The Campfire Grill offers high-end dining with a rustic, outdoor ambience and a view of beautiful Bear Lake.
Maybe it should be called the Glampfire Grill, as it’s part of a luxury “glamping” resort called the Conestoga Ranch, where campers enjoys comforts like real beds, hot showers and flushing toilets.
Bear Lake, on the Utah-Idaho border, is popular for sun-drenched days of boating, beaching and family reunions. When Tom Hedges visited a few years ago, he was blown away by the turquoise-blue waters, the sunny skies and rugged hills. Being in the vacation rental/resort industry in Jackson Hole, he realized there was some potential for resort-type lodging and dining. (How many days can you live on raspberry shakes?)
The Campfire Grill is part of the resort, but it’s open to the public. In its third season, I expect that word is spreading and lots of condo-dwellers or campers are taking advantage of a night out.
I had dinner with one of the Conestoga Ranch’s owners, Tom Hedges, along with sales director Keith Battaglia and a fun couple from Australia who are writing and filming their travels in the Western U.S. Since we were in a group (and willing to share), I was able to taste and/or photograph quite a few menu items. Everything I tasted was thoughtfully prepared and well-seasoned. For those who want it, there’s an extensive wine and beer list.
I don’t usually order a burger, but I thought I should try the Wagyu Beef Burger ($18), because it uses Bear Lake-raised beef. Mike Knapp and Rich Smart, who are part-owners of the Conestoga Ranch, are also partners in Bear Lake Beef, which has crossed the Wagyu and Angus cattle breeds to come up with an all-natural prime beef. (There’s also a Bear Lake Wagyu Beef Meatloaf on the menu, but I was told it wasn’t as photogenic, so I decided to go with the burger.)
The burger was great — juicy with lots of beefy flavor. I was also impressed with the generous side of kalettes — baby kale cooked to a toothy tenderness, with crispy edges. I think even the most avid kale-hater would go for these.
The restaurant also has a bone-in pork chop ($25) produced by Ballard Farms in Benson, Utah. Many people today like to know where their food comes from, and “local-grown” is a big draw. It was served resting on crispy brussels sprouts.
As another nod to local-grown, the Garden City Salad includes raspberries with a little dollop of local honeycomb.
For appetizers, we shared a truffled french fries piled into a pail ($12). They were hot and crispy on the outside; soft and fluffy on the inside. They were sprinkled with parmesan shavings, garlic and smoked salt, with a truffle aoili dipping sauce.
We also shared an order of flavorful, meaty BBQ wings.
Wood-fired pizzas are a house specialty. Ranging in price from around $11-14, once can easily feed two people. (Someone at the table told me he can eat a whole one by himself, but I don’t believe it.)
Some of the other entrees include:
Since Bear Lake is famous for its raspberry shakes, no self-respecting local restaurant should get away without having it on the menu. The Campfire Grill version is smaller than what you get at LaBeau’s and other drive-in restaurants. It’s served in a pint-size jar, and it has a fresh, light raspberry flavor.
While sipping our shakes, we had a lively discussion about Bear Lake’s raspberry crop, which was all but wiped out by a virus about 20 years ago. The berries were replaced with virus-resistant plants and reports are that the berry business has been revived. But with fresh local berries available in season for just a few weeks every summer, you have to wonder if you’re really getting authentic, home-grown berries in your shake, or frozen ones from Washington or Oregon? I’ll leave that concern to others: all I know is that my shake was pretty good.
My husband had breakfast the next morning at the Campfire Grill. He had fluffy pancakes, served with whipped Slide Ridge honey butter. (Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough to photograph them before he started eating.) With three over-easy eggs and a glass of milk, his breakfast came to $19.98.
What did I have for breakfast? Well…last night’s BBQ chicken pizza! Even better the next morning! That’s a benefit of having a mini-fridge in your tent.
I thought the overall food quality at the Campfire Grill was on par with upscale Salt Lake City or even Park City restaurants, but without the fussy pretentiousness that sometimes comes with “fine dining.”
I liked the little touches, such as the silverware wrapped in coarse twine, and the heaters that could be moved tableside to stave off the evening chill. The tent flaps can be let down and zipped into place for more warmth.
And, since I’ve listed the prices along with menu items, you can see that they are a bit more steep than your average Applebee’s or Chili’s — more on par with “resort” pricing. So budget accordingly. The lunchtime sandwiches range from $11 for a BLT to the $18 Wagyu beef burger, and they come with a choice of side dish. If you have kids, there’s a Little Ranchers menu, with things like grilled cheese, pasta, a burger or hot dog, at $6 each.
I love outdoor cooking up to a point. But without refrigeration or lots of ice, it’s hard to keep perishables safe to eat. And it’s not easy to prep and clean up without hot running water. So I’m always happy to take a break and let someone else do the cooking and clean-up once in awhile. And I’m better that a lot of Bear Lake visitors will do just that.
Note: If you’re thinking of going glamping at the Conestoga Ranch this year, type in the promo code chewandchat2017 when you book your stay. You’ll get a 10% discount! (All the more to spend on dinner at the Campfire Grill!)