Shell lodge reborn as restaurant

Built in 1929, Trapper Creek Lodge and Supper Club gains fans with affordable fine dining
2009-09-24T23:30:00Z Shell lodge reborn as restaurantRUFFIN PREVOST Gazette Wyoming Bureau The Billings Gazette
September 24, 2009 11:30 pm  • 

SHELL - A historic lodge that has hosted Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and Owen Wister is seeing new life as a popular restaurant, led by a classically trained local chef with a passion for fine food.

The Trapper Creek Lodge and Supper Club has become destination dining for gastronomes traveling from as far away as Billings, Jackson, Sheridan and Thermopolis, said Peter De Cabooter, manager of The Hideout ranch.

Hideout owners David and Paula Flitner bought the 5,500-square-foot Trapper Creek Lodge about a decade ago, performing extensive renovations to the dining room and three guest rooms. They opened it as a restaurant only about 18 months ago.

De Cabooter credits Greybull chef Robb Howe, and a mandate to keep fine dining affordable, as keys to the venture's success.

"We started this thinking that if you don't take shortcuts, and work on developing a business that works with the community, and if you try to keep your prices reasonable, it will be profitable over the long term," De Cabooter said.

That plan has worked, Howe said, adding that the restaurant, located in a town of only 50 people, sometimes serves more than 70 guests a night.

The restaurant is open only Wednesday through Saturday, and Howe has stuck with a menu that is "short and simple, not overloaded" with too many choices, focusing on chicken and beef.

But plenty of new specials, including a wide array of fresh fish, keep regulars coming back, he said.

Howe works with a Hawaiian company that overnights fresh fish, allowing him to offer a rotating selection that includes sea bass, ahi tuna, shark and barracuda.

Howe was working on Thursday with Chris Dalin, chef for The Hideout, to serve lunch for about 25 guests who were visiting through a special tour arranged as part of the Rendezvous Royale art week in Cody.

The tour offered guests a chance to see the lovingly restored 1929 log lodge and its authentic period decor, and it gave Howe and Dalin a chance to show off their culinary skills for an appreciative crowd.

Howe, who graduated from Greybull High School, trained at the Culinary Institute of America, in Napa Valley, Calif., and Hyde Park, N.Y. Dalin, also from Greybull, studied at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Minneapolis.

"I think it's cool that we get a chance to do something like this in a place where you grew up and you love it," said Howe, who was the chef at The Wagon Wheel in Shell until the restaurant closed in early 2008 after a fire.

Howe, his parents and his wife, Heather, operated The Wagon Wheel as a family business. Now, Howe and his wife operate Trapper Creek Lodge and Supper Club, working with De Cabooter to offer affordable fine dining in Big Horn County.

Through a monthly mailing to more than 600 people, and on the restaurant's Web site, Howe markets special dishes and promotions. Especially popular is a fixed-price "Date Night" couples menu every Thursday, where $30 buys two three-course meals and drinks.

Thursday night's offering featured minestrone soup, Venetian beef, whipped potatoes, fresh vegetables and berry cobbler, served with a glass of Merlot.

De Cabooter said that most of the customers at the remote restaurant, hidden in a picturesque canyon far off the highway along the western base of the Bighorn Mountains, are from the Bighorn Basin or other nearby communities.

Cody tour guide Bob Richard, who led Thursday's group of visitors, said Trapper Creek Lodge is a favorite dinner option for his family, and that the lodge's three guest rooms and nearby guest cottage also make it a good weekend getaway spot.

Richard said the lodge had fallen into severe disrepair before the restoration, and he praised De Cabooter's efforts to fix it up, along with other buildings in Shell.

"He has great vision, and the local chefs are attracting other young people from Greybull to work with them, so it's a win-win situation for the local community," he said.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at rprevost@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.

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