Jackson Hole’s Secret Jazz Club

When you first think music and Jackson Hole, country at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is undoubtedly at the top of the list.  Tourists gingerly balance on the saddles at the bar, sipping Wyoming Whiskey, while seasoned local dance pros two-step, country swing and waltz visitors across the dance floor.  Around the corner at The Wort Hotel, country is also found, but mixed with bluegrass, reggae, folk and rockabilly depending on the night.

But for those looking for that non-traditional piano bar, where you can enjoy a nice glass of wine and carry on a conversation without yelling over the music – where to go?

For many years, one of my favorite fine dining restaurants in Jackson has been The Granary at Spring Creek Ranch, just outside of Jackson and peering down over Spring Gulch. Whether enjoying a glass of wine on the deck during the summer, cozying up to the fireplace bar or restaurant during the winter, The Granary provides spectacular views of the Teton Range and the Spring Gulch ranches.

The Granary is also home to what I call Jackson’s Secret Jazz Club.  Jackson is blessed with two incredibly talented Jazz musicians – husband and wife, Keith and Pam Phillips.   Almost every young local pianist has taken lessons from this duo, creating a bevy of kids who “get” jazz and classical music at a young age.

Typically, Friday and Saturday evenings you will find Pam twinkling the ivories at The Granary’s bar.  Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, or Diana Krall, you name it, she plays it, with flourishes that will keep your toes tapping.  On Friday evenings, Pam is joined by a variety of musicians, further bringing the jazz club to life.  One of Pam’s regulars is bassist Bill Plummer who lovingly embraces his bass like a very special woman, making it sing.  Plummer has played with The Grateful Dead, Quincy Jones and Tony Bennett, just to name a few.

Before moving to Jackson, Pam conducted for Evita and Crazy For You on Broadway, in addition to playing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Manhattan Rhythm Kings.  You can find her music on iTunes and in many of the local stores.  One of my all-time favorites is “Woolly Bugger Rag” (it’s a fly fishing thing….)  Make a request and you won’t be disappointed.

So next time you are in Jackson, and if you love piano and jazz, make a point to spend an evening at The Granary, experiencing Jackson’s Secret Jazz Club.  Order a bottle of Hahn Pinot Noir, very affordable and perfect to enjoy with the Smoked Trout Dip, creamy flaky smoked trout mousseline with Parmesan Reggiano cheese, served with crostini.  You also must try the Game Sausage Plate, exploding with flavors that will excite your taste buds.  If you are having dinner, the elk tenderloin is not to be missed.

If you miss Pam at The Granary, she also is the music director at St. John’s Episcopal Church.  Trust me, the lady can wrap up a church service with a version of Amazing Grace that would bring anyone to their feet with a serious AMEN!

Check the local newspaper, or contact The Granary at 307-733-8833 to confirm the music schedule as it varies by season.

Susan Balbo Surprise

In any trip I have taken, a pleasant surprise always occurs.  Whether it’s a hidden photography gem down an alley, the Mom and Pop restaurant, or something you trip over because you were not where you were originally supposed to be.  Fate, kismet, dumb luck – I don’t care what you call it, I’ll take it.

After two days on airplanes John and I were ready to collapse when we arrived a Lares de Chacras, a wonderful boutique hotel just south of Mendoza.  As we graced the massive front door that pivots at a unique angle, we then took a quick step back as we realized we were walking across the glass ceiling of their wine cellar.  We both smiled as Franco welcomed us and we knew we made an excellent choice in accommodations.

A welcome shower and a two-hour nap are exactly what was needed before joining the other guests in the dining room for our first wonderful dinner in Argentina.  We selected an Alta Vista Single Vineyard Serenade 2010 Malbec from the wine cellar to start the evening.  Instead of the typical bread, we were presented with additive warm, melt-in-your-mouth herb biscuits.  To start, we enjoyed “wrapped seafood” a delicious mix of seafood and mushrooms wrapped in phyllo, and a wonderful winter soup of pureed pumpkin drizzled with pureed beetroot and touches of green onions and jalapenos.  We both could not resist the opportunity to enjoy our first Argentinian beef.  While John enjoyed a perfectly grilled filet mignon with chimichurri sauce, I tried the skirt steak.   I was very pleased that my steak which can be overcooked at tough at times, was juicy and perfectly medium rare.  The simple spices allowed the flavors of the meat to shine.  While we didn’t think there was room for dessert, there always is.  The caramel, coconut flan was too much for me to resist and it did not disappoint.

The morning arrived and we headed south with the spectacular Andes mountains as a backdrop.  A recent fresh dusting of snow brought them to life, even though another 90-degree day was predicted in the valley.  The cold and snow we left in Jackson just made us smile.

Our first stop was Catena Zapata.  A number of years ago I had the honor of meeting Nicholas Catena at a wine dinner and he made me promise if I ever visited Mendoza I would make the winery my first visit.  I kept my promise and was not disappointed.  The Catena wines have always been one of my favorites and were my entrée into Malbecs years ago.  I cannot say enough about the staff at the winery, Tatianna and Mercedes, along with another lovely woman who I cannot remember her name, were exquisite hosts.  They were also a godsend when we had some transportation difficulties and they didn’t even blink before jumping in to assist us.

The winery is designed after a Mayan ruin, paying tribute to the history of the country.  But this history of Argentine wines has been built squarely on the shoulders of the Catena family.  It was Nicholas who first planted vines at a high altitude (6000+ meters), and while everyone shook their heads and thought he was crazy, it was he who proved them wrong.  Today their Adrianna vineyard has generated over 500 Malbec varietals.

Every element of the winery was beautifully designed, from the brass staircase to the roof from the center of the building, to the 300 barrel wine theater where the best of their wine is aged, to the impressive Catena and European (read – the competition) wine cellars.  We so wanted to just poke around the European cellar and see what was hiding under the dust covering many of the labels.

While we only tasted the wines available for export during our tasting – wines I have already tried, we were able to enjoy a wonderful DV Catena Malbec 2010 Malbec while we waited for our ride to arrive.  Well worth the wait!

My hat is off to Laura Catena who is now in charge of the winery.  She is blazing trails for women in the wine industry and is making her Father, Grandfather and Great Grandfather very proud.

Another woman making advances is Susan Balbo – our wonderful, incredible surprise of the day.  We didn’t originally have Dominio Del Plata on our radar screen, but thanks to a last-minute recommendation by a Jackson Hole wine rep, we were able to book a visit.  We arrived early at the winery and famished, and asked if we could slip in for lunch at Osadia de Crear.  Our hotel manager in addition to our wine rep said it was a must.

Osadio only opened in March and it has an amazing future with Chef Jose Cacciavillani  at the helm.  Osadia de Crear translates to “daring to create” and is the perfect name.  While the seating is limited, I have never experienced a restaurant where the chef comes to each table with each serving and provides a description of your meal.  Raw talent and creativity are his foundation and then he intoxicates your palate from there.

I highly recommend the Susan Balbo prefix meal for approximately $80.  It includes a starter, entrée and dessert, along with two glasses of wine and coffee or tea.  We each ordered different wines so we had the opportunity to try 4 Signature Balbo wines.

We began with a Signature 2011 Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Malbec was beautiful with strong chocolate and spices.  Initially, the Cab was light, more typical of a French Bordeaux, but by the time the entrée arrived, its flavors sang.  Again, warm, fresh bread was brought to the table, but accompanied with a light olive oil and very different – guacamole.  Spiced with coriander and smoked Tabasco, its flavor was perfect.

I decided to live a little and ordered the blood sausage and quince dumpling for my started while John ordered the German sausage, vegetable and fruit fondue.  Let me just state here that Chef Jose’s presentations are exquisite.  From the brush of balsamic vinegar to the bright colored flowers, each plate is a work of art.

One bite of the blood sausage and quince dumpling and I was a puddle.  It truly fits in my highest score – the culinary orgasm.  The sweet and tart flavors make your taste buds happier than they have ever been.  I could have stopped right there, not had another bite of the meal and died happy.  Run, fly, take a train, but you have to try this appetizer.

If I smoked, I would have stepped outside lit one up and recomposed myself, but our entrees arrived and we had to see what surprise was next.  I enjoyed a very simple plate of Patagonia trout, seared with the perfect amount of salt and pepper, and paired with a sweet potato, squash and garlic puree.  John’s leg of lamb ratatouille had been slow cooked for 10 hours and fell apart when touched.  Enhanced with olive oil and duck fat as it is roasted, the flavors are immense.  Both the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon were excellent compliments to the meal.

Dessert, you knew it would be heavenly.  While I am not a big sweet wine drinker, the Late Harvest Malbec and Torrentes were perfectly chilled and what can I say, we both giggled after sipping our respective glasses.  Paired with a green apple strudel and a crème brulee, we were spent, finished and happy.

This trip was number two on my bucket list and I sometimes worry, what happens if it isn’t as fabulous as you imagined?  Any such thought has been pushed aside.  Our first day in Mendoza was complete and I received my “surprise” the first day.



That Special Bottle Of Wine

It was Easter 1984 and the family sat down for our traditional spread of honey-baked ham and Mom’s oh-so-succulent turkey that had been slow-roasting since before we left for sunrise service.   Dad had just delivered the blessing when my sister followed up with, “And God bless Chris and Chuck’s engagement.”

I screamed, Mom started crying, Dad let out a howl and Chris uncovered her gorgeous engagement ring, while my future brother-in-law, Chuck, sat there with a Cheshire grin on his face.

My family were not major wine drinkers at the time, but when we did imbibe, it was usually along the lines of Riunite Lambrusco.   When everyone came down off of the euphoria cloud, Dad noted we didn’t have a bottle of wine to celebrate.  Shock, gasp, appalling!  At that moment I ran upstairs and pulled from under my bed a very dusty bottle of wine I brought home from my year living in Australia.  Sadly, I can’t even tell you what it was…. I came bouncing back downstairs, set the bottle on the table and Dad looked at me and said, “I thought you were saving that for something special?”

There was a moment of silence and then everyone burst out laughing. The wine was opened and toasts were made, while my sister glowed.

Today, I’m not a sommelier or wine expert, and I don’t play one on TV. I just love drinking wine.  It was several years after my sister’s wedding when a good friend invited me to one of Dornan’s winter wine dinners.  It was a vertical tasting of cabernets sauvignon and I had no appreciation what I was tasting.

At one point, Bob Dornan, master of ceremonies and a man who I love and adore, as does much of Jackson Hole, said, “Can you taste the chocolate in this wine?”  I thought the man had lost his mind – chocolate in wine?  I was such a rookie.

Years later, much more versed in wine and the enhancing flavors, I opened a bottle of wine, took a sip and stopped.  I took another sip and, I’ll be, chocolate.  Dark, rich, luscious chocolate, masquerading as a bottle of wine.  It was pure heaven.

For those of who want to learn about wine, it’s simple. Go to your local wine store and ask for recommendations.  Or, throw a brown-bag barbecue with your friends.  Everyone brings a red and white bottle, wrapped in a paper bag.  Your guests taste each wine and then vote.  You’ll discover some fabulous and very affordable wines this way.  Just keep tasting until you find something you like and keep notes.  The Evernote and Vivino apps are my best friends when it comes to keeping a list of wines I want to remember.

Pick up Wine For Dummies and learn the difference between a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Gris.  And for you history buffs, Wine & War and the Women of Wine are two fabulous books that will keep you turning the pages.

Sip, breathe, eat and enjoy.  It’s the best way to learn about wine, plain and simple.

Chris and Chuck are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary today.  Like a good wine, they have gotten better and better with time and, they have become major Malbec connoisseurs – love swapping recommendations with them!

So happy anniversary you two, I raise my favorite glass sparkling wine, J Brut, to my best friend and her incredible husband.  You remind us that love, friendship and most importantly, communication are paramount to making a marriage work and last.





The Cutters Run So Children May Walk

Each WinterFest Week, Jackson Hole residents and visitors can enjoy two very exciting and unique events benefiting the Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City: The 44th Annual Cutter Races and the 3rd Annual North American Ski Joring Championships.

Hosted by the Jackson Hole Shriners, the Cutter Races are held Presidents Day weekend.  The races were originally on the streets of downtown Jackson, but the event has grown so much that it is now held just south of Jackson, off of South Park Loop Road and Melody Ranch. The Ski Joring event was created several years ago as a bookend event to wrap up Winterfest Week in Jackson Hole.

For those not familiar with cutter racing, think Ben Hur, but instead of a colosseum, imagine two horses and a carriage moving at top speeds across the snow. Ski joring gets a little more crazy as skiers are pulled by running horses through an obstacle course filled with jumps and speed runs.  Click here to watch exciting videos from previous events.

The locals know to show up early and park their trucks, flat beds and RVs, then proceed to set up elaborate tailgate parties complete with grills, music and specialty flags so their friends know where to find them.

Calcutta betting is used to raise additional funds and create further competition in the events.

The net proceeds from the events are donated to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake which serves children of the Jackson Hole community. The hospital is committed to providing the best care for children in their specialty areas of orthopedics, burn care, spinal cord injury and cleft lip and palate, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

The Shriners and the hospital have helped countless children and their families in the Jackson Hole area receive care they may otherwise have never been able to afford. This care changes lives, brings hope and smiles to the faces of children and parents, and simply is priceless.

The 2014 Cutter Races are held February 14th and 15th at 12:30 pm. The Ski Joring event is February 21st and 22nd at 12:00 pm. There is a $15 entry free for the Cutter Races and $10 for Ski Joring.  Children under 12 are free. For more information on the events, visit www.jhshriners.org.