My spinach and cold rice salad was the excellent choice after over 2 weeks of road food dining. It all tasted fresh and that bacon was so crispy I had to steal some!
I'll add two more photos as a reminder that cookbook dining adventures bring out the fun in all of us. Wait a minute? I really am not sure what those expressions are about.. on my face! I really just wanted to capture the smile on the Adam, the manager's face. And the other photo shows Dominique's big smile. I guess I could have just cropped myself out... but cropping can sometimes remove part of the story! It was a fun dinner and evening.
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.