Southern Wyoming elevates dining and drinking as aspiring entrepreneurs brave a new culinary frontier.
Upon embarking on our journey to Southern Wyoming, we wanted to find the culinary characters that embodied the rugged individualism of the west. With towns all spaced approximately 90 minutes along stretches of endless highway, through acres of scrubby prairie abutted against searing azure blue sky and soaring mountains, we had plenty of time to ponder our mission in tasting our way through three of state’s largest cities, Laramie, Casper, and the state capital, Cheyenne and one of the smallest Saratoga Springs. We eagerly jumped into our SUV for four days of delectable discovery.
Our first stop was Laramie, where the only four year college resides attracting many of the state’s youth in their pursuit of higher learning. With all those hungry and often broke college students around, would there be any noteworthy dining establishments aside from a burger joint, pizzeria and taco place? We were pleasantly surprised as we made our way to the main drag of this university western stylized town where the railroad yard runs smack dab in the restaurant corridor.
Laramie became a permanent town when the Union Pacific railroad established it s division headquarters there over hundred years ago. In 1887 Wyoming University opened to both men and women. Laramie draws academician but pays homage to the cowboy culture of yesteryear with historic 150 year old buildings lining the downtown area where breweries, eateries and retailers give everyone amble choice on where to dine, shop and drink with western style and swagger.
We made our way to not a eatery filled with Taxidermy and testosterone, but to Sweet Melissa’s where dining on cauliflower dressed in buffalo sauce will have you rethinking traditional chicken wings and salads are vibrantly fresh and innovative like the spinach salad with chunks of warm sweet potatoes, pomegranate seeds, and walnuts tossed with an apple cider vinaigrette that will make you glad you went green and clean for a moment.
Sweet Melissa’s is located in the historic downtown Laramie and offers the best in vegan and vegetarian cuisine and is also adjoined to Front Street Tavern a popular watering hole for local beers and crafty cocktails.
Filled with the green goodness, we had to seek out some of the great beef that Wyoming is known for but first a local beer or two would be appropriate to kick off a walk down the main drag of Laramie. This today is the end of the semester pub crawl for the college students. As we meandered into Coal Creek Tap where a coffee house and a tap room happily co-exist as eager college pub hoppers were spilling into the entrance eager for their fill of ample ale. With a hefty glass red ale in hand, we sat at the café style tables along the street, watching slightly inebriated collegiates donned in colorful costumes, including a very masculine princess lea, walking and biking their way from bar to bar.
After a hour of perpetually humorous people watching we made our way to Altitude Chophouse and Brewery for some sustenance and another round of local beers. The brewery lays claim to 24 awards at various beer festivals and most recently a gold medal for their Altitude Altbier.
This time we had a few moments with owners Karen Robillard and Greg Smith chef of Altitude to find out more about this culinary hot spot in Laramie. “Altitude is one of the only fine dining venues in Laramie which we have owned for 19 years, “said Greg. “The space was remolded several years ago which now offers a more modern sleek dining space.” Late in the evening Chef Justin joined us and explained he spent several years away from Laramie honing his culinary talents at Culinary school and working in Dallas Texas for a stint. “Greg and Karen encourage our creativity along with our bar managers in coming up with interesting and pleasing dishes and drinks,” said Chef. Being a Friday evening, the place was filled with eager diners, and the bar was lined with happy imbibers.
Eager to get started, our affable and knowledgeable server Melissa gave us the specials for the evening but it was Greg’s suggestion of the ribeye that we instantly agreed would be a good choice. Perfectly medium rare, the knife just glided through the warm marbled meat, redolent with ribeye richness while a garnish of delectably friend onions and a dallop of Worcestershire sour cream sauce add another level of flavor and texture.
The menu plays into an all American menu with plenty of options for everyone in your dining party. Desserts are also house made from a local pastry chef and should not be missed. www.altitudechopeshouse.com
After dining and drinking around the town some exercise was needed and we rounded ourselves up and made our way to Vedauwoo, the name Vedauwoo (vee-da-voo) is a version of the Arapaho Indian word “bito’o’wu” meaning “earth-born.” Located just 20 miles outside of town the park is home to freakishly large boulders that draw rock climbers from all over the globe but with multiple danger warning signs, we were amazed that anyone would take the risk at wide-crack climbing. There are over 900 climbs listed on their website for all those who are inclined to make the climb. We chose to stay on the ground and give gratitude to Mother Nature’s endless wonders. www.vedauwoo.org
On our way back to town we stopped at the Wyoming Territorial Prison where the 150 anniversary of its establishment was being saluted with bands, a car parade and a crowd of interested visitors.
The lilting bluegrass music caught our attention as a group of fiddlers and banjo players welcomed everyone to this memorable occasion. Built in 1872 as a way to bring law and order to the territory known for renegades, hucksters and snake oil salesmen, the prison housed over 1,000 men and 12 women over its 19 year period.
The grounds and the buildings where restored in 1989 into a 190 acre state historic site which now showcases a re-created frontier town, museum and the historic prison surrounded by a w ominous wooden stockade type structure with lookout towers, and smaller prisoner workshops. Looking into the cold grey cells that where the fate of the most notorious outlaws such as Butch Cassidy gave us a rare look at the harsh realities of the western frontier.
Sun setting over the rolling plains and silhouetted mountains, we checked into the Holiday Inn Laramie, complete with full bar and adjoining restaurant. Our Jacuzzi tub never looked so good, as the warm jets brought a calming relief to our first day in Cowboy country.
Before heading to off to the other “big” cities, we had a juncture at a very small town, Saratoga Wyoming known for the natural hot springs, the Saratoga Resort and Spa and the historic Wolf Hotel. As we entered the main street of weathered buildings, and clapboard walkways, the Historic Wolf Hotel looms as the true hub of this tiny hamlet.
From an 1800’s stage coach stop to a building listed among the national registry of historic places, husband and wife hoteliers, Douglass and Kathleen Campbell, the proud 2018 recipients of the Big WYO awards honoring their many years of promoting and protecting Wyoming Tourism, have labored to keep the legacy of this Saratoga mainstay alive and well. “ We have definitely had our ups and downs over the years with this property, but we have been dedicated to the integrity of this historic building as a hub for tourism as we are a favorite stop for those traveling to Yellowstone,” said Kathleen.
With an old-timey western saloon complete with swinging wooden doors, Taxidermy, and pool hall that you are waiting for burly cowboy types to come sauntering in for a cool brew and a game of pool. Opposite the saloon, is the more upscale dining room where hungry travelers can have the taste of some of the best Prime Rib in the Wyoming. “The Prime Rib is certainly what we are known for,” said executive Chef Edge. “Douglass has a special way of aging the meat and we hand cut all our steaks and prime Rib.” Staying at the hotel transports you back to a bygone era that seems to have been frozen in the timeless walls of the Wolf.
A short stroll from the Wolf, is an newer diner that has brought a breath of entrepreneurial fresh air to this sleepy town; the Firewater Public House where former Denver resident, Danny Berau put down his restaurateur roots along the North Platte River with his hipster gastro pub.
Chef Robert Jones is cooking up some creative cuisine with dishes such as Shrimp & Grits with a crisp mound of grits, surrounded by 8 plump shrimp and sautéed fresh veggies accented with a creamy gruyere and the burgers are mouthwatering layered on house made buns with all the accoutrements.
Before leaving town we stopped in for breakfast at Lollipops next door to the Wolf where owner Danielle has re-created a 50’s diner vibe with great grub and goodies to put a smile upon your face.
Starting off early, as our next city was miles away that of Casper Wyoming. Cresting over the windswept prairie we can upon giant white skeleton like wind turbines looming over the desolate landscape which lent more fiction novel as they towered ominously over the desolate landscape. We finally arrived, and made our way to the Candlewood Suites, to drop the luggage and make our way to Nicolaysen Art Museum, Backwards Distillery and FireRock for a dinner with restaurateur John Johnson.
Meeting us the Nicolaysen was executive director Ann Rible who is an enthusiastic new comer to Casper. “We are creating true a community arts center with engaging programs such as our Discovery center that offers hands on art activities and special programs for all ages,” said Ann. We had the opportunity to see a local school art show featuring hundreds of fabulous pieces from area school children along with a unique opportunity to view the vault where some of the many of the 6,000 art pieces are house before going on display. The museum focuses on the contemporary artists of the Rocky Mountains and is a mainstay for musical, and food events as well. www.thenic.org
After a feast for the eyes, we decided to try a satiate our thirst with a trip Backwards Distillery. Located on in an industrial park. This hidden gem is a must stop when in Casper. Recreating the feel of an old-time speak easy with the zany twist of 1920’s old timey circus, owner Amanda Pollock is doing her best to bring an spirits education to the people of Casper, with cocktail classes that educate as well as stimulate an appetite for mixology at its best.
Working up an appetite we headed over to Fire Rock for a aged steak cooked over a wood fire grill and a great glass of vino and a interesting cocktail. Diner at this upscale steak house was the best way to end an eventful day in the town of Casper and tomorrow was our last stop the state Capitol of Cheyenne.
When many people think of Cheyenne Wyoming images of cowboys, rodeos and trains dance in their head. This capital city is certainly that but so much more. Its home to world class mountain biking, climbing, camping, craft breweries, outstanding scenery and some of the best steaks you can find. A visit to Cheyenne offers great opportunities for all to enjoy the State Capitol of Wyoming.
We made our way to a true gem in downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming, the Nagle Warren Mansion was built in 1888 by businessman Erasmus Nagle and restored in 1997 by inn keeper and owner Jim Osterfoss, and features 12 guest rooms, three conference rooms with luxury around every corner. The historic mansion is completely opulent with exquisite Victorian furnishings, a stunning collection of rare art pieces, as well as bright, colorful stained-glass bay windows that afford a perfect morning wake up. Room décor abounds with period furnishings as well as a classic study area that provides a peaceful environment for both work and relaxation. Guests enjoy a daily home cooked classic breakfast in the formal dining room that features fresh local ingredients prepared by their in house chef.
Cheyenne is the home of Rib& Chop House, known for their premium steaks, fresh seafood and award-winning babyback ribs. All dishes are served with true “Rocky Mountain Hospitality” Diners enjoy the best certified Angus Beef Steaks, Babyback Ribs and some of the freshest seafood in the West.
Their award-winning baby back ribs are marinated for 24 hours in a secret seasoning, and then slow cooked in a special oven, lightly glazed house made BBQ sauce and finished on the grill. Cheyenne has a lot to offer visitors of all ages and well worth a visit.