The other night, I had the pleasure of dining at Eli’s Tavern, the new flagship restaurant atop Snowshoe Mountain Resort making its debut this winter season. Walking around Rimfire Lodge, the Tavern’s giant picture windows framed its evening patrons, some animatedly recounting the day’s powdery runs, others reclining deep in thought. They all looked so comfortable. I couldn’t wait to see what waited inside.
We walked through the giant wooden doors to be escorted to our table. The windows overlooked the beautiful Appalachians. The sky blazed pink and orange as the sun fell toward the mountain peaks. Our waiter brought us our dinner menus, framed in hand cut wood, and I was amazed. Often at ski area eateries, one is hard pressed to find something to eat. This time, though, I had trouble figuring out what not to eat! Thankfully, there were three of us at dinner, so we were able to get a broader sample of the chef’s offerings.
To open, we made our selections from the “Small Bites” portion of the menu. The Sweet Potato Chowder (with Shoepeg Corn and Apple Smoked Bacon, $5) was delicious. Sweet, thick and rich, but not too much so, it warms you from the inside out and erases memories of the whipping wind outside. Unmentioned in the menu description, though, was a healthy reliance on onions in the soup stock-a nice touch to some, but too strong for others among us. If you’re not an onion lover, you might be well advised to make another selection.
The Appalachian Egg Roll ($7) is best described as it is on the menu (“Shredded BBQ Pork with Mustard Greens, Green Tomato Chow Chow, Spicy Mango Ketchup” ), but you must taste it to understand it, which I certainly recommend doing. I’ve experienced a lot of California-Asian fusion , but I had never heard of Appalachian-Asian fusion before, and I like it! A local West Virginia stout was available on draught, and made the perfect accompaniment to this unique dish.
Our last appetizer was (I think) the best. “Sashimi Tini” ($7) is described as “Pan Asian Marinated Yellowfin Tuna, Seaweed Salad, Soy-Sesame Vinaigrette.” I have not yet mentioned presentation, because I’ve been saving it. This one wins the prize. The generous portion of deep pink-to-burgundy bite sized cubes of tuna comes tossed with just enough of the seaweed salad to lend it contrast, color, and added flavor. Black sesame seeds complete the colorful display, and a tall, fried noodle adds height. All this is strikingly presented in a spotless martini glass and is truly a feast for the eyes. With the first bite, though, the taste adds to the visual impression, and you have now experienced the finest Eli’s Tavern has to offer.
The other appetizers also sound great, but we’ll need a return trip to find out about those! Briefly, they include a hearts of romaine salad, a salad of seasonal greens, and cornmeal fried Blue Point oysters. All of the appetizers were priced between $5 and $7, and the portions were extremely generous.
While waiting for our main courses to arrive, we observed our surroundings more carefully. The atmosphere is very Appalachian, from the wooden platters for the menus, to the heavy timber tables and chairs. I especially like the stone centerpieces. Though compact, they give the impression of large boulders, with sprigs of wild greens sticking out through rocky cracks. And while admiring these striking pieces, I was distracted by a burst of flame from the display kitchen at the dining room’s center; the steak must be nearly done.
First to hit the table was the Grilled Ribeye Steak. Topped with Eli’s Steak Butter and accompanied by pan roasted red jacket potatoes with red onions, smoked bacon, and rapinni ($23), it was very much as-billed. A tasty, large ribeye, it was grilled perfectly to order (medium-rare, in this case) and matched the Chalone Merlot available by the glass very nicely. The potatoes were soft and sweet, nicely complemented by the well-done bacon. In this case, the onions were left out, which brings up another important point: any dietary restrictions are graciously accommodated by the chef. We had quite a few to challenge the kitchen staff, too -; I have diabetes, and another diner at our table was allergic to onions and garlic!
Next out of the kitchen was the Grilled Balsamic & Herb Marinated Chicken Breast, $16. This made the most attractive entrée, with the chicken breast butterflied and splayed atop the mound made by a Wild Mushroom Ragout. At the foot of the mushroom mound were green Pole Beans, all sitting in a translucent pool of Red Pepper Coulis and what must have been a touch of light green olive oil. A very nice grouping of the freshest ingredients, the combination was surprisingly delicate on the palate. It is getting increasingly hard to be creative with chicken, but this unique dish was an instant hit at our table.
Last but certainly not least, my own selection arrived: Vanilla Cured Fillet of Salmon, $19. The vanilla was very faint, but a nice touch. Unfortunately, the salmon was a touch too dry for my taste. After one bite, however, my attention turned to perhaps the greatest surprise of the evening, and another “fusion” new to me: Brier Run Chevre Grits. Surrounded by wilted baby greens and a citrus-brown butter sauce, these were the best grits I’ve ever had. The rich goat cheese suffusing the thick mixture was absolutely terrific, and made the dish heavier than other salmon preparations might otherwise be. The Chalone Vineyards Pinot Noir was therefore perfectly coupled to this imaginative and tasty dish.
When I return, I’ll have to try the Pan Seared Sea Scallops with Rock Shrimp, Corn and Hominy Succotash, and Crispy Shoe String Potatoes as well as the Grilled Yellowfin Tuna (Served Medium Rare) with Marinated Asian Glass Noodles and Ginger-Scallion Pesto, both $20. Eli’s Pasta was also very inviting (Chorizo, Forest Mushrooms, Sundried Tomato, Broccoli Rabe, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, $15), as was the Pan Roasted Chilean Sea Bass (Tomato-Olive Ragout, Watercress, Lemon Vinaigrette, $19). Particularly recommended to us was the Grilled Honey Infused Pork Chop with Roasted Garlic Whipped Potatoes, Wilted Greens, Red Onion Marmalade, and Cider-Pepper Glaze ($19), but with the aforementioned garlic and onion allergies, I didn’t want to disturb my fellow diners (or deprive them the opportunity of tasting one of the entrées selected).
Children are welcome, and their menu offers a Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($2.50), Fried Chicken Fingers with Wedge Fries ($5), Pasta with Tomatoes and Parmesan Cheese ($5), and Grilled Chicken Breast Served with Mashed Potatoes ($5.50). Quite a few youngsters were present earlier in the evening, and they seemed to enjoy their choices. As the sun set and the moon rose, the children filtered away, and the dining room filled up. Reservations are definitely recommended.
A final course remained for our pleasure. The dessert menu, which doubles as the Eli’s Tavern postcard, offers “Sweet Dreams” for $6.50, including Eli’s Burnt Crème, Bread and Butter Pudding with Bourbon Caramel Sauce, Chocolate Decadence with Cappuccino Crunch & Raspberry Sauce, and Warm Cinnamon Apple Crisp with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. For $5 there is a selection of ice creams and sorbets. Several dessert wines are available by the glass ($5-$14), as well as a nice selection of “Sinful Pleasures” including brandies, cognacs, single malt scotches, and small batch bourbons ($6.50-$15). “Warm Endings” include Espresso ($4), Cappuccino ($5), and Eli’s Hot Buttered Rum ($6). The Chocolate Decadence was very tasty, and again beautifully presented with the sauce drizzled over the plate. The Warm Cinnamon Apple Crisp was also delicious. The ice cream was rich and very vanilla, and Eli’s version of this tried and true combination was wonderful. With the Bread and Butter Pudding sounding absolutely divine, I nonetheless opted for the less sweet-sounding hot buttered rum. Served steaming in an old-fashioned tall glass mug and topped with whipped cream, it was indeed a Warm Ending to a fabulous dining experience.
The Appalachian décor, highly professional wait staff, skilled and flexible kitchen staff, and -; most importantly -; absolutely wonderful food all combine to make Eli’s Tavern a real treasure and a welcome addition to Snowshoe Mountain. The menu is very sophisticated and almost as pleasurable to read as its offerings are to eat. I found the selections reasonably priced, especially considering the captivity of the audience at this mountaintop resort. I left Eli’s Tavern quite full, very happy, and feeling privileged to have enjoyed such a wonderful meal after such a great day of skiing. I also found myself very much looking forward to a return trip, though I wasn’t sure I’d ever really be hungry again.
Sean M. Oser is a senior medical school student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Although an avid skier, he eats far more frequently.
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