Monday, June 2, 2014

Eating Out My Hot Secret Sulphur Hole

Hi kids!  Miss me?  It's been almost a full year hiatus since the great brisket learning experiment.  And honestly it's been a nice break of not getting mad at myself for forgetting the camera at home yet again when I should be documenting what I'm sticking in my neck hole.  But, you dear readers have yelled at me enough times to instigate a deep sense of guilt for not tearing at the soft pink underbelly of Fresno's culinary scene.

Another big circle I found the corner of was a trip up to Mono Hot Springs.  Where one drunken morning, I decided to fry up some bacon, chop up potatoes and season them with some garlic salt, thyme, sage and pepper and fry those in the bacon fat.  Mixed them both together in a bowl and sat in front of last night's fire and had a transcendent meal experience.  Fresh air, birdsong, amazing surroundings and probably the best breakfast I've ever served myself, inspired me to take the picture that you see at the top of the blog.  And more than that, it's where I came up with the title and the very premise for this mouth of madness. 

So with all of these reminders from people and places, it seemed long past time to take up the tiller of this ship and get back to what I do best.  Be a dick about other people's hard work.  And since we were up in the backcountry, miles from civilization and ensconced in lovely hot springs.  Why not try to find something to review?  And by pure chance, the River Rock Café had just opened for the Memorial Day weekend!

How we wound up eating there is almost as interesting as the meal.  We had split up our group so that the woman could enjoy a nice spa day in the hot spring tubs coupled with a proper hot shower, while I and my buddy took his son fishing for his first (successful) time.  Nice, keeper sized rainbow trout.  Lacking an ice chest to preserve a catch, it was released to go forth and make more hungry fishies. 

Like any boys out harassing wildlife, we completely lost track of time and it was a no breakfast sort of day.  So I hike back to the store/resort area expecting to find an exasperated love of my life, wrinkled fingers grasping for my neck.  But as I am walking up the driveway I turn my head towards the café to potentially catch a sniff of whatever is cooking, when I notice a familiar ponytail.  There's my girl!  And smarter than all of us, she's having a nice lunch and scratch made pie!

Now, approaching the café, it's a quaint, cabin style building with a beautiful covered deck for outdoor dining.  Because who the hell wants to eat inside when you're in gorgeous country like the deep Sierras?  Only madmen, that's who.  Instead we were joined by a pleasant hiker couple and a small family, to be joined later by my friend and his son once they began to wonder where the hell I disappeared to.

The server was prompt in her arrival with a spare menu for me.  The beer list was somewhat familiar as it's exactly what is offered at the resort store as well.  Synchronicity!  Which also meant that she didn't mind me swilling on a TS General Sherman we had bought at the store earlier that morning. 

They've got a pretty good selection on the menu considering that they're 3 hours from any sizeable store.  But I've only got eyes for their buffalo reuben.  This isn't some sacrilege of bbq sauce on corned beef.  They actually corn buffalo brisket!  So I'm all in on the sandwich and ask for a side of their house made chili.

After a brief wait, she brings out my basket of curiosity.  I've cooked with buffalo in the past and found it quite tasty, but distinctly different from beef.  You've got to treat it a bit differently.  It has way less fat and a certain mineral taste, so your usual beefy methods won't produce the same flavors you'd expect.

In this case, the sandwich was extremely well done.  Rye bread, lightly grilled, with a shmear of thousand island, hugging house made (I presume) sauerkraut and the star of the show, the corned buffalo.  Their chili is a lighter style than the heavy Dennison's style that springs to mind.  A mix of kidney and black beans, large chunks of stewed tomato and onion that also included ground buffalo.  Tastily, a little bit sour from the tomato and a little sweet, not heavily spiced, no cumin.  Just the stand up flavor of the veg and that playful buffalo flavor peeking out on the finish.

The first bite of the sandwich was extremely surprising.  In that it was all so extremely mild.  When you think reuben, you're expecting a pungent assault on the senses.  But in this case the flavor profile felt like it had been adjusted to ensure that the buffalo kept center stage in the sandwich.  The kraut was very light, good crunch and not incredibly sour.  Sort of a gentle pickle.  But the star of the show was certainly the corned buffalo.  It had perfect corned beef texture, a little flaky with a hearty chew and a bit of spicing from the pepper.  But it takes on a much cleaner sort of red meat flavor with a mild mineral finish.  Almost like it had been finished with an infused salt.  Absolutely an excellent lunch that turned my expectations onto their head. 

Now, the absolute last thing that I want is for my perfect unspoiled wilderness getaway to become even more inundated by assholes driving Mercedes up a 1 lane road that they don't have the basic understanding, skills, or courtesy to drive safely on.  However if you absolutely must make the 3 hour trek and occupy space on my beloved mountain.  Remember: Use the damn turnouts, some of us actually know how to drive.  Put out your campfires thoroughly and pack your trash out.  Don't muck up the natural pools and remember your flashlight at dusk.  And absolutely have a meal at the River Rock Café.



  1. Thanks man I really enjoyed the review, its nice to see you posting again!

  2. Okay, okay. I read. I read. Love the pictures and loved that reuben sandwich. Awesome picture of that knife btw. ;0)

  3. Great article! Keep it up :)