Friday, May 29, 2009

Lunch with Irma

One thing about restaurants in this part of Wyoming, they all have many of the same basic elements of interior design.

The two most prominent are chandeliers made from elk antler and large game heads (or the heads of large game animals) hanging from the walls. And why is it that their beady glass eyes all seem to be looking at me? And so was the case with the restaurant at the Irma Hotel.

The Irma has both a lunch menu and a lunch buffet. After the hostess led us to our booth, I immediately went to scope out the buffet offerings. That day they offered cowboy beans, potato salad, macaroni salad (made with penne), buffalo sloppy Joes, chicken enchilada casserole, buffalo lasagna, carved ham, and bread pudding. Looked interesting. Then I looked up. Directly above the buffet was the head of a giant buffalo. I rapidly returned to our booth and opened the menu.

But before ordering, we took time to study the dining room of the hotel that Buffalo Bill Cody had built in 1902, calling it "just the sweetest hotel that ever was." Cody, born in LeClair, Iowa, (just south of Kate's hometown of Clinton, Iowa) on February 26, 1846, named the hotel after his youngest daughter, Irma.

The centerpiece of the dining room is the cherrywood backbar which was presented to Colonel Cody in 1900 by Queen Victoria of England in appreciation for his command performance. It was made in France, shipped to New York by steamer, shipped by rail to Montana, and then by horse drawn freight wagon to Cody. It was valued at $100,000.

The tin plated ceiling is reflected in the mirror over the bar (right). Also shown in the photo is a buffalo head sculpture over the mirror.

Similar sculpted buffalo heads are mounted on the ends of each booth and serve as coat hooks. In 1867 at the age of 21, Cody went to work for the Kansas Pacific Railroad and had the dubious job of killing 12 buffalo a day in order to feed the large construction crews. Cody claimed to have killed some 6,570 buffalo in the 18 months he worked for the railroad, thereby gaining the nickname "Buffalo" Bill.

This ornate cash register at the bar seemed to have been with the bar for many decades. Cody could not recoup his investment in the ornate furnishings, but he wanted to show the confidence he felt that someday Cody Country would prosper.

But back to the menu. The lunch menu had the usual suspects, including (but not limited to) soups, salads, beef and buffalo burgers, french dip, a couple of variations on the chicken sandwich, and a fried fish sandwich. There was also an open faced prime rib sandwich and an open faced sirloin sandwich. Chuck has been hungry for meatloaf and was disappointed to learn that meatloaf only appears on the Irma’s dinner menu. Then he noticed the next best thing – the hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.

First, the shredded beef was tender, moist, and had an almost sweet flavor. It is no wonder that signs all over the state proclaim “Wyoming is Beef Country.” I have always believed that Iowa raised the best beef cattle, but I have to give Wyoming its props. The beef here is very good.

With the beef came a large serving of excellent real mashed potatoes. Still containing small but noticeable lumps, the light addition of chopped chives gave the bland potatoes extra flavor. And the serving was even large enough for my potato loving traveling companion. And the beef and potatoes were covered with savory rich beef gravy. Talk about being in comfort food heaven! His lunch was finished before I had eaten a quarter of mine.

And speaking about mine. I kept looking at the menu but didn’t want a traditional sandwich or either of the two open faced sandwiches. I then saw the Wild West Grilled Salmon salad. After looking around the room and ascertaining that there were no mounted fish hanging from the walls, my choice was made. And what a choice!
First came a single layer of romaine. Next came a bed of chopped iceberg lettuce mixed with baby greens. This was topped with a layer of grilled vegetables that included carrots, red onions, broccoli, cauliflower, red and green peppers, two hardboiled egg halves, and sliced tomatoes. Finally, there were two good-size filets of salmon which had been grilled with a maple glaze. A cup of blue cheese dressing came on the side.

This was perfect. The veggies were still crisp but had a sweet and smoky flavor from the grilling. After a taste, I decided not to spoil the flavor with the dressing. The wild river salmon was moist, flakey, and sweet with just enough glaze but not so much as to hide the sweet flavor of the fish. Perfect!

A meal at the Irma is more than just food--more like having lunch with Irma than at the Irma.

This photo of Irma was taken in 1902 when the Hotel opened.

Fortunately, the food matched the setting and earns a 4.5 Addie rating and my high recommendation for the salmon salad.

No comments: