Kirkwood Inn & Saloon: Historic roadhouse serving up modern food and specialty drinks
A slight breeze rustles the leaves that have begun to change colors.
Families fresh from a day hike, motorcyclists on their way from here to there and firefighters taking a break, all stop to enjoy the food and atmosphere of the Historic Kirkwood Inn & Saloon.
The saloon is right off California State Route 88 between the Kirkwood Mountain Resort and Caples Lake, and has been there since 1864. Although when dairyman Zachary Kirkwood built his roadhouse, the road was called Amador Wagon Road.
While it was built to house weary people traveling over what is now Carson Pass, it now serves smokehouse-style food to summer hikers, winter skiers and everybody in between.
The food the inn serves today “leverages the history” of the building said Food and Beverage Manager Eric Tiffany.
The 160 acres Zachary Kirkwood owned housed cattle.
“The focus of the menu is housemade, smoked protein,” Tiffany said.
The menu boasts a Reuben sandwich, the pastrami is made with a kiss of smoke that gives the sandwich a unique taste. The pulled pork has pickled apple on the top that puts a new twist on an old favorite.
The inn is trying new chicken wings as well.
“We’re moving away from traditional buffalo wings to something more in line with our feel,” Tiffany said.
The chicken wing is an entire wing that’s smoked then grilled with a barbecue seasoning. It’s served with a traditional buffalo sauce, a burnt orange sauce made with smoked citrus or a bourbon sauce.
Throughout the year, the inn hosts Flights and Bites events that pair the wings with beers.
Even though the restaurant has a smokehouse focus, Tiffany said they also want to appeal to California food culture.
The restaurant was one of the first in the area to make an impossible burger, a plant-based burger that has the taste and texture of ground beef. Of course, they put their own twist on it with a hint of smoke.
They’ve done a new spin on cole slaw too, making their slaw with Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
“Our idea isn’t to be everything to everyone but to have a broader appeal,” Tiffany said.
To wash it all down, the saloon has specialty cocktails including Blueberry Mule, Basil Watermelon Margarita, Sparkling Rose Sangria and the Call of Juarez, their house bloody mary.
Don’t forget dessert. They serve a s’more with a graham cracker crust, melted chocolate, toasted marshmallow topped with ice cream and whipped cream that every child, and inner child, will love.
People don’t just come for the food, they come to enjoy the history and atmosphere.
The building has been in operation since it was built, and while work has been done, its historic nature has been preserved.
Walking in, it’s hard not to miss the low doorways and the original beams just overheard.
It’s dark but the huge stone fireplace gives the room a cozy feel. Three mystery (bullet?) holes can be seen on a wall and vintage snow equipment hang as decorations.
“One of the cool things to think about is all the people who have been here from the gold rush to motorcyclists to people coming off the mountain,” said Joanna McWilliams, manager of communications for the Tahoe Region of Vail Resorts.
And if the walls could talk, they’d have a lot of stories to tell, including from the Prohibition era.
The building rests on the intersection of three counties, Amador, El Dorado and Alpine. Rumor has it that when county officials from one county came in, they would move the bar, which was on wheels, to the other side of the room. Since the other part of the room was in a different county, it was out of the jurisdiction of whoever was in at the time.
The inn and saloon acts a gateway for people coming from the east to visit Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
In the 1970s, the founders of Kirkwood Mountain Resort stopped to visit the inn and saloon. It was buried in snow so they had to use a pole to locate the building.
They dug down several inches to find the building, they then stayed in the building for over a week.
CA-88 didn’t begin being plowed in the winter until 1971 and Kirkwood Mountain Resort opened in 1972.
The inn and saloon offers great events throughout the year.
On Saturday, Oct. 5, the inn will host a Brewmasters Dinner. The brewmaster from 10 Barrel in Oregon will work with the inn’s chef to create a three-course meal with beer pairings.
For information on the event, visit http://www.kirkwood.com.