Nature Meets Luxury
This Labor Day, many of us will be spending the last long weekend of summer camping. But I have to admit, as much as I love pitching a tent and sleeping on the hard ground, I’ve been spoiled by glamping – glamour camping. That’s what my wife, Faith, and I enjoyed doing recently up near Bear Lake at Conestoga Ranch, where nature meets luxury.
Conestoga Ranch is perched on a hillside in Garden City overlooking Bear Lake. The views alone are worth the price of admission. And “camping” at Conestoga Ranch means not having to schlep sleeping bags, food, drink, a tent, firewood and whatnot for a night (or nights) of camping. That’s all taken care of and accomodations range from traditional tents outfitted with beds, rugs and chairs; and Conestoga wagons that evoke an Old West ambiance; to large Grand Family tents with king beds, electricity and in-tent bathtub, toilet and sink.
The Ranch is terrific for a personal escape from the city, but also ideal for events like weddings, corporate retreats and the like. They are equipped to support individuals, families and large groups with an on-site restaurant, a game room, general store, and an event tent. The staff is also happy to help arrange activities at Bear Lake as well as complimentary cruiser bikes, hiking, exploring caves and fossils, horseback riding and more.
To be honest, Garden City and Bear Lake aren’t exactly cutting edge culinary destinations. Thank goodness then for Campfire Grill at Conestoga Ranch, where the cuisine is fine dining but the ambiance and atmosphere is laid-back and casual.
Few restaurants are as inviting as Campfire Grill, which is an open-air, timber-framed, spacious eatery with a Western vibe. The food, however, is surprisingly upscale, with a focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients. And by the way, Campfire Grill is open to the public, so Bear Lake visitors and locals alike have the option of dining there even when not staying at Conestoga Ranch.
Breakfast is served from 8 to 11 AM and features items like cinnamon swirl French toast, steel cut oatmeal, maple-macerated berry pancakes, housemade granola, pulled pork biscuit and pepper gravy, a Conestoga Ranch Scramble, and much more.
At lunchtime the Grill offers a Bear Lake Wagyu beef burger, sandwiches such as a BLT, grilled chicken, pulled pork, and sides like sauteed broccoli, fries, grilled asparagus and sweet potato fries. There’s also an assortment of starters and salads, as well as a LIttle Ranchers menu for kids with stuff like Texas toast grilled cheese, a Lit’l Burger, campanelle pasta with marinara sauce or butter, and a traditional all-beef hot dog.
Parked at our dinner table with a soft breeze wafting through the restaurant, I took time to peruse the Campfire Grill beverage selection, which is surprisingly (for Garden City) robust. There’s a varied range of cold brews, hard cider, hard lemonade and hard watermelon, from brewers like Red Stripe, Epic, Deschutes, Sierra Nevada, Uinta, Angry Orchard, Mike’s, Park City Brewery, Wasatch, Lagunitas and more.
Most of the wines are available either by the glass or bottle, and we opted to enjoy a French Rosé wine from the Loire Valley: Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Rosé. It’s a very versatile wine that can partner with Campfire Grill dishes running the gamut from homemade chicken pot pie ($14), rendered duck breast ($26), and the Ballard Farms bone-in pork chop ($25), to a filet mignon with veal reduction ($35) and vegetable orecchiette pasta with grilled artichoke, sun-dried tomato, arugula, roasted garlic and parmesan ($19).
We kicked off our Campfire meal with a couple of outstanding starters. First up was a farm-fresh tomato and mozzarella salad ($10). Gorgeous, thick slices of red ripe farm tomatoes were layered with delicious fresh mozzarella, topped with fresh basil and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. As we would discover with the other appetizer we ordered, they are built for sharing – portions are generous, to say the least.
The Shrimp & Grits “starter” ($16) could easily have served as an entree. Five Cajun-spiced jumbo shrimp are served on a bed of smoked Gouda grits spiked with rendered bacon bits and sliced scallions. This was an irresistible dish and one of the best versions of shrimp and grits I’ve ever enjoyed.
Faith chose cherry wood-smoked salmon ($26) with maple reduction for her entree and it was outstanding. The perfectly cooked salmon came served atop a bed of charred, crispy Brussels sprouts (available as a side dish for $6). All Campfire Grill entrees include a choice of one side dish from a selection that includes grilled asparagus, French fries, sweet potato fries, kalettes and others.
In addition to starters/shared plate, salads, main dishes, sides and Little Ranchers menu items, there’s also a wood-fired pizza oven at Campfire Grill with pizzas that include classic Margherita ($12), four cheese ($11), Calabrese sausage ($13), prosciutto & arugula ($14), and a handful of others.
I opted for garlic “smashed” potatoes for my side dish and they were the only disappointment in my entire Conestoga Ranch escape. The potatoes had an excellent, garlicky flavor but huge chunks of undercooked potato made the side dish a disappointment. Someone in the kitchen needs to spend more time and effort “smashing” those spuds. Thankfully, we’d ordered some sweet potato fries as a side dish, as well. My herb-roasted, bone-in half chicken ($21), however, was another story. Served with nothing more than lemon-herb butter, the tender, juicy chicken was allowed to sing for its supper, without heavy sauces or seasoning cluttering up the dish. Well done.
I heartily recommend a stay at Conestoga Ranch – it’s a truly unique and beautiful change of pace, and one of the few camping venues I know that has free Wi-Fi. But whether you stay at the Ranch or not, a visit to Campfire Grill when you’re in the Bear Lake vicinity is a delicious escape in itself.
Culinary quote of the week:
This would be a better world for children if parents had to eat spinach. — Groucho Marx
FOR RESTAURANT REVIEWS GO HERE
THIS CONTENT IS FROM UTAH BITES NEWSLETTER.
GET OUR WEEKLY RESTAURANT REVIEWS, TED’S FAVORITE RECIPE AND DRINK OF THE WEEK DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX . TO SIGN UP FOR FREE GO HERE.
Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
SUPPORT OUR SPONSORS: click on their logos to visit their website