Flaming Gorge: Filling up on off-season service

Road Journals Blog—With nothing but coffee and road-trip food—sunflower seeds, tortilla chips, tangerines, and chocolate—to fuel us until we reached the Red Canyon Lodge's restaurant, my husband and I nearly sank our teeth into the menu before we’d even read past the appetizers. Eggrolls stuffed with black beans, green chilies, and cheddar. Portabella mushrooms with Vodka sauce. It was all enticing.

Red Canyon Lodge guest cabin

We decided to start our feast with smoked trout bruschetta. After all, this area is known for its fishing; since it’s difficult for amateurs like us to cast a line in the dead of winter we opted for the next best thing: eating someone else’s catch.

With only two tables in the restaurant filled—the area teems with tourists during the summer months but can be fairly desolate in December—we discovered the perks of off-season service. Our waitress, Debbie Weidmaier, took her time answering all our foodie questions, then retrieved the chef, Kris Brubaker, to provide more full-flavored descriptions of menu items.

His Szechwan chicken pasta features his own Japanese spice blend. For wild game he suggested the elk tenderloin or buffalo ribeye. (Brubaker hand-cuts the meat himself.)

My husband salivated. I sipped my red wine and thought about garlic, then ordered the pasta.

Food fawning aside, the slow pace allows Brubaker and Weidmaier to share more than routine service. Brubaker, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, didn’t intend to end up here—and certainly not for 15 years. But, he said, “the beauty and the solitude took the city boy right out of me.”

“It’s like your own little paradise in the summer here, never really feeling crowded,” said Weidmaier, who had been in town less than a year. It’s a paradise that attracts a surprising number of Europeans traveling the National Park circuit, who use the Flaming Gorge area as a stopping point between parks.

Flickr | Ken Lund

Although it was dark outside, Debbie painted a picture of the scenery outside the windows on summer days that involved hummingbirds and wildflowers on her favorite hikes. As we sipped coffee she brought us a book of are birds—spot stellar jays, gold finches, downy woodpeckers.

The other table had since emptied. We were the only ones in the restaurant.

Although we were full, I made a commitment to the berry cobbler, and I am the committed type.

In between serving our various courses, Brubaker and Weidmaier were busy tying fishing flies. After an inquiry by my husband, Brubaker brought over a small tray of his meticulously detailed “creatures.” My husband admired them; I wanted to pet them.

It’s not often that the entire staff of a restaurant bids you goodbye upon your departure, but when you spent the last hour talking to both of them it seems much more natural. That’s just the way things go in this part of Utah.

Peta Liston is writing about Flaming Gorge for an upcoming feature on VIAmagazine.com.

This blog post was first published in February 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.