Sunday, July 17, 2011

“You Can’t Miss It,”

said our campground (and horse camp) host, Jerry, when giving us directions to the Hitchrail Bar & Restaurant in Pringle, SD. “Just turn right at the stack of bikes.”

Guess what? We missed it on our first pass. Of course, if you’re not careful you’ll miss all of Pringle—the Elk Capital of South Dakota.

We took a short walk around town and dropped into the Pringle Mercantile Two Bar’s for a cool iced tea.

As we stepped inside, we realized that we had risked disrupting a billiards game—had one been in progress.

We slowly made out way past several ranch brands that had been burned into the wall along a two-foot wide space that served as the passageway for diners and a space for billiards players.

We took two seats near this wooden sculpture at the bar with the intention of asking the story behind the pile of bikes. But business was brisk--the three booths and four of the six stools at the bar were occupied--so we decided that some local lore is best left a mystery to travelers.

Then it was on to the other eatery on the street.

The Hitchrail is one of those places you might never hear about unless you are a local, are told about by a local, or have gotten lost on SD 385. But you are lucky if one of those three things happens to you.

“This small town in the Black Hills appears quiet and huddled against the cold winds, but in a nearby kitchen, Dennis Boitnott (Chef "D") is busy lighting Pringle on culinary fire. Since taking over the Hitchrail Bar & Restaurant in the center of town a few months ago, Boitnott’s simple but tasty tweaks on the menu’s casual fare are turning heads and attracting an appreciative clientele, both local and out-of-town.... Pringle is not the most likely spot for culinary experimentation. And yet, as game meat proliferates on restaurant menus and chefs are continuing to create innovative dishes with it, places like Pringle can arguably be considered food laboratories. Like any other enterprising chef, Boitnott is bent on creating what he hopes will be signature–and brisk-selling–dishes.

“In a reversal of the usual ‘small town boy makes it big in the big city’ tale, Boitnott left behind an impressive string of stints…at places like the Hyatt Hotels’ Condado Plaza in Puerto Rico, the Ritz Carlton, and Taos’ renowned El Monte Sagrado in order to downsize his life. ‘I got burnt out with the corporate atmosphere at a lot of these places,’ Boitnott says. ‘My passion is for cooking, not bureaucra-cy.’ He spotted the Hitchrail on a trip a few years back and saw that it was for sale; but he blew it off. When he came back it was up for auction, and he grabbed it” (Erika Kotite at toquemag.com).

My first reaction when walking through the doors is that the Hitchrail is South Dakota’s answer to the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe, MT. The walls are the same light colored pine. Animal heads prevail as wall decorations. “Customers tuck in at simple rectangular tables in a large dining room. Watching them from above is a convention of mounted elk heads, trophies contributed to the restaurant by local hunters.

A small fireplace warms the place in cold season, which can stretch up to 8 or 9 months at a time” (Erika Kotite at toquemag.com).

The Hitchrail is known for their prime rib, although Jerry sang the praises of the giant beef ribs. (All you can eat on Thursday nights for $12.00 or so. A normal order contains four large ribs—one evening Jerry ate eleven ribs.) There is no online menu, but the restaurant’s Facebook page shows that the following have been offered as specials; creamed black hills morel mushrooms with fresh thyme over homemade butter milk biscuits; fajita tacos; fried cod Reuben with house cut fries; fresh pan seared salmon with fresh sage and a roasted red pepper vinaigrette; and grilled rainbow trout with a sweet corn and chipotle relish.

We arrived sometime between 2:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.—too late for lunch specials and too early for the dinner menu. So we found ourselves ordering from the standard lunch menu. After much dithering, we decided to share three of the appetizers—a decision that our server found humorous. Maybe only cattle graze in South Dakota.

To begin was an order of three elk sliders. This was my first experience with elk in any form, and I found the meat to be comparable to buffalo—very lean and with a slight sweet gaminess. We ordered them “medium” and they had just enough juice to compensate for the lack of fat. (For some reason, menus recommend that buffalo or elk burgers be cooked medium to medium well. Why not medium rare?) The sliders came dressed with sautéed caramelized onions and a sauce that might have been their homemade garlic ginger steak sauce. These were quite good, and I may be daring enough to order a whole elk burger sometime in the future.

Second was an order of hot wings. “Big deal” you may be saying to yourself. We thought so. These were prepared just as we like them—with the hot sauce on the side. Why, we ask, do you fry the chicken wings crisp and then drown them in sauce? What do you get? Flabby skin, that’s what.

The final appetizer—jalapeno angels—was, for us, the least successful. Jalapeno peppers were sliced lengthwise and
topped with cream cheese and then a scoop of their house-smoked pulled pork. All of this was covered with a sauce made from cheese and BBQ sauce. Whether we were too full by that time or these were too rich and gooey, they just seemed like too much. These came with a huge pile of tortilla chips for scooping the remaining sauce.

Overall, this was a 4.0 Addie lunch and the next time you find yourself in the Pringle, SD, neighborhood, do stop in for some great food.

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Our schedule:
July 18 - Sundance, WY
July 21 - Glendo, WY
July 22 - Fort Collins, CO
July 31 - Rawlins, WY
Aug 3 - Lyman, WY
Aug 7 - Salt Lake City, UT