as a pair of old blue jeans” (www.custerresorts.com). And that describes our break for lunch along the Wildlife Loop of Custer (SD) State Park.
The Blue Bell Lodge was built in the early 1920’s by a Northwes-tern Bell Telephone Company executive and is named after the symbol of that company, a blue bell. At the entrance of the lodge is a small lobby that served as a place to register visitors staying in one of the guest cabins and as the hostess station for the lodge’s restaurant. I could see myself curling up with a book on one of the comfy sofas or just sitting and people-watching.
Tucked off to the side sat a stack of straw cowboy hats. It’s a funny thing about hats. In Montana and Wyoming, cowboys (or those wanting to be taken as cowboys) wore felt Stetson-like hats.
Here in South Dakota straw hats rule.
We were soon seated in the main dining room, and here the sense of casual comfort continued.
One wall was dominated by a large stone fireplace—the perfect structure to sit near on a cold night. The “twig” dining chairs, log-beamed ceiling, wagon wheel chandeliers, and tables set with live wild flowers invited you to sit back and relax. And, of course, this being the West, the walls were covered with numerous stuffed animal heads. In an adjacent room that was used as overflow dining sat a magnificent wood bar. (Photos of the interior are below.)
I usually take a dim view of park lodge food, but this menu included some interesting items. One appetizer was the Buffalo Brisket Quesadilla with shredded BBQ buffalo brisket, roasted corn, red peppers, onions, and cheese and topped with sour cream. Among the salads was the Salmon BLT Salad with fresh greens, grilled salmon, chopped bacon, tomatoes, red onion and croutons and dressed with sun dried tomato vinaigrette. Sandwiches included: the Wrangler’s Pulled Buffalo with baked pulled buffalo, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a grilled bun; the South Dakota Dip with slow-roasted beef with cheddar cheese on grilled sourdough bread and served with a side of au jus; and a choice from among a ground buffalo burger, beef burger, and chicken breast served on a tavern bun with your choice of lodge fried potatoes, coleslaw, Cowboy beans, or fresh fruit.
And if you were looking for a meal, your choices included: Chicken Fried Steak with mashed potatoes, pepper cream gravy, and vegetables; Chicken Penne Alfredo with penne pasta tossed with tender chicken, broccoli and Alfredo sauce; or Buffalo Meatloaf topped with mushroom gravy and served with mashed potatoes and Cowboy beans.
As we were studying the menu, we each ate a large square of complimentary cornbread with honey butter. The fact that no photo exists means—this is a multiple choice test:
A) we were starving, B) the cornbread was delicious, or C) both A and B. The correct answer: C (of course).
We shared an order of beer battered onion rings with a buttermilk ranch dressing. While not as thin as those in Louisiana, they were still on the thinish side and splendidly crunchy.
Chuck’s lunch selection was the two-piece white Lodge Fried Chicken that came with lodge-fried potatoes and Cowboy beans. The beans were slightly sweet from either molasses or brown sugar, but not syrupy sweet. The lodge potatoes resembled what in New Orleans are called “Brabant potatoes…fried potato cubes that have been quickly cooked in water before frying, which gives them a light, crunchy texture (and)…are a traditional accompaniment to a variety of classic New Orleans Creole dishes…” (www.foodnetwork.com). The chicken, which had a marvelously crisp crust, was just a little dry and overcooked.
I selected the Mac & Cheese Skillet—penne pasta, crisp bacon, and diced red peppers tossed with cheese sauce and topped with toasted cheese crumbs. The minute I saw the size of the portion I regretted eating the entire piece of cornbread. The dish contained lots—and I mean, lots—of bacon in a rich and creamy cheese sauce. A sauce so rich that it needed the savory bacon to cut the richness. The portion was so large that the leftovers fed both of us that night.
Well fortified by our 4.0 Addie lunch, your two intrepid big game hunters went back on the road in pursuit of elusive wild life.