A vast red barn-board roadhouse just yards from the highway, The Wolf Lodge Inn is an exuberant wild-west domain. Tables are covered with oilcloth and the walls are packed with trophy animal heads, bleached bovine skulls, antique tools, old beer posters, and yellowing newspaper clippings of local-interest stories. Miscellaneous booths and dining nooks are arrayed in several rooms; at the back of the rearmost dining area is a stone barbecue pit where tamarack and cherrywood burn a few feet below the grate. On this grate sizzle slabs of beef ranging from sixteen-ounce sirloins and filets mignon to porterhouses well over two pounds. (Seafood is also available, cooked over the wood.)
Cowboy-cuisine aficionados start supper with a plate of “swinging steak,” also known as calf fries or tendergroin – sliced and crisp-fried bull testicles, served with cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. We relished a bowl of truly homey vegetable beef soup that was thick as stew with hunks of carrot, potato, beef, green pepper and onion. All dinners come with saucy “buckaroo” beans, a twist of krebel (fried bread) and baked or fried potatoes, the latter excellent steak fries, each of which is one-eighth of a long Idaho baker that has been sliced end-to-end and fried so that it develops a light, crisp skin and creamy insides. We split the forty-two ounce “Rancher,” which turned out to be a hefty porterhouse supplemented by an average-size sirloin (“to make up weight,” the waitress explained). It was exquisite beef, not too crusty but loaded with juice, well-seasoned with salt and pepper, redolent of the burning wood over which it was cooked.
As we exited into the brisk autumn air, we noticed that whenever the Inn’s front door swings open, a cowbell clangs.