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Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt
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Theodore Roosevelt wrote home that, "Medora and the Dakota territory in general are Heaven for lovers of steak and potatoes and Hell for lovers of fresh fuits and vegetables." 130 years later this remains true. We recommend bringing a cooler from home with apples, oranges, celery, carrots, and whatever else you enjoy munching on, because you're not going to find them here. The only fruits or vegetables served in restaurants are frozen and there is no grocery store where you can buy your own for hiking or camping. The nearest grocery store is in Beach, Montana, 20 miles further West on I-94, and even their selection of fruits and vegetables is pretty sparse. On the other hand, the steaks you eat here will be among the sweetest and juiciest you've ever tasted. It's true local beef does have to sent to packing houses, federally inspected, and then brought back, but the best restaurants here still tend to serve Dakota beef. Yes, the packers foolishly dilute the taste by feeding the cattle corn mash on their feedlots just before slaughter, but better a few weeks of corn mash than a whole lifetime raised on it. That's why local beef is better. And that's not all they serve. You can get Buffalo, Elk, Antelope and that great fish of the North, Walleye. There are only a few outstanding local restaurants, but those few are very good.
The best restaurant in Southwestern Dakota is the Buffalo Gap Ranch. Guests staying at the ranch tend to eat in the rear dining room, but shown here is the front room, where most diners driving in for dinner eat. And they come from quite a way, from Montana, as far East as Bismark and as far South as South Dakota. They come mainly for the Beef, Buffalo, Walleye or Elkburger prepared to order by Elvira and Robin. There's a salad bar and a hot pot offering Olie's Special Beans. They're regular beans with his personal concoction added, but they're pretty good. Elvira, who has a masters degree but prefers a career as a chef, likes to serve her steaks with "Baby Bakeds," half a dozen ping pong size potatoes baked in their skins like the full sized versions elsewhere. There's no soup, but there is an Appetizer Array which is a meal in itself : Jalapeno Poppers, Stuffed Mushrooms, Gizzards, Mozzarello Sticks, Onion Rings, etc. Desserts are offered, but these are big steaks and Walleye is a large fish, and few people have room left over. One reason this food is so good is the kitchen : it's larger and more sophisticated than you would normally see at a restaurant this size. Olie has a sideline of dismantling restaurants and salvaging their kitchen equipment. Over the years, he has bought items at closeout prices and hauled them home to Buffalo Gap. It looks like a metropolitan kitchen.
You have to eat at the Roughrider at lerast once for the history. It's a combination hotel and restaurant where Roosevelt would stay and eat when he got off the train, on the train, or just came into town to conduct business. It's been restored several times since his day, but fortunately they only update the wiring, plumbing, and other details and leave the historical features intact. It's the second best eatery in SW Dakota, and if you're not up for the five mile drive out to Buffalo Gap it's your best bet. The food here is really a lot better than what you would expect from a 100 person town hours drive from the nearest city. As you might expect, they take pride in their steaks. But they do have soup, a rarity in this part of the country, and they offer a more professional menu than their rivals up and down the street. It's a bit pricier, but it's worth it. Take your camera.
The Pitchfork Fondue is a must stop. It's worth it just for the view. On a high bluff with 360 degree views of the Badlands, you sit at picnic tables under the roof (at left) and watch the sunset while enjoying steak. They prepare that steak by spearing it with a pitchfork and submerging it in a vat of boiling vegetable oil (the three vats (rare, medium, well done) are on the other side of that stone wall at the base of those three black chimneys). So in effect your steak is stir fried. That might not be the best way to fix steak all the time, but for this once it's different and it does add a certain flavor to it you don't get when grilling. Above the Chateau, adjacent to the Burning Hills Theatre.
The Cowboy Cafe has an interesting interior but a basic canned, frozen and fried menu. Hours are short so you may have to grab lunch here on your day in Medora or just as you get off the Southern Loop, not on a day when you go exploring the Northern Sector or hiking.
The Little Missouri is a dining room above a saloon on the main drag, across from the railroad station. Before you come upstairs, stick your head in the saloon and perhaps take a few photos; it's about as authentic an 1800s saloon as remains anywhere, and it's still a very popular nightspot in Medora. They often feature live music and our friends who are beer conneisseurs report they have a decent variety of good brews. There's a complete lunch burger list and a salad bar. Of course, there are seven steaks and a rib platter. They offer shrimp but we suggest the Walleye or Rainbow Trout, and you should get it steamed, not deep fried. The steaks are Certified Angus Beef. The 10 oz. Buffalo Ribeye is the best option, but the 10 oz. Top Butt Black Angus Sirloin is a strong second. If you're burned out on steak by now, there are three pasta and two chicken dishes. While you're here you must drink a Sarsparilla, the famous Old West carbonated beverage that predated Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper by half a century.
The Elkhorn Cafe is a little 10 table nook tucked in a corner of the boardwalk style shopping strip on the main drag, around the corner from the taffy shop and Western jewelry store. It is actually one of the best places in town for breakfast, lunch or a piece of pie at mid afternoon. For one thing, it's open at those times, unlike most of its rivals, who keep more limited hours. The menu is fried, canned and frozen, but the service is prompt and cheerful and it's popular with the locals, so you catch up on town news. There's usually a soup of the day and the coffee's good.
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