Restaurant Reviews

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After visiting Colorado, our next stop was Midway, Utah just outside of Park City in the Heber Valley. It’s where my sister-in-law’s parents live and was a great stop over the 4th of July holiday, which is the busiest time of the year in national parks. My brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and niece flew out to meet us and show us around for our short time there, which was really fun. Her parents were fantastic hosts, too so I don’t have very many food or lodging recommendations for the area.

After leaving Utah, we embarked on the very unknown portion of our trip, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which served as our base for visiting Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park. Neither my husband and I had ever visited before, but I had gotten a lot of advice  about how to make the most out of a visit to the area. It’s essential to plan for a trip well in advance (just like to the Rocky Mountain National Park area) because lodging (particularly inside the parks) fills up quickly, up to a year in advance or earlier.

Day 7: Leave Estes Park at 9 a.m. for Midway, Utah (travel time: 8 hours with stops)

The drive to Utah took us east along the Big Thompson River and up through Fort Collins and into Wyoming to I-80 at Laramie. We took I-80 across southern Wyoming to Midway, which is just south of Salt Lake City, which is on the eastern edge of Utah. The scenery all along the route was just stunning as it changed from the mountains to buttes and rocks to prairies with wind farms and back to snow-capped mountains. I-80 is lined with signs about what to do when the interstate closes due to weather as well as snow fences, so it was very different from the interstate landscape of the south.

Midway is in the Heber Valley, with a view of Park City and Deer Valley’s ski areas, which turn to ATV trails in the summer. It’s a beautiful area.

Heber Valley

Day 8 (4th of July!): Midway, Utah

Much of the day was spent preparing for the neighborhood parade, but we did get a chance to visit Heber Valley Artisan Cheese for cheese curds and ice cream. Huckleberry (which is just another name for the wild blueberry) is one of the most popular flavors of ice cream (and just about everything else from syrup to lip balm) in this area, so I definitely had to try the huckleberry ice cream, which was delicious. I’m also a sucker for fresh, squeaky cheese curds (they have several flavors, but plain white cheddar is my favorite).

After the parade, the whole neighborhood has a party and watches the fireworks launched from Memorial Hill.

Heber Valley Artisan Cheese

Day 9: Park City, Utah

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law took my husband and me into Park City to walk around downtown. We stopped for beers and snacks first at Wasatch Brewery and again later on in the day at the No Name Saloon. It was fun to see this area on a quiet day; I’d only seen pictures taken of it during the Sundance Film Festival.

Day 10: Leave Midway, Utah for Teton Village, Wyoming (travel time with stops, about 6 hours)

To serve as a home base for our visits to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons National Park, I chose Teton Village, Wyoming. It is a quiet and small community of resort hotels, condominiums, and single family homes. We stayed at Eagle’s Rest Condominiums, at the base of the Jackson Hole ski area, walkable to the community playground, a handful of restaurants, and to the famous Jackson Hole Aerial Tram. Teton Village is much less crowded than Jackson proper and is closer to the entrance of the parks.

The drive from Midway took us along the border of Idaho and Wyoming, which we crossed several times. It was beautiful and the weather was clear but hot. We even got to see a moose (with head submerged) in a river alongside the highway.

In Afton, Wyoming the area known as Star Valley, we stopped for a mid-afternoon snack at Taco John’s. We didn’t know much about it, but we were intrigued. Out west, they’re big fans of mixing Tex Mex cuisine with tater tots. Nachos with tater tots as a base instead of tortilla chips? Yes, please.

View of Jackson Hole ski area from Eagle's Rest
Teton Village playground
Petting a foal in Teton Village

Day 11: Yellowstone National Park with Buffalo Roam Tours

We didn’t have much time to spend in the area and I had gotten a lot of tips regarding Yellowstone (what to see, what to skip, and what to expect). Since I knew this would be the most crowded time of the year, I opted to book a tour with Buffalo Roam Tours so we wouldn’t miss the best spots. Our guide picked us up at 7:15 a.m. and spent the day making sure we saw lots of wildlife and all the best parts of the part. We were able to see all the highlights in a day (which was about 13 hours) and more iconic wildlife than I’d ever seen. The guide was great for making sure we got to see Old Faithful blow, eat at the best restaurants in the park, get the best photos, and see everything since neither of us had to worry about driving. He even helped Mini Eats get her Junior Ranger certification.

Among the highlights was seeing a moose calf nursing with his mother, the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic, the hot springs, The Old Faithful Inn, and herds of bison, elk, and pronghorns (generally known as antelopes).

After such a long day, we were happy to dig into some takeout from Teton Thai, a great little restaurant in the Village.

Yellowstone Falls
geyser
Old Faithful
Inside Old Faithful Inn
hot spring
measuring the temperature of a thermal feature
steam from a thermal feature
bison
Getting her Jr. Ranger certification

Day 12: Grand Tetons National Park

We got up early to beat the crowds to Jenny Lake to take the shuttle boat across the lake and over to hiking trails to Hidden Falls. The lake is spectacularly beautiful and the falls were huge (you hike right next to them). There’s a popular swimming area on the lake, but we took the scenic drive up to Colter Bay and then to the Jackson Lake Lodge where we had lunch at the historic Pioneer Grill. It’s an old diner that’s been thoroughly restored and has a great menu. It’s really fun. All the seating is bar style.

Jackson Lake Lodge is also breathtakingly beautiful with spectacular views. It’s a great place to stay, I’m sure, if you can book far in advance. We also visited the dam on the Snake River that created Jackson Lake and also visited the “beach” at the String Lake swimming area. It’s warmer than other lakes, but still way too cold for me.

Jenny Lake
Jackson Lake
Pioneer Grill
Pioneer Grill

Day 13: Jackson Hole

I reserved a day just to explore around the touristy areas of Jackson and Teton Village. We started the day by taking the Aerial Tram up to the top of the mountain to Corbett’s Cabin, which is famous for its waffles. There’s not much else up at the top, but it’s popular for paragliding in the summer and for some hikes. There’s usually still a bit of snow for skiing, too.

After taking the tram back down the mountain, we drove to Jackson to shop for souvenirs, see the famous elk antler arches (the elk shed their antlers annually, so it is not grim at all), have ice cream at Moo’s. Jackson was a little too busy and there wasn’t much to do, so we headed back to Teton Village ride the gondolas up and down the mountain and the Teewinot chair lifts, too. We got an unlimited all-day pass so we just went up and down the mountain over and over. It was a lot of fun!

Later, we headed back to the Tetons to take some sunset photos and to see more wildlife, which gets more active in the evening. We had more ice cream and visited the swimming area of Jackson Lake (which was popular but also cold!). I’d wanted to see Swan Lake, but the hike was too long; by this point in our trip, Mini Eats wasn’t up for much more hiking. Afterwards, we visited the Snake River Overlook, the site of the famous Ansel Adams photo.

Corbett's Cabin
View from the top of the Jackson Hole ski area (including the aerial tram)
Jackson
Snake River Overlook (scene of the famous Ansel Adams photo

Next up is Part 3: Eastern Wyoming and South Dakota. See Wild West Road Trip 2017 Part 1: Colorado also.

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This summer, Mr. Eats, Mini Eats, and I went on an extensive road trip, nearly three weeks of seeing the sights of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and South Dakota (and a little of the states in between). It was by no means a culinary expedition--our focus was on national parks and monuments--but since I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the logistics, I thought I’d give some details here. Of course, I’ll include some of my favorite food-related stops as well!

Planning for the trip took nearly a year; reservations for accommodations in or near national parks during the summer book up that far in advance. The first thing I did was figure out what places we wanted to see and could reasonable drive to. Yes, I know they have those things called “airplanes,” but a) we had to take three seasons of clothing for three people and b) flying is just so unenjoyable and unpredictable these days that I didn’t want to risk it.

Our priority for the vacation was Yellowstone National Park, a place my husband and I have wanted to visit our whole lives. Our destinations also included visiting with my brother- and sister-in-law (and niece) at her parents’ house just outside Park City, Utah for the 4th of July as well as the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado (a favorite of ours), Grand Tetons, Devil’s Tower, and Mount Rushmore. We later added Badlands National Park to our itinerary since it was near Mount Rushmore. I wish would could have included more in Utah as well as Glacier National Park, but we didn’t want to rush our visits to the other areas.

Day 1: Leave Nashville at 6:30 a.m.; lunch on the road; dinner in Junction City, Kansas; stay in WaKeeney, Kansas Super 8 (travel time, with stops: 14 hours)

As I looked at the map, I decided that Colorado would be our first destination. I’ve driven straight through before, but I’m years older and have a 7-year-old, so we stayed overnight in WaKeeney, Kansas, having budgeted for about 13 hours of drive time, including breaks. It actually took a bit longer than that, so staying in Junction City, Kansas would have been better. Still, leaving at 6:30 a.m. on a Tuesday allowed us to avoid rush hour in Nashville, St. Louis, and Kansas City. We had no problems with traffic at all. But WaKeeney was just a little too far west and it was late when we arrived. But driving through Kansas is actually pretty cool. Different from years ago, now the landscape of western Kansas is covered in huge wind turbines, which look like dancers on the horizon.

Turbines collecting wind energy on the Kansas plains.
Playground at the best Sonic I've ever been to in Junction City, Kansas. The staff was fantastic and after many hours in the car, the kid thoroughly enjoyed this large playground.

Day 2: Leave WaKeeny and drive to Boulder, Colorado, four hours and spend the afternoon; drive from Boulder, Colorado to Estes Park, Colorado, one hour

The advantage of WaKeeney was that it was only four hours away from our first vacation stop, Boulder, Colorado. Note: the interstate around Denver is a tollway that photographs your car and sends you the bill later. And it ain’t cheap. This is particularly problematic for people who rent cars (we rented a minivan) because rental companies frequently assess fees for automatic tolls.

Anyhoo, we were so excited to arrive in Boulder. Our first stop was Illegal Pete’s, a local favorite on the Pearl Street mall. It’s mostly burritos and burrito bowls, but they’re huge and delicious. Afterward, we shopped, watched street performers, and got shaved ice before heading up to Estes Park.

After two days of road food, this salad at Illegal Pete's was so welcome. ALL THE VEGETABLES PLEASE.
Enjoying a shaved ice on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder.

Though we prefer to stay in Boulder, for this trip, I felt Estes Park was a better idea (and I was right). We need a condo with bedrooms and more home-like accommodations, which is easier to find in Estes Park. It’s also much closer to the park entrance and there’s lots to do for my very extroverted kid. We stayed at the Lofts at Estes Park on Riverside, which was walking distance to all the downtown shopping and restaurant district as well as to a playground and park area. The balcony of the condo overlooks the Big Thompson River as it flows through the town, which is spectacular.

Enjoying a local brew on the patio of Poppy's in Estes Park. The Big Thompson River is in the background. A great place for dinner.
Two of our pizzas at Poppy's they're deceptively hearty! We couldn't finish them, so we got two meals out of one dinner.

Also nearby was Poppy’s Pizza, a really great little restaurant with wonderful salads and pizzas and a patio right next to the river. It was very reasonably-priced and we actually all got two meals out of our pizzas (thankful to have a full kitchen at the condo).

Day 3: Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Ridge Road, Alpine Visitor's Center, Tundra, Continental Divide, Lake Irene

I had to be flexible on our itinerary to allow for rainy days (rainy afternoons are almost a certainty in most mountain areas, though). I had plans that could be adjusted based on weather. So for our first day in the park, we got out early and drove along Trail Ridge Road all the way up to the tundra, Alpine Visitors Center, over the Continental Divide and down to Lake Irene. We hiked several trails at the high altitudes, which was tough for the first day, but took it easy for the rest of the day. We had a nice picnic at Lake Irene (I took a cooler so we could take food) and Mini got to play with some other kids in a meadow. We also saw lots of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, which I’d never gotten to see in person.

At the top of the trail at the Alpine Visitors Center
View from the tundra.

Day 4: Denver Museum of Science & Nature, Boulder Creek Path, Chautauqua Dining Hall

The next day (a Friday), the weather in RMNP was projected to be rainy, so we drove to Denver to visit the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. It’s huge and there were several special exhibits I liked (particularly about minerals and gemstones and Colorado’s mining history) but a large portion was dedicated to dioramas of various places and wildlife that was taxidermied. It was like a macabre zoo. But Mr. and Mini loved it.

On the way back to Estes Park, we stopped back by Boulder to walk along the Boulder Creek Path and have an early dinner at the Chautauqua Dining Hall. Mr. Eats indulged in western specialty meats (bison meat loaf!) and I had a wonderful vegetable pasta. Mini Eats had mac and cheese and a generous bowl of mixed fruit. We also toasted the beginning of our vacation with two spectacular cocktails. After dinner, Mr. Eats strolled around the base of the Flatirons while Mini and I hung out at the playground. After four days of interacting with mostly just her parents, she was happy to make some new friends.

Chautauqua Dining Hall with the Flatirons in the background.
Cocktails! Black Forest (whiskey, ginger, blackberries, soda & mint) and Ginger Pear Mule
Bison meat loaf
Garganelli with squash, peas, tomato, and nicoise olives in a tomato fondue
Mini Eats enjoying the mac and cheese and mixed fruit

Day 5: The Stanley Hotel, RMNP Cub Lake hike, Colorado Cherry Company

On our third day in Estes Park (a Saturday), we started with breakfast at The Stanley Hotel. Reservations don’t fill up for the restaurant, but they do for the ghost tour, so we had to skip that. We did get to enjoy walking around the grounds of the hotel and enjoying the spectacular weather.

View of Estes Park from The Stanley Hotel
Playing on the lawn of The Stanley Hotel

Afterward, we went back to RMNP. Since it was already mid-day, we opted for the less-busy trails accessible by shuttle from the park-and-ride. The plan was to do the Cub Lake and Fern Lake trails (which are connected), but I mis-read the information about the length and elevations. So, we ended up doing just Cub Lake, but it was about six miles with a 1,000 foot climb in elevation. We didn’t have enough water or snacks to make it to Fern Lake. I was also concerned about missing the shuttle back to the park-and-ride, since we were out for six hours. It was more stressful than I’d planned, but it was a beautiful trail and we got to see a mink (or ferret) catch a snake right next to us and also have fish nibble our toes. After finishing this exhausting hike, we drove out to Lyons to eat at The Colorado Cherry Company. Pies, and cobblers, and ice cream for all.

Day 6: RMNP popular lake trails

On Sunday, we got up early to do the popular hikes, since we knew the crowds would be heavy (this was July 2; the 4th of July holiday is the busiest for national parks). We barely made it into one of the last parking spots at the park-and-ride and then headed to Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. Dream Lake was a real treat and worth the climb in elevation and across creeks and snowbanks. There’s a spectacular waterfall, too.

After finishing those trails, we visited Bear Lake (the easiest and most popular trail in the park) and then headed to Sprague Lake for a late picnic lunch. It was once the home to a resort and is still a really fun place to have a picnic since you can play in the creek nearby.

Later, we had leftovers from dinner at the Chautauqua and toasted our last night in town with mead from the nearby Redstone Meadery.

Next up, Part 2: Midway, Utah and Teton Village, Wyoming  and Part 3: Eastern Wyoming and South Dakota.

 

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Every year for Mr. Eats’s birthday, we go out and have a very fine, civilized meal. Last year was 404 Kitchen; the year before that was Kayne Prime. This year, I decided on Prima. Like Kayne Prime, Prima is a steak house, which seems like it would be an odd choice for a vegetarian, but like Kayne Prime, there is much more to Prima than just steak. In fact, if I hadn’t been told it was a steak house, I wouldn’t have known.

And that was the issue that Steve Cavendish had with the restaurant when he reviewed Prima for the Nashville Scene. His review was titled, “Prima is a really good Mediterranean restaurant, and a so-so steakhouse,” which gave the impression that it was not a good review. It was, in part, a great review of everything on the menu except the steaks. But let’s be honest: it’s not difficult to cook a steak. It is difficult to cook a steak that will wow you. Because it’s just steak. I asked my husband what was the best steak he’s ever had and he said it was the sous vide/pan seared steak that was served at a friend’s house recently. Not a steak in any restaurant. But they have to have steak on the menu, because the Bill Braskys of the world want a $50 steak when they’re dining on the company dime.

So there’s the background on Prima. And why I thought it would be a good choice for dinner. The menu changes frequently based on what’s seasonal and available, but I knew that they would accommodate me if there was nothing on the menu that suited me. Indeed, most of the sides had some sort of non-vegetarian component (such as pancetta or beef fat), but that was just fine because there was a good selection of salads and soups that would make a good meal. No need to ask for a vegetarian entrée at all.

I started out with the sweet potatoes appetizer. The potatoes are cooked in the skin to the point where it’s crispy and the flesh is creamy (not stringy at all; how do they do that?) and served with grilled onions and fig jam and topped with shreds of ricotta salata. It’s a huge portion, definitely meant for sharing and very delicious. The onions have just a bit of heat that is cooled by the delicate pieces of ricotta. Mr. Eats had the octopus starter, which I recommended based on friends tasting it an event a couple of months ago. The citrus zest really sets it off and Mr. Eats commented that the texture was perfect; not rubbery at all.

sweet potatoes with charred onions, fig jam, ricotta salata
sweet potatoes with charred onions, fig jam, ricotta salata
octopus with corona beans, olives, orange zest
octopus with corona beans, olives, orange zest

For dinner, I had the corona bean soup, which was a vegetable stock based hearty soup that also included bits of carrot, wilted arugula, and I think parsnips or potatoes as well. It was a heavy soup that I couldn’t even finish; it could be a meal on its own (and it will be because you know I brought it home with me). I also had a swiss chard and farro salad with dried cherries and pistachios. The chard was cut into ribbons, tossed in a vinaigrette and mixed with the farro, cherries, and pistachios and then topped with two scoops of deep fried goat cheese. The goat cheese was a substitution that I requested since I’m not a fan of blue cheese. This was one of the best salads I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what else to say about it other than you should try to go there soon before it disappears (though it is a recent addition to the menu, having replaced a kale salad). My husband got a grilled trout (not pictured, for obvious reasons) that was fileted and plated tableside and was huge. As a side, he ordered the grilled broccoli salad, which apparently is lightly seasoned with Beach Road 12 sauce from Martin’s BBQ Joint. He said both were fantastic.

corona bean soup with wilted arugula, seasonal vegetables
corona bean soup with wilted arugula, seasonal vegetables

 

chard salad with cherries, pistachios, and goat cheese
chard salad with cherries, pistachios, and goat cheese
grilled broccoli salad
grilled broccoli salad

By the end of the meal, I was too stuffed for dessert, which is too bad because there was this chocolate orange and olive oil concoction that sounded as if it were made just for me. Not a fan of the chocolate and citrus combination, Mr. Eats opted for the dulcey chocolate bar, which was actually milk chocolate and mousse-like. He loved it because he prefers milk chocolate to dark. Even better—the staff made sure it was specially-prepared for the occasion.

dulcey chocolate bar
dulcey chocolate bar

This seems like the time to mention how fantastic the service was. It’s team service with different staff members for refilling your water (still or sparkling, both complimentary), bringing you a linen napkin (your choice of black or white), and bread service (do not skip the bread; it is delicious). The service was knowledgeable, helpful, and attentive without being intrusive. Other little things that made it nice included that though the restaurant was about 75% full and the kitchen is open to the restaurant, it was not loud. I also didn’t feel crowded up against the tables nearest us. And of course, the gorgeous light fixtures gave us something to gawk at between courses. There is also a valet and complimentary self-parking in the Terrazzo garage. Dress is business casual and up (it's Nashville; men are almost always in jeans, though).

dazzling light fixture in Prima
dazzling light fixture in Prima

Prima
700 12th Avenue South
Open for dinner nightly