Putting Family in Family Dining
By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily
Wheatland might be just another place that a lot of us drive past on our trips down the interstate, but thankfully, my job is to turn right, go down the offramp and see what gastronomic delights these communities offer.
It’s always a pleasure to find a true family restaurant, run by friendly people, that actually serves up great food — for example, Western Sky’s Family Diner just off of Interstate 25 in Wheatland.
Western Sky’s is one of those places that reminds me what a real hometown diner is all about. It’s operated by locals, for locals. But everyone is local when they walk in the door. Greeted by my server Carla, I was welcomed like I had been there a hundred times.
Looking around, I could see this place was clean and bright and the décor was tastefully western. I had arrived just before noon, and there were a good number of tables full of patrons already enjoying a meal. That’s a good sign, as it means that I’m in the right place for lunch.
Once seated, Carla took my drink order and handed me a menu that had more than a few pages in it. I see that Western Sky’s Family Diner is open for breakfast, and has lots to choose from.
There’s country-fried steak and eggs, the ever popular breakfast burritos and a long list of omelets. There are pancakes, waffles, French toast, breakfast sandwiches and even a bowl of oatmeal if you want one.
Focus Tim! Focus! You’re here for lunch!
Okay, let’s look at the lunch part of the menu. As I was about to do that, my lunch buddy, Glenn, spotted “The Freedom Burger.”
The menu reads: “To: Patriots And First Responders, In Honor of Our Patriots Standing In Harm’s Way Around The World And At Home Defending America’s Liberty WE offer the… FREEDOM BURGER!” The description promises a 7-ounce hamburger patty with American cheese, bacon, & grilled onions on Texas toast with “Freedom Sauce” unique to Western Sky’s.
So the Freedom Burger was spoken for. But now what? I see a substantial list of other burgers, but I also see a ribeye steak sandwich on Texas toast and a classic French dip sandwich. Over in the corner of the menu is even a spaghetti and meatball dish that sounded good.
Looking on to dinners, there even more! You’ll have to hang on to your hat, because this is a long page! Just a few things on this page included country-fried steak, roast turkey, roast beef, a 12-ounce or 8-ounce ribeye steak, and, what I finally would settle on, a seafood basket.
The seafood basket was a combination of battered cod filets and battered shrimp. Both of which are offered as separate entrees as well. Sounds really good, but I also see something under the side dishes that I couldn’t pass up, white cheddar mac and cheese. As Carla came back to take our order, I was already salivating.
I gave Carla my order but when it came to my friend’s choice, as he said Freedom Burger, Carla raised a fist and yelled out “Freeeeeedom!” kind of like Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart.” Seems there’s a running joke with a chef in the kitchen that every time someone orders that burger, she should yell that out. Good idea, because it prompted a few other people around us to ask about it. Plus, it was just funny!
While waiting on our food, I see the place is really packed now. Carla better have skates on.
Just then, owner Pat Hollingworth stopped by the table, so I asked her about the diner. She tells me that she’s been running the diner for the past 10 years. I asked her if she had been in the restaurant business before.
”No, but I was a cook since I was 12,” she said. “I didn’t like that poverty mentality, so I went to work at 12. I’ve always liked cooking.”
I asked her just who was responsible for the Freedom Burger. She smiled proudly and said “Me!” She said she really wanted to offer something to honor our heroes and first responders and thus, the Freedom Burger was born.
I asked what the most popular dish was and without hesitation she said the roast beef. Our order is coming, and I can smell the Freedom Burger before it gets to us! WOW! This smells amazing! The bacon is the first thing to greet you. Then you get a whiff of the grilled onions, and this is all before it is put in front of you.
It doesn’t disappoint either. A take on the classic patty melt, the Texas toast is nice and thick, buttered and grilled nice and golden. On the side were “fat fries” as our server Carla called them.
Next up is the seafood basket. Ok, it wasn’t in a basket, but I’m not going to complain about that! There were two nice golden cod fillets and lots of those battered shrimp. It was served up with more fat fries, with cocktail and tartar sauce.
I’m from Florida, and every now and again, I need seafood in my soul! This was going to be good.
Before I could stick a fork in my first shrimp, I was already getting an “Oh my gosh!” from across the table.
“I know you wanted the seafood for variety, but you’ll want this next time!” Glenn said. “Trust me!”
Glenn said the beef was nice and crisp on the outside as a patty melt should be, with a tender juicy middle. The bacon and onions make a great topping, but the Freedom Sauce drives this over the top.
“I don’t know what this sauce is, but I love it!” added Glenn.
Remember, that was all before I had my first shrimp! Speaking of which, I finally got one. Really nice medium-sized shrimp with just the right amount of batter. Dunking one of the shrimp in the cocktail sauce, it was a wonderful change of pace for me. I do love fried shrimp!
The cod fillet was next, and as with the shrimp, the batter was perfect. Just enough to give you that crispy crunch that contrasted with the flaky tender cod. The fish was just right. Moist and juicy with a fresh flavor. The tartar sauce on the side went well with every bite.
This meal is a diner winner, 100%, though what I’m really excited about is diving deeper in to the menu and trying the roast beef that Pat said was so popular.
It is well worth mentioning, and one of the reasons I wanted to stop here was that Western Sky’s Family Diner has an online rating of 4.4 stars with 858 reviews! With that kind of buzz, I couldn’t pass up the chance.
So head on over to Western Sky’s Family Diner and see how they put the family in family dining.
Western Sky’s is located at 86 16th St. in Wheatland. Hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. You can call them at (307) 322-9302