By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily
There’s a tiny little town in Wyoming that some of you might have heard of —Jackson, or Jackson Hole to some. For those who haven’t though, let me tell you a little about it.
Jackson is on the western border of the state, right next to the majestic Teton Mountains.
With a population of just over 10,000, you would think there’s not much going on here, but you would be wrong. It seems there’s quite a lot awaiting the odd visitor who wanders in by mistake.
Jackson is in the Jackson Hole Valley, and is home to some of the best skiing in the state. There are three resorts to choose from and miles of ski runs to master.
If it’s art you’re looking for, there’s the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Inside you’ll find works by artists ranging from Georgia O’Keeffe to Andy Warhol.
In the summer, you’ll find more outdoor activities than you can shake a stick at. Hiking, camping, fishing, and, my personal favorite, sitting.
There truly is something for everyone in this little town. But other places in Wyoming have all this, too, So what makes Jackson so special?
With daily flights into Jackson from major cities including Atlanta, Chicago and New York, it seems celebrities from all over the country flock to the area to get away from the hard life of celebrity-ing. A few have even made Jackson their home, like Han Solo from the “Star Wars” movies, although he prefers being called Harrison Ford. It’s all about being “low key.”
With all the celebrity visitors, not to mention the few thousand tourists who visit the town every year, come a few perks. The town is loaded with great restaurants!
While I was in Togwotee recently for a stay at a cabin, my stomach got to rumbling after a long day at Yellowstone National Park. Realizing I’d have to drive an hour to Jackson to eat, I quickly hopped in the car and headed south.
It was already about 7:45 PM and a quick search on Google yielded a place called Gather that was open until 9:30 PM. Awesome, I’d have just enough time.
I had never been to Jackson before, so driving into town, I had to go slow and soak in a little local color before getting to the restaurant. Hey look! There’s the park with all the elk antlers!
Not wasting any more time, I found a place to park and walked up to what looked like a pretty happening little place. There were outdoor tables with blazing patio heaters to keep diners cozy and warm. Through the window, I could see this was an upscale but casual looking establishment.
Now I should tell you, there are a couple of things I judge a restaurant on besides the food. One thing is atmosphere, and Gather seems to have that.
The other is how well restaurant staff treat a diner who shows up shortly before closing without a reservation.
Even though I showed up at 9 p.m. without a reservation, they didn’t hesitate to seat me. As I took my seat, I noticed there were a couple of other night owls placing their orders as well, so I didn’t feel too bad.
Perusing the menu, the first thing I discovered is Gather’s finely curated selection. There’s pan-roasted salmon, elk bolognese and even Wagyu beef for those wanting the best beef there is. I see in the menu that all the ingredients are locally sourced as well.
After a bit of review, I see something that strikes my eye.
I ordered the slow-braised ribs, the crispy Brussels sprouts and house-cut fries. I also considered, but ultimately passed on, the pork belly bao buns, which are fresh-made bao buns and crispy braised pork belly with kimchi and Fresno chiles.
After ordering, I asked general manager Ali Gul about the restaurant.
Gul, formerly of Turkey, tells me Gather has been open for six years and he’s been the general manager for the last two.
“Our most popular dish is the pork belly bao buns, and the crispy Brussels sprouts.” Gul said. “Our menu is quite seasonal, with year-round favorites.”
Gather’s standout dish at the moment is its Wagyu bone marrow fried rice, Gul said.
I asked Gul about the restaurant’s locally sourced ingredients, and where in Wyoming it gets its beef and pork.
“Snake River Farms supplies our meats and we try to source other ingredients locally whenever we can,” he said. “We are transitioning to our fall menu, and even our mushrooms will be locally sourced.”
Gather has a sister restaurant, Gul said, called Plates and located in the National Museum of Wildlife Art. I’ll have to check that out on my next visit, but for now, my dinner is here.
WOW! The first thing to strike me is the presentation of the ribs. After all, we eat as much with our eyes as we do with our mouth.
Arranged on a long plate, topped with pickled onions, apple and cilantro, these braised ribs look like art. When a restaurant cares about how good the food looks on a plate, you know it takes the time to make the food taste good too.
Before spoiling the presentation of the ribs, I head for the Brussels sprouts. I’m a sprout head and these crispy jewels are the perfect first bite.
The ribs are next.
There are two kinds of ribs in this world. The first is the kind where they drag out a whole slab and bib you up so you don’t slop sauce everywhere.
And then there’s what’s in front of me now. Four beautifully meaty pieces, each on its own bone, with not too much sauce, but enough to flavor the ribs.
As I bite into the ribs, they give ever so slightly and then come away cleanly from the bone. These are not typical overcooked BBQ joint ribs. They are in a word, perfect!
The sauce is not too heavily spiced and lets the flavor of the meat carry everything. I think I ordered the winner here.
The pickled onion on top wasn’t just garnish. It added a cool compliment to the spice of the dish. The hand-cut fries round out the meal and were better than any fries you’ll get in a paper sack!
I was a little sad when the meal was over, but only because I was full and didn’t have room for dessert. Maybe next time I’ll start with dessert? I’m an adult, I can do that, right? Maybe I’ll try the huckleberry cheesecake or Jackson doughnut holes?
No matter what time you choose to visit Gather, I’m sure you’ll be as pleased as I was.
Gather is located at 72 S. Glenwood Street in Jackson. It is open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. nightly. For reservations, call 307-264-1820. On the web at www.gatherjh.com