Every now and then—such as in a recent letter to the editor—I get accused of being a food snob. This always bewilders me, since a majority of my columns deal with plebian matters like french fries, Philly cheesesteaks, tacos, barbecue and finding the perfect piece of deep-fried catfish. That’s not exactly grub that ranks very high on the elite’s gastronomical food chain, but it’s the food I love.
Once every two to three years, I write about a $500 meal in a Paris, New York or Vegas restaurant in the belief that City Weekly readers are interested in occasional brief diversions from the good, bad and mediocre Salt Lake City restaurants that are the bread and butter of this column. Since you can’t please everyone, I stopped trying long ago. So, I’ll continue my periodic forays beyond the boundaries of Salt Lake County.
Which brings me to Red Canyon Lodge. It’s a small slice of rustic paradise, about three hours from Salt Lake City, in Dutch John, Utah, and just a few miles from Flaming Gorge. As it happens, I enjoyed the restaurant at Red Canyon Lodge very much. Eating at the lodge’s restaurant is not an elevated gourmet dining experience, but it fits perfectly the whole Red Canyon Lodge gestalt, which is about relaxed simplicity rather than culinary shock and awe.
On the drive to Red Canyon Lodge, which requires a brief excursion through Wyoming’s southwest corner, it’s smart to snarf down a burrito at Taco John’s in Evanston since there’s not a lot between Evanston and Red Canyon. They’re the best fast food franchise burritos I’ve ever had, and the chile verde ain’t bad either. And while I would never ever encourage City Weekly readers to engage in any unlawful act like purchasing alcohol for transport back into Utah, you might also want to head north past Taco John’s on Highway 89 for a mile or so to take a look at the wine and beer selection at a store called Spirits of Red Mountain—just for research purposes, of course.
Red Canyon Lodge is perched some 1,000 feet above Flaming Gorge and the Green River, which makes for spectacular views and a long, steady climb on scenic highways to get there. It’s an easy drive from the Salt Lake area and well worth the time and effort. The cabins at Red Canyon Lodge are relatively luxurious, with maid service and even refrigerators and two-burner stovetops in some. But the best thing about the cabins is that they’re equipped with an in-ground campfire/grill, which means that you can opt out of commercial dining altogether if you choose. The cabins are stocked with firewood; you can catch and cook your dinner in the lake near the cabins or on the Green River or just cook up some s’mores if that’s all you’re inclined to do.
Still, you’ll find yourself so relaxed at Red Canyon Lodge (there are no TVs and my cell phone didn’t work there, thank goodness) that you’ll want to wander over to the restaurant one evening for dinner or maybe just for burgers and homemade soup for lunch. I love the no-nonsense approach to service at Red Canyon Lodge. After I ordered the nightly soup special, my server returned a few minutes later with this advice: “The pea soup is looking pretty nasty tonight; I’d go for the steak and potato soup instead.” I appreciated her honesty. And her suggestion resulted in a culinary first for me. I’d never before tasted steak and potato soup, or even heard of it. But it was delicious: cubed boiled potatoes in a thick gravylike broth with chunks of steak—yum! It paired nicely with the Cypress Cabernet Sauvignon I’d ordered.
The house salad at the restaurant was much better than I’d expected: crisp greens with a lovely raspberry vinaigrette that might have come from a bottle, but who cares? I briefly considered ordering elk medallions in a cherry-Port wine sauce but decided to stay with the steak theme for the night and enjoyed a delicious hand-cut, aged New York Strip while my companion licked her plate clean of the tasty Red Canyon Lodge blackened halibut. Was the steak as good as you’d get at Fleming’s, or the halibut worthy of The Market Street Oyster Bar? Maybe not. But it was exactly what we were hoping for on a warm summer evening under the stars—and with a vision of our s’mores desserts to come.
During dinner, I noticed some teenagers walking near the small fish pond next to the Red Canyon Lodge restaurant. Each of them—whether male or female—had one pant leg rolled up to their knees, but just one pant leg. As an ex-anthropologist, I was fascinated by this unusual display of local garb, so I asked our server about it. Apparently, this is a cultural oddity that’s unique to Dutch John teens. It’s called the “off-the-couch” look. I have no idea what that means. But I do know that it’s something you won’t find in Paris, New York, Vegas ... or even Salt Lake City.
RED CANYON LODGE 790 Red Canyon Rd. Dutch John, Utah 435-889-3759