With their reddish and crackled bark, ponderosa pines are easy to identify in Eastern Washington. There are many along the hiking trails around Sun Mountain Lodge, up in the mountains above Winthrop. Normally growing straight and tall, this one, on what I believe is called One Tree Hill, has been subjected to the punishing forces of nature but is all the more remarkable for it.
For all the other niceties that surround Sun Mountain Lodge—spectacular views of the North Cascades and alpine meadows, beautiful building and grounds, spacious and nicely appointed rooms, all the spa services you’d ever need, a fine network of hiking trails, world-class dining room—its Wolf Creek Bar & Grill continues to amaze me at how inferior the food is. (A previous review is here.) It shares the same kitchen as the dining room where we’ve had memorable meals before. Unfortunately, the dining room is open for service only on Fridays and Saturdays during the off-season, which meant we either had to drive back into town (about a half hour’s drive) or eat at the bar & grill. Expediency won out.
Let’s start with Wolf Creek Salad. The menu description sounded enticing enough: mixed greens, roasted beets, Brussels sprouts, red peppers, winter squash, caramelized onion, candied pecans, feta cheese, cranberry vinaigrette. Of these, the roasted butternut squash didn’t work. It was too soft and mushy. The other ingredients were fine, but that was before dressing it with balsamic vinaigrette, which we opted for instead of cranberry. We asked that it be served on the side. The vinaigrette was so emulsified that it was as thick as mayonnaise, which meant that it was impossible to dress the salad lightly. It became an aesthetic nightmare weighed down by globs of dressing. (☆☆)
Wild Boar Sausage Pizza sounded interesting. Again, the menu description raised our hopes: Roma tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, red and green bells, red onions, Mozzarella, “crust rubbed with olive oil, black pepper, salt, garlic.” First, the toppings were applied too thickly. When will we get away from the idea that more is better? Almost every bite sent something falling off the crust. There might’ve been some salvation if the flavors coalesced but when you put lots of raw vegetables on a pizza crust, all that happens is that they soften, get watery and taste like—raw vegetables. To add insult to injury, the crust had the consistency of freezer pizza, with none of the crackery surface and incomparable inner chew of the best examples. (☆☆)
We will likely have dinner at the bar & grill again on our last night, only because we don’t want to make the drive to Winthrop. At least, the beers on tap are good and the cocktail menu seems interesting and original. We could just have pretzels.
Wolf Creek Bar & Grill
Sun Mountain Lodge
604 Patterson Lake Rd
Winthrop, WA 98862
I groan on those rare occasions when my GPS fails me. Give it an address in a small town or country road, and the probability is greater than zero that the unit will not be able to find it. We tried to find Anjou Bakery in Cashmere to have lunch and to eat its legendary marionberry pie, but no dice. As it turned out, it didn’t matter anyway because the bakery is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Poor planning on my part.
What to do but find the nearest diner. We saw Monitor Hot Rod Cafe across the highway. Why not? Besides, we wanted to get back on the road ASAP to Winthrop, another two hours away.
The restaurant gets points for its Route 66 ambience. Hot rod parked on the roof. Old style Texaco gas pump inside. Vintage Washington product posters lined just below the ceiling. Black-and-white “tile” linoleum on the floor.
On the surface, the menu looks no different than another roadside diner’s: burgers, hot dogs, chicken strips, fries, onion rings, fish and chips. But, look closer, and you’ll notice some modern-day tweaks, like veggie burger (called the Prius), burgers adorned with up-to-date ingredients, salad bar, garlic fries.
I admit to being a dyed-in-the-wool chilehead, which is the reason I decided to try a burger called The Burn Out. Spiciness comes from chipotle mayo and fresh halves of raw jalapeño peppers. The patty itself may have been cooked a bit too well, but the freshness of the lettuce, tomato and onion, and the tender wheat (yup, wheat, not white—either is an option) bun, with the bite from the chiles and savor from the mayo and pepper jack, was more than enough to make for an enjoyable (if much too tall) sandwich. (☆☆☆)
Even if the fish pieces were previously frozen, they were tender enough in my wife’s cod fish and chips, and there were a generous five pieces of them. At first, we thought the batter was extra thick, but it was quite thin and amazingly smooth. It was also too oily, or rather had a glistening sheen. (☆☆½)
The fries that accompanied them were surprising. Hand-cut, they had a nice chew with no mealiness. More than that, they were coated with something prior to frying that gave them good texture and flavor. (☆☆☆½)
There seems to be extra effort by the management to provide more than the usual grub that one gets at a roadside diner. Kudos to them for the effort, for the fun (and very clean) atmosphere, for the warm and friendly service. And, they serve Umpqua ice cream.
Monitor Hot Rod Cafe
2960 Easy St
Wenatchee, WA 98801