When my family was planning this summer’s National Parks Extravaganza, I did a little research on local eating in the cities through which we were traveling as we moved from park to park – Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle. As expected, I was able to find multiple restaurants and often a farmers’ market open the day of our travel through each city. However, I figured the National Parks food service offerings themselves wouldn’t even be part of my search – of course there’d be nothing local there! It was food service food. Even worse, government food service food. Something to be avoided when possible and put up with when unavoidable. Certainly nothing promising for a fan of local foods, or any foodie for that matter.
Our very first stop forced me to rethink that assumption. Boy, did I underestimate the potential of the National Parks food service. The food was often very good, and several stops were a traveling locavore’s dream. Yellowstone was a standout.
Our first three nights in Yellowstone, we stayed at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. We arrived very late on a Friday evening and were up at 5:30 am – an hour before any dining room opened – for a wildlife safari with SafariYellowstone. After a long, blustery early June day viewing wolves and grizzlies, we arrived back at our cabin pleasantly exhausted and decided instead of driving back into Gardiner, Montana, for dinner we’d eat in the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel dining room with its view of grazing elk, some with calves, in the field across the parking lot
The first thing on the menu to catch my eye was the farm-raised, house-smoked trout appetizer, which appeared again as an entrée. I did a second take. Farm-raised bison brats and bison top sirloin. Montana Ranch Brand natural beef burgers. Rod-and-reel-caught Montana whitefish.
Turns out Yellowstone (and Xanterra, who runs Yellowstone food service) pays more than lip service to sustainable dining. They use Montana Ranch Brand lamb, Montana Legend beef, Miller Farm pork, Timeless Farms legumes, Amaltheia Dairy goat cheese, and local farm-raised game and trout. According to notes on the Mammoth Hot Springs dining room menu, “Our efforts are supported by the Corporation for the Northern Rockies, the Nature Conservancy, the Marine Stewardship Council, and the Animal Welfare Institute and helps support over 350 family farmers and ranchers in nine states.”
Lunch and dinner at both Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel dining room and Old Faithful Inn dining room offered several local selections. The menus at Mammoth Hot Springs, which attracts a more upscale crowd than Old Faithful, were particularly impressive. Breakfast was a little more food-servicey in both dining rooms, but at Mammoth Hot Springs there was at least one local offering for breakfast.
And the beer! My locaquaffer husband, who was resigned to yet another beer list starting with Bud and ending with Coors Light, was beside himself. No fewer than 9 locally micro-brewed ales and lagers appeared on the menu (Bayern Pilsner Lager, Snake River Lager, Fat Tire Amber Ale, Snake River Pale Ale, Teton Ale, Moose Drool, Bitch Creek ESB, and Black Butte Porter), plus another four draught selections (Bozone Hefeweizen, Old Faithful Pale Golden Ale, Lewis Lake Lager, and Headstrong Pale Ale) that were also local micro-brews. Under the heading “Mainstream” (which made us giggle a bit in its disdain for those who would drink such swill) were exactly FIVE beers, and even one of those was a regional lager (Rainier) which as my husband pointed out at least gets them half a point.
They even offered a few local wines. Who knew? Our barmaid – who seemed as impressed as we were with the selection – pointed out that nothing on their wine list was from out of the country, and while California predominated, there was an offering from Montana (Mission Mountain Chardonnay), one from Idaho (Sawtooth Riesling), and several from Washington and Oregon.
And you can’t beat that view from the window.