Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Nestled in a Forest...

of pine and spruce trees, the current Sylvan Lake Lodge owes its view to Frank Lloyd Wright. After the original Victorian-style lakeshore resort (model in photo on the left) burned down in 1935, Wright suggested the current location.

“Sylvan Lake Lodge is rich in history. Theodore Reder conceived the idea of a dam across Sunday Gulch to form what was originally called Custer Lake. The dam was begun in 1891. The original hotel, located near the dam, was opened in July of 1895. What is now called Sylvan Lake became a part of Custer State park in 1921. In 1935, a tragic fire burned the hotel to the ground. Plans were immediately made to rebuild the hotel. In 1937, the current hotel was opened. An additional 12 rooms were opened in 1991…. Sylvan Lake's designation as the ‘Crown Jewel of the Black Hills’ is quite befitting this spectacular corner of Custer State Park” (www2.coolworks.com).

The Sylvan Lake Lodge was the second of Custer Park’s lodges that we visited—both to have lunch and to wander around its public spaces. Just to the left of the main lobby is a warm and inviting lounge furnished with comfy looking loveseats, wing chairs, and rockers. Should rain spoil your vacation, I can’t think of a better place to while away an afternoon.

In one corner stands a small bar. How about an aperitif before supper or a brandy after while relaxing in one of the loveseats?

Maybe someone will play the baby grand.

Homage to the Native American influence is seen in the part modern and part traditional light fixtures.

The dining room was remodeled in 2009, but the high-ceilinged room still conveys a feeling of tradition. One wall is dominated by a large stone fireplace. Many of the floor-to-ceiling windows double as doors to the wrap-around patio. On the day of our visit, all of the diners were seated at the far end of the room where we had a commanding view of the nearby forest.

The menu contains a variety of salads, sandwiches, burgers—both beef and buffalo—and luncheon entrees. Chuck started with a cup of the creamy tomato basil which was—in a word—extraor-dinary. The creamy base contained small chunks of tomato and bits of minced onion and bell pepper and threads of fresh basil. The soup had a bright fresh tomato taste without being acidic. This sent me to Google to find comparable recipes.

For his meal, he chose the Tuscan Shrimp which contained a half dozen sautéed shrimp in a tomato concasse sauce with fresh basil, lemon zest, and capers served over cavatappi pasta. This was the type of sauce we both like – fresh chopped tomatoes that are lightly cooked with most of the cooking occurring when tossed with the hot pasta. The shrimp were firm and not mealy or mushy and had fresh flavor. The downside to the dish was an excess of capers. The tangy lemony flavor that is reminiscent of either olives or pickles overpowered everything else.

I knew that I wanted salad and had three to chose from: the Crispy Chicken Salad with romaine greens, crispy chicken, shredded cheddar, candied pecans, and bacon with homemade honey mustard dressing; the Shrimp Scampi Caesar with romaine greens, shrimp scampi, shaved parmesan, and homemade croutons with a creamy Caesar dressing; and Blackened Buffalo Salad with fresh iceberg, blackened buffalo sirloin, vine ripened tomatoes, marinated cucumbers, shredded carrots with homemade gorgonzola dressing.

Having only eaten buffalo as a burger, I decided to extend my horizons and go with the blackened buffalo salad. On a mountain of iceberg lettuce sat about ten large pieces of medium rare buffalo surrounded by cucumbers and roma tomatoes. The buffalo—which I ordered medium rare—had been rubbed with a blackening spice and then grilled so that the spice formed a flavorful crust on the meat that was a beautiful contrast with the slightly sweet meat.

The gorgonzola cheese dressing was milder than I expected from blue vein cheese based dressing. I would have like a little more “bite” to go with the blackened buffalo.

As with the Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park, I was surprised and impressed by the quality of this lodge’s food and rate the Sylvan Lake Lodge as a 4.0 Addie lunch destination.

Later that afternoon, we took a walk along the shore of Sylvan Lake. It was the time of day that the activities were winding down.

The fishermen were making their last casts,

the hikers were returning from the trails, the photogra-phers were composing one final picture, and

the boaters were returning to the docks.

It was a beautifully quiet time on the Crown Jewel of the Black Hills.