One of my favorite things about travel is bringing home a new idea for dinner. A great wine, new cheese, or a method of preparing a dish prolongs my visit and brings a bit of the environment I enjoyed home with me.
This time it’s the entire meal that gave me inspiration – our favorite of the whole trip. At the Blue Bell Restaurant in Custer State Park in South Dakota, we dined on Buffalo tips with fried potatoes and sautéd vegetable medley, served with a tall square of extremely moist corn bread.
The restaurant itself was set in a grove of trees near the cabins, camping and horse riding trails. Inside, the decor was rustic western with saddles at the bar for stools and an elk head over the stone fireplace. Service was great, our waiter perfect – friendly, funny, and possessing the right amount of attentiveness without hovering.
The buffalo tips appealed to both of us. It isn’t something we normally see on our menus in North Carolina or Virginia, so we went with the local fare. And were we ever glad we did.
The entire dish came to the table sizzling in a black iron skillet with a perfectly sized pot holder on its handle. The vegetables – peppers, onions, broccoli, corn, mushrooms – still had a slight crunch. And the cornbread – on its own plate with a dollop of honey butter – was divine. I ate mine for dessert.
So, after the trauma of the weekend and the onslaught of cleaning and unpacking, I accepted the challenge of trying to recreate it for my son. Having no buffalo meat in my local supermarkets, I used sirloin steaks, cut them into squares and marinated them in a mixture of tenderizer, salt, pepper, celery salt, liquid smoke, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. I seared them in a large pan while the potatoes baked in the oven and I sliced up green, yellow, and red bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and corn kernels. When the steak was charred but still pink – having turned only once – I removed them and added the vegetables. Then I made corn muffins – used a mix where you just add an egg and one-third cup milk – and popped them in the oven with the potatoes.
I used my little skillet to finish the meal for my son, splitting the potato and adding a dollop of butter, sour cream and fresh chives. The corn bread looked better on a dish by itself.
Boy, was he impressed! And he bragged incessantly on the way it tasted, even asking for seconds on the vegetables. He assures me that our meal at the Blue Bell couldn’t have been better, but I’m not convinced. Perhaps it was because someone else did the cooking and the cleaning or maybe it was the environment.
Whatever the reason, I say – well done Blue Bell, we’ll be back.
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