By Tim Mandese, food writer
Cowboy State Daily
Riddle me this: What do you get when you cross a tiny Wyoming town, unique history and beef?
You get the best steakhouse this old son of a butcher has ever eaten in.
Having been told that this steakhouse is said to be the best in Wyoming, and in a state with more than twice as many head of cattle as people, that’s a tall order.
If you are a regular reader of Eating Wyoming, you’ll know the last two installments have both been steakhouses.
First, there was Svilar’s in Hudson, a restaurant that boasts its status as the oldest steakhouse in Wyoming.
In the last issue, we discussed a hidden steakhouse in Lander, The Antler Steakhouse, with its amazing presentation and artful Asian flare that make it a must dine.
Both of these establishments serve a fine piece of beef, and you wouldn’t be disappointed if you ordered anything from either menu.
However, this one would make my late father’s ghost stand up and shout with joy from the great butcher shop in the sky.
Hartville, Wyoming, is one of the smallest towns in the cowboy state. With a population of just 64 hearty souls, the town is a stone’s throw from beautiful Guernsey State Park.
In its heyday, Hartville was a true Wild West town. Founded as a mining town, it was rich in gold, silver, copper and iron ore. It was Hartville’s mineral riches that attracted the rowdy miners to this corner of Wyoming back in the early 1870s.
Add the local ranchers to the mix and you have the inspiration for this Cowboy State crowd-pleaser.
Located in Hartville, the Miners And Stockmen’s Steakhouse has gained a reputation for beef that can’t be beat. A great steak at any other restaurant would be enough, but Miners And Stockmen’s has another claim to fame as having the oldest bar in Wyoming.
Owners Scott and Christine Harmon bought the business nine years ago from Scott’s sister and brother-in-law. As Scott says, they were living in L.A., but one day came to the realization that they didn’t want to be in L.A. anymore.
The couple came out to visit Scott’s sister in Hartville, who informed them that the restaurant had been closed for the last two years.
The Harmons said the building called to them from the moment they walked in the front door.
“We were stunned, but I remember thinking, ‘I can do this,’” said Scott Harmon. So, for the last nine years, the Harmons have owned their dream come true. “Our biggest challenge is being busy in the middle of summer and having to turn people away.”
Does the restaurant really have the oldest bar in the state? Yes, they do.
As Christine explained, the bar you see today was carved in 1862 in Germany and shipped to New York, then taken by train to Cheyenne and finally to Fort Laramie for the officer’s club. When the fort was closed in the late 1880s, it was brought by wagon to Hartville.
When it arrived in Hartville, it was originally in the building next door, which at the time was an opera house and bordello. It remained there until about 1941, when it was moved to its current location inside the restaurant.
The mirrors that flank each side of the bar are original, but the large center mirror has been replaced at least twice, having been shot out.
“This was a wild town in its heyday,” says Christine, adding, “The last official gunfight on Main Street was in the early 1900s.”
Those stories about Wild West saloons are at least partly true, it appears.
The history of the building goes hand-in-hand with the town’s rowdy past. As you walk into the restaurant, you might be forgiven if you miss the large metal pole just inside.
The story goes that the more rambunctious patrons (aka drunks) would be handcuffed to the pole by the bartender and left there until closing time.
After a night of Wild West timeout, the bartender would round up all those handcuffed to similar poles in all the other bars in town and deposit them in the nearby hoosegow (which happens to be in the backyard of Miners and Stockmen’s).
They would be let out in the morning and the keys to the jail were transferred to the next bartender, on a rotational basis.
History is literally written on the walls here. On the back wall of the restaurant, a tribute is paid to American veterans.
Every active vet who visits is treated to their first drink free, while being presented with a commemorative shot glass.
They are then invited to sign the restaurant’s wall, which is covered with hundreds of other signatories.
“We care about our vets,” said Scott Harmon.
Now let me tell you about why you should really come here.
Beef, glorious beef. The thing that every place with “steakhouse” on their sign strives for, but only a few live up to.
Steak heads up the menu, and there’s a good reason why it’s given top billing. As the menu says right up top, “We serve only USDA certified prime black Angus beef.” Not USDA choice, not some cow down the street. Prime and only prime.
You might ask, isn’t steak, steak?
Oh no, my friend. Prime is the top of the top, and for me at least, Angus is the top of even that. Sure, you could get Wagyu or Kobe beef, but there comes a point where its hype loses out to prime.
Prime beef has just the right amount of marbling to keep the lean part moist without crossing the tracks into Crazy Town.
At the Miners And Stockmen’s, the Miner’s Ribeye is the star headliner on the menu. It’s a 14-to-16-ounce piece of pure heaven, the kind of steak you write home about – or at least write a food column about.
Along with the ribeye there’s a filet, a New York strip and a sirloin for your beef indulgence. With your choice of steak, you get soup or salad, the evening’s potato and vegetables.
The only non-beef protein is a jumbo shrimp offering. But let’s be honest, we’re here for beef. After all, it’s not called Miners And Stockmen’s Shrimphouse.
Sometimes, a restaurant’s menu can be overwhelming. It’s like having cable TV with 900 channels and suddenly nothing is interesting.
Not here though. When your offerings are limited by design to basically just beef, you know all the attention in the kitchen is put into making your meal as good as it can be.
The ribeye at the top of the menu sounded really good, especially knowing it was prime beef. Growing up in a butcher shop, I understand how special, how holy and how rare that is.
Speaking of rare, that’s how mine was ordered.
“Knock the horns off, slap him on the backside and walk the plate through a warm room.” That’s what dad would say.
Some readers wouldn’t be so daring or so bold as to order rare, but with prime beef, every bite can be as much beef as possible. Nothing should be left on the grill.
If you have ever had an umptious, tender, juicy piece of rare prime beef, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Another upside of rare is it doesn’t take very long from order to table. As if another excuse was necessary.
In the time it took you to read that, the steak was out of the kitchen and heading to the table. As the plate arrived, I could feel a gentle pat on the shoulder from my father’s hand. I swear I could hear him saying, “Nice choice son, nice choice.”
Where to begin in describing this steak? First, let’s thank the steer that gave his all so we could dine in reverence.
Having eaten steak all over the country, from Miami to Monterey, and short of my father’s butcher block, I have never seen a more perfect piece of meat. It was grilled exactly the way I ordered: rare. Not medium rare or medium, and heaven forbid not well done.
Just look at this steak.
Don’t scroll down yet. Keep looking. Ain’t it beautiful?
OK, enough looking, or probably pawing at and drooling, at your screen.
You are not to blame if you did. I wanted to savor the moment myself before savoring the flavor.
And what flavor it had. Prime tastes like no other beef. Imagine the best you have ever had and multiplying that by the national debt. Put it this way: A single tear fell from my eye, and it was all the salt I needed.
This was tender, too. How tender? My knife slid into the steak like Joe DiMaggio sliding into home plate. Smooooth as butter … tender as your mother’s embrace.
At one point the waiter came over to check on me and with a caveman grunt he understood that all was well. My Paleo side was fully in control. That side of me that instinctively knew what steak was meant to be was in a state of bliss.
This was, with no hyperbole, the best steak that had ever passed my lips. An experience not to be taken lightly, or quickly forgotten. There was, however, a touch of sadness at the thought of the last bite.
Awakening from my carnivore dream, two things were needed; cake and coffee! Christine had told me that she had baked a three-layer chocolate cake, of which I had just enough room for. Convenient huh? The cake was ordered with a pot of the best French press coffee this side of the Rockies.
My evening was complete. My soul was full. My father was beaming down at my empty plate and my belt just one notch looser.
I highly recommend Miners And Stockmen’s Steakhouse. That’s as simple as it can be put. If you can find a better steak in Wyoming, buy it for me. You have a high bar to clear though, and it’s doubtful it will be the oldest.
The Miners And Stockmen’s Steakhouse is in Hartville, Wyoming, at 608 Main St. If you would like a table reserved, call 307-836-2008 or visit wyomingsoldestbar.com or Facebook.