Change you can believe in: that’s what you’ll find on the menu at today’s dude ranches. Dude and guest ranch resort dining is no longer solely the bastion of beef, beans, and BBQ, although you’ll find that great beef and hearty meals never go out of style. Today’s most cutting-edge dude ranches boast trained chefs, gourmet meals, and wine lists.
“Dude ranches used to be the original farm-to-table dining experience,” says Stephanie Wilson of Colorado’s Vista Verde Ranch (seen above), “and these days were seeing a revitalization in the commitment to that school of thought.”
She continues, “There is more notice being paid to ranch gardens, local produce and livestock providers, and more interest in fresh and healthy foods for our guests.” It used to be that ranch fare meant steak and potatoes, bacon and eggs across the board, Wilson adds, but as clientele adapt their tastes, ranches are providing more light fare. But not to worry, those heartier options are still there for those who want to ‘eat like a cowboy’.
At Vista Verde, Wilson notes, “Our wine tasting and cooking classes have been a favorite of our guests for a long time. During the wine tasting, the guests get to learn about and taste fabulous wines, but they also get to share stories and learn more about our chef’s background, experiences, and interests. The cooking class, too, is a very hands-on, intimate experience.”
Click through from the Ranchweb home page to the Ranchweb Food & Wine pages; you’ll find sample wine lists and menus to give you a hint of the culinary experience awaiting you. And while menus do change frequently (check each ranch’s website directly for their latest food details) you’ll get an idea of the chef’s food style at each ranch.
Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort
A native of France, Executive Chef Pascal Godé (Go-Day) has created Alisal’s signature culinary style—savory California fresh cuisine classics, often with a western flair. You’ll find breakfast buffets at Alisal are plentiful: fresh fruit, homemade cinnamon rolls, and popular morning entrees. Pause for lunch throughout the day at a either poolside snack bar or two golf course grills. Dinners are a main event, and an occasion for which to dress up. Dinner menus change daily and include at least 10 entrees nightly, from thick steaks, chicken, or ribs, grilled over Alisal oak to locally caught fish, pastas, and locally picked vegetables. more served with innovative sauces.
In the heart of Santa Barbara County wine country, Alisal brings together haute cuisine with French and Mediterranean accents and fresh local California ingredients, with a relaxed ranch atmosphere. Guests enjoy a Modified American plan (breakfast and dinner included in the room rate) dining in Alisal’s Ranch Room (exclusive to Alisal guests), try the River Grill, or have your meal brought to your room.
Elk Mountain Dude and Guest Ranch
Set in the heart of the Rockies near Buena Vista, Colorado, Elk Mountain Dude and Guest Ranch is in a remotely enclave of the secluded San Isabel National Forest. This family-run ranch is intimate (just 30 guests) and old fashioned. Meals are hearty, and barbecue is done Santa Maria-style: on a long, open grill or spit.
The food is plentiful, freshly prepared, and very much in the tradition of Old West dude ranch dining, from the barbecued brisket to the cowboy cookies. Old favorites include the trail ride cookout and the big steak fry, while new favorites run from the country candlelight supper to sumptuous desserts. The ranch owners we have kids, so they know to offer a kids’ menu with items the kids will enjoy. Special diets are happily accommodated. Want to play with (or photograph) the deer, elk, or antelope? This is your spot.
If words like “world class” and “gourmet cuisine” are a bit overworked in describing the Home Ranch, it’s totally understandable. This is the only Colorado dude ranch which has earned a membership in the prestigious Relais & Chateaux. On the ranch website they’re pretty direct, saying “We won’t pussyfoot around the subject: our food is amazing. For those that may not know, Relais & Chateaux is French for “this place has truly incredible food.”
Executive chef Clyde Nelson could be a star at a Manhattan hotspot if he weren’t admittedly “allergic to cities.” Nelson’s so-called ‘allergy’ is all to guests’ benefit, as he whips up everything from fresh Colorado game to grilled cherrystone clams, tender filet mignon, and fresh lobster tails. Dessert isn’t forgotten (phyllo apple rose w/ lime curd) nor are hors d’oeuvres (sample: duck nachos w/ mango salsa or spinach, artichoke & asiago dip w/ crostini). Although we can foresee one potential problem. After one of the Home Ranch’s breakfasts (shirred eggs baked in a skillet with oven-dried tomatoes, asparagus, gruyere & ganna padano cheeses, tarragon & chives & cream), you may want to wait a while before climbing on your horse.
A luxury ranch that’s also laid back, that’s Vista Verde (shown above). Yes, there’s an executive chef (Matt Campbell) and a full staff of trained and experienced chefs. And many meals include formal plated entrees and wine service every evening. But there are kids’ menus and casual cookouts, too—okay, gourmet cookouts, but cookouts nonetheless.
Breakfast is always a treat, often with a fancy twist, from honey wheat pancakes to eggs Benedict. Lunch might be grilled burgers and portabella mushrooms or steak and shrimp kabobs on the grill. Dinner is the main event here, less formal and family style during the week and more formal on weekends, but always multi-course and always a delight. More surprises: the chefs offer cooking classes and wine tastings. And wine and beer are included with meals and stocked in your cabin along with other beverages. It’s all part of Vista Verde’s all-inclusive resort rates. And of course, special dietary needs are easily accommodated.
R Lazy S Ranch
Get a table by the window: this 325-acre ranch bumps up against Grand Teton National Park and the shark-toothed Teton Mountains are in full view to the west of the ranch. To the east, the sinewy Snake River. “We know our cooks are the best,” they say at the R Lazy S Ranch, describing it as “gourmet home cooking, Western style”.
Good thing, because you’re bound to work up an appetite from hiking and riding the Teton trails or fishing in the sparkling alpine lakes. When you snag a glistening trout, bring it back to the ranch and they’ll grill it up for you. Western hospitality is served up at meal time, whether it’s a sit down dinner in the lodge, a buffet or a cookout. Children and teenagers get their own dining room to share with and make new friends, separate from the adult guests. If you like your vacation ranch low-key but high on spectacular settings, this is the spot for you. The R Lazy S is near the town of Jackson; 30 minutes from a major airport.