I am pleased and thrilled to bring you our observations of the meal that we enjoyed at The Gamekeeper. This little gem of a restaurant is nestled into a little nook off the side of Shull's Mill Road near Yonahlossee. The unassuming exterior both speaks of a simpler time in the mountains as well as the unique character of the foods and experiences found within it's walls. With reservations for six o'clock, we were able to be seated by a window to enjoy the lush beauty of the NC mountains as a backdrop to this culinary expedition.
Upon entering the restaurant we were greeted by the Front of House Manager and local legend Angie Pate. She guided us to our table and introduced us to our waitress Sandi Priest. Sandi's menu knowledge was outstanding. She had great presentation at the table and was attentive without being intrusive. She explained dishes well and was very accommodating.
Opening the Experience:
To begin our journey we were able to select a beverage from a wide range of wines, custom mixed drinks and beers. We opted for an Oatmeal Porter from Highland Brewery in Asheville and a Nutty Angel Martini that featured Stoli Vanilla, Frangelico, Bailey's, Buttershots and topped with a sprinkle of nutmeg created by bartender Evan Vernon. The drinks were followed in short order by a little surprise to our evening, an amuse-bouche.
This unexpected treat set the tone of the quality and presentation of the meal to follow. It was a wonton with mushroom and cream cheese with Parmesan, ponzu sauce, four daubs of a fiery red hot sauce and baby arugula. Unfortunately, to list the basic parts does little to explain the culinary layers of this seemingly simple bite sized dish. The savory of the wonton, the sweet/sour/saltiness of the ponzu and the heat of the pepper sauce worked to activate the tastes and prepare us for the culinary adventure to follow. As you can see from the photo, the presentation was outstanding utilizing an edible bloom from outside the restaurant.
After enjoying the start of our dinner we were given an assorted selection of breads from local bread maker Stick Boy Bread Company of Boone with an oil, vinegar and black pepper presentation for dipping.
We decided to dive head first into the Mixed Grill appetizer. The plate arrived with a great selection of game and accompanying sauces. On this day's plate we found rabbit and rattlesnake sausage, buffalo bratwurst, and buffalo and ostrich medallions with a center stack of home fries. For dipping sauces we were offered a sun dried tomato BBQ, a sour cream and green onion horseradish sauce and a coarse ground honey mustard. The portions were substantial and could easily be shared among friends.
The buffalo sausage was rich, bold and savory with a smoky finish while the lighter rabbit and rattlesnake sausage offered a mild sage flavor and a tender texture. If the flavors of these meats alone aren't enough, you can experiment combining their flavor profiles with the available sauces. We favored the rabbit and rattlesnake sausage with the coarse ground honey mustard and the buffalo bratwurst with the sour cream and green onion horseradish.
The buffalo and ostrich portions of our appetizer were so enjoyable that we decided that we would keep enjoying these fine meats as entrees. We’ll save the description of these for the discussion of the main course. For those who decide to go another route for dinner, we found the buffalo paired wonderfully with the horseradish sauce and the coarse ground honey mustard brought out the flavors of the ostrich.
Inspired by our excellent appetizer, we followed suit with the Ostrich Fan Filet and the Buffalo Hanging Tenderloin. The buffalo came with an herbed blue cheese macaroni and cheese, green onion and sour cream horseradish sauce, and a medley of fresh local organic vegetables including sugar snap peas, zucchini, squash, kale and beets. The ostrich was brought in from Hilltop Farms in Forsythe County and featured a roasted garlic risotto and sun dried tomato jus with the same vegetable selection as the buffalo.
Before the entrees came we sought a beverage to help accent our dinner selections. Leaving the choice of wine to Sandi, we were suggested the Andeluna Malbec for the buffalo and the Villa San Juliette Petit Syrah with the ostrich.
The buffalo itself was rich and as tender as one could imagine a cut of red meat. The seasoning was light and complimentary to the smoky flavor of the wood fired grill. The vegetables were grilled just long enough for flavor but not overcooked. The Mac and Cheese was savory but not over sauced and the consistency was firm. The blue cheese served as an accent flavor but did not overpower the dish.
The thing that was the most intriguing about the spice rubbed ostrich was its exquisite texture. It lends itself more towards a red meat than a poultry. It's preparation over the wood fired grill added a touch of crisp on the outside to counter the tender medium rare interior. The risotto was another pleasant surprise on this plate. It was light and saucy and not laden with a heavy cream sauce. The vegetables were complimentary to the overall flavors of the plate.
As you can see from the photos, the plate presentations utilized a nice three dimensional approach. It was a nice balance between using the available design space and ease of consumption.
True to their name, a unique thing that stands out about the Gamekeeper is that the proteins are allowed to stand alone as the true focal points of the meal through their simplicity. The meats are not drenched in sauce, nor are they hidden behind a veil of strong flavored sides. The meats are selected well, spiced well, grilled well and presented well. The entire plate appears to be designed around that focus.
Deserts and More:
The desert menu brought upon us a whole new realm of challenges. As mentioned by Sandi, The Gamekeeper is well know for it's Bread Pudding but we decided to go another route opted for the Turbo Coffee and the Pound Cake to polish off our evening.
True to it’s name, The Turbo Coffee is a rich blend of local Bald Guy Brew coffee, Frangelico, Bailey's, Kahlua, Amaretto and topped with whipped cream. The dark chocolate and ginger pound Cake was topped with a warm chocolate sauce, almond brittle and Chantilly cream. The cake was pleasantly light in composure and not heavy as most pound cakes tend to be. Both items were thoroughly enjoyed and were a nice finish to an excellent dinner.
Random Thoughts and Words on the Night:
There is not salt and pepper on the table thus conveying a trust in the chefs and their vision for the dinner.
The food is cooked using a wood fired grill using apple wood and hickory conjuring up memories of cooking over a campfire.
Local organic and sustainable ingredients are utilized and throughout.
The interior design struck a personal note as a person who lived in the foothills and visited the area very often as a youth. It has a modernistic twist to the rustic mountain style of the area. It’s a nice mix of styles that does well to enhance the experience.
Summing it All Up:
Walking to our car we felt like we had run a culinary marathon. For us and many consumers, we associate an amazing dining experience as a sum of the parts. When the food, the presentation, the decor, the service, and the company all line up, we all as consumers enjoy an amazing dining event. On this night, this was definitely the case.
A special thanks goes out to Chef Alec and our hosts for the evening, owners/chefs and all around great people Ken and Wendy Gordon.
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