As it turns out, nature in Jackson Hole Wyoming is no laughing matter. Despite my numerous Rocky and Bullwinkle and garden-variety moose jokes, even I, was and remain still, blown away by what I and my iPhone saw in Jackson Hole. And that’s saying something because I am probably the most un mountain man to pass through these parts. Last night at a New Year’s party, I was asked if I went camping. It was probably one of the most humorous (and honest) no’s I have ever uttered. Still this is a landscape that would persuade me to become a member at REI, even if it meant spending a $1000 on equipment destined for a “like new” listing on craigslist. As far as Cheap Eats goes, my friends we have done you a tremendous service because Jackson Hole is damn expensive. Not a single restaurant we featured on this episode offered table service. And that’s not us being lazy. It’s THAT PRICEY HERE. There are a variety of reasons for this perfect storm of $$$ living: Ski Country plus tax incentives for the über wealthy, for starters. But saving money just ain’t the point here. The point is pristine mountain beauty. And plenty outdoor activities to work up an appetite. So grab a knife n fork, your AMEX(black if you got it handy) and let the Jackson Hole feast begin.
the spot: Il Villagio Osteria 3335 W. Village Drive Teton Village, WY 83025
the eats: the poutine(special), meatballs with house pulled mozzarella in pomodoro, braised boar shank over mashed potato and escarole
the bucks: $8, $8 and $30 respectively
the full nelson: a hip-happening proper Italian feast nestled in Teton Village
Il Villagio Osteria is a sterling example of why I would love to take a ski trip even though I am a bunny sloper 4 life. Yeah, it’s the food. Even at 6,000 feet, one can have the tastes of Italy, as long as you are willing to fork over the dough for a forkful of bolognese. No doubt the thrifty gourmand will cite numerous cheaper examples in larger cities or Italy of course (depending on exchange rates), but when it comes to Fine Italian dining in the Tetons, or any other range in the Rockies, Il Villagio is as good as it gets. Which also carries an expected a mountain sized tariff to go with your antipasti, so be warned. A couple clever menu maneuvers include the meatballs and poutine, that combined become a killer meal, you can share, and get out of the door for $20. But pulling off price maneuvers on a menu like Il Villagio also means exercising some self restraint, yet another exercise I struggle with. Which is probably how I ended up dropping $30 on this gorgeous if a tad bit lean, wild boar shank. It turns out exactly what drew me to those 4 exotic letters of “b, o, a and r” were exactly why this dish didn’t really land for me: too little fat. Boar, unlike cousin pig and me, likes to run, making for a less marbled meat. So the result is a distinct yet drier version of a pork shank. Still the jus and the escarole were dead on and might be a win for those who find the experience of unctuous eating as off putting as those who read the dreaded “u-word” in Yelp reviews. But for my money(and yours) I would go with the meatballs and poutine. Thou shall be stuffed.
the spot: Persephone Bakery Boulangerie and Cafe 145 E. Broadway Jackson, WY 83001
the eats: Egg Sandwich, Scone Skillet, Croque Madame
the bucks: $8, $10 and $8 respectively
the full nelson: a real deal Parisian Bakery in the middle of Jackson Hole
Persephone Bakery would be a God send pretty much anywhere in the US because it exemplifies but one of the many reasons why French cooking has been a God send to our culinary world: bread making. The French pretty much have nailed it when it comes to flour, water and yeast. They can make a single act of baking, like the croissant, into the most glorious of hand held meals. Now imagine throwing an egg on there, maybe some gruyere cheese, and my friends, you are eating well. In the case of their Croque Madame, we start with a thick slice of levain toast; made from a sourdough starter (though not sour like San Francisco style sourdough), then layer it with a slab of Creminelli Ham (a fantastic charcuterie maker in Salt Lake City), an organic soft egg, gruyere cheese, mornay sauce and a side of tomato jam. It tastes as big and as beautiful as it sounds, and it costs $8. The quality of food Persephone puts out is staggering, especially when considering the experience of ordering and retrieving a table resembles that of going to a Starbucks. But if that’s what keeps costs down – so be it. The Croque Madame may well have been the best breakfast I had in all of Season 2 of Cheap Eats, and it involved me bussing my own table. Go figure.
the spot: Fried Chicken Shack 3200 W. McCollister Dr Teton Village, WY 83025
the eats: Bahn Mi Fried Chicken sandwich
the bucks: $10
the full nelson: lunch salvation in the midst of ultimate resort luxury
Gavin Fine is two people. One is the type of restauranteur that evokes the spirit of a Danny Meyer. The type of business man who possesses a Midas touch when it comes to opening restaurants. The other is Gavin the homey. The dude who clearly loves life and sees the big picture. He is a humble guy but he isn’t soft spoken either – my kinda dude. He won’t brag about his degree in restaurant and hotel management from Cornell but I know he will talk up his chefs at any one of the seven restaurants he owns. Or talk up his partner Roger Freedman or really anyone he works with. His crew at the Fried Chicken Shack, and the Bodega where the food truck parks, clearly enjoy their jobs. But what makes Gavin a Cheap Eats homey is that he serves up a Jackson Hole lunch salvation in the form of 6 badass fried chicken sandwiches at $10 a pop. I scratch my head when I see people line up at a Chik- Fil-A. But it does give me some reference in illustrating the value being offered at the Fried Chicken Shack, regardless of its pricey zip code. A standard Chik-Fil-A fried chicken sandwich will run you approximately $3 and change, and it aint a meal without fries and a drink. Any of the $10 sandwiches at the Fried Chicken shack is a one and done no sides necessary affair and it’s easily 4 times as good. That means you’re saving at least $2 according to my Cheap Eats math. Big game changers here including sourcing chicken from Sonoma, California and a secret sauce that’s a riff on the flavors of Vietnam and the all mighty power of mayonnaise. Though the bun is a deviation from the traditional baguette signature of a banh mi – it handles the triple fried buttermilk marinated organic chicken thigh like a champ. It might be two hours past lunch for me, but thinking of this fried chicken sandwich makes me hungry enough to dig up loose change in the couch and leave a note for my family that I’ve gone out. If only Jackson Hole was drivable from Austin.
the spot: Nom Nom Doughnuts is always on the move so check the site or Social Media for locations
the eats: triple berry cheesecake donut
the bucks: $4
the full nelson: donuts for the people!!
When “the new food truck thing” hit Los Angeles in 2008-2009, I, like several of my fellow long time street food dining companions soon balked at the pricey phenomenon. Suddenly dropping $10 on a meal while standing up was “slumming it”. As time has marched on, the opportunity for chefs to bring their food to the public without the worry of investing in a brick and mortar seems to have outweighed the cons of of being conned for a lobster roll you had to track down on Twitter. A $4 donut might seem like a straight hustle to some but once again I must point to the exotic setting Nom Nom parks in and remind you all that if a cupcake can cost as much as $5, then surely a donut, like one that smuggles in a cheesecake under a blanket of triple berry glaze can cost $4. I would also tell you that one could share this donut because it is as big as it looks but I would also have to tell you that biting into a donut that is filled with cheesecake is as messy as it sounds, so plan on dining solo. This would also be an apropos time to remind you to schedule an appointment with your dentist.
the spot: Kim’s Corner Cafe 100 E. Snow King Ave Jackson, WY 83001
the eats: Spicy Pork Rice Bowl
the bucks: $10.25
the full nelson: a Korean food court find that would score points in LA, lodged in a mountain in the Tetons
I think most sushi aficionados really do their best to demand the traditional Japanese flavor experience. I count myself as one of them. Yet I still marvel at the brilliance of a good California roll. Who knew sushi rice, seaweed, crab with a K, soy sauce and avocado would taste so good together? Well some sushi chef in LA did in the 1980s and that same brilliant culinary crossing of two different food cultures is what brings me to the spicy pork rice bowl at Kim’s Corner Cafe. I spent 20 years in Los Angeles where I developed a taste for the strong flavors of Korean cuisine. Fermented this, garlicy that, oh and can we wash it down with some rice wine that’s doing its best to impersonate vodka? (I’m looking at you Soju). But I never came across avocado and Korean food. And the cool culinary crossover doesn’t just stop there. Kim knows her audience in Jackson: the outdoorsy/prone to eat healthy type and somehow slips in a fair amount of fresh greens and alfalfa sprouts into the mix. The final result is frankly an almost guilt free feast. The interior is literally a food court type setting but the proximity to ski lockers also mean that this restaurant is literally set against a mountain. A head scratcher of a setting but a unique one nonetheless. It says a lot about our current food renaissance that a little Korean fusion has made its way to Wyoming of all places. And the affordability factor means families with kids, of which I saw more than a few, are grubbing hard of the fruits of fermented flavors. Yeah, Kim’s is pretty cool like that.
the spot: Teton Thai 7342 Granite Loop road Teton Village, WY 83025
the eats: Tom Kha Gai
the bucks: $7, $13 with rice
the full nelson: a warning to those who can’t eat the spiciest food on the planet
Teton Thai puts out delicious, authentic Thai food in Jackson Hole. They also could send you to the hospital if you don’t think this Thai food is deadly spicy if ordered to the max. The waiter offered up a scale of 0-5. I took note of my surroundings and the race of the wait staff: Wyoming and Caucasian and said “gimme a 4. Dude I used to live in Thai Town back in LA. I’m good” I never really got to my main course. I did finish the Tom Kha Gai you see above; the ubiquitous coconut milk and chicken soup that has served as the starter for many a Thai feast. Look people, this place burned me from end to freaking end. I had to shoot the next day and said a little prayer to myself as I got ready that morning that I was gonna get through the day. I also have to add that this was delicious. Truth is I don’t get out to Thai all that much. My son has a peanut allergy and we just as soon avoid the cuisine all together, so when I do throw down on Thai, I relish it. Still my palate knows real deal from cheap meal and people, Teton Thai is it. Just order it at 2 or 0 if you’re averse to spice. I know had an entree, but I can’t remember – yeah it was THAT spicy.
It seems really funny to share this with but I tried to not like Jackson Hole as much as I did. See, I knew how expensive it was and how challenging it would be to return on the old pocketbook. But the beauty is real. It captivates. While I don’t have much advice for cheap lodging, I will say that these Cheap Eats we have found are truly worth their weight in gold because you are gonna spend all your gold getting here and laying your head down for a night. I really do believe that extravagance does not always make for the ultimate experience. But in the case of Jax Hole – well it’s gonna cost but my God are those Aspen trees in Autumn colors worth it. Easily a place where the landscape pics were as good as the food pics. So treat yourself one time and head out to Jackson Hole. Your iPhone will thank you for it. Mine did.