In a lovely area of north Texas rich with a history of gunfights, cattle drives, and Injun violence, dinner last night was pure steak. Even better, it was served at the steakhouse at Wildcatter Ranch Resort & Spa, a destination about two hours west of Dallas that’s more relaxing than anything that happened nearby at the start of the fabled Goodnight-Loving Trail.
With something over 30 rooms, in cabins where I’m staying but also in the Hotel, Wildcatter Ranch is definitely a surprise out here in this rugged section of Young County, which combines rolling green hills with unexpected outcroppings of rock. Also unexpected, a little bit anyway, is the seriousness about food and wine of the resort’s F&B manager Bob Bratcher. To say that beef is “what’s for dinner” at Wildcatter Ranch is an understatement worthy of John Wayne.
Here, for instance, is my T-Bone before I attacked it with all the ferocity of Quanah Parker, before the area’s last great chief made his peace with the white man and decided Theodore Roosevelt was a great guy to have over for dinner. The beef at the ranch is amazing, and sometimes the sides are even better. The potatoes in that bowl with lots of molten cheese are actually one of the best steakhouse sides I’ve ever tasted. I declare them “potato lasagna.”
Due to the mysteries of the county being “dry,” you have to join a private club to buy anything alcoholic at Wildcatter Ranch; but considering the quality of the wine program, I’d suggest you pledge allegiance to whatever it is right away. Bob took me through his wine room, and I was impressed by not only the vintages he carries but by how well he describes their various charms. Not inappropriately, reds rule the school.
I’m not sure “The Sons of Katie Elder,” made famous by a Hollywood shoot-’em-up starring John Wayne and Dean Martin that’s based on something that happened near here, ate a whole lot of creme brulee. But the dessert turns up in high style at the steakhouse. The creme is creamy and the brulee is crisp, and yes, all’s right with the world. Note the big-city squizzle of chocolate sauce.
Still, I have a single favorite among the desserts at Wildcatter Ranch Steakhouse, and it’s the slightly different bread pudding. All the great flavors are right, as we’d expect after growing up in bread pudding-crazed New Orleans. But instead of a single, tightly pressed loaf or square, this bread pudding is a series of individual cubes, each of which gets a bit crispy and caramelized. Like the old cattle drives organized here by Charles Goodnight (whose first name put the “chuck” in chuckwagon) and Oliver Loving, this bread pudding is an idea whose time has come.
And finally, in the photos above and below, here’s a look at Wildcatter Ranch itself. Above, this is the other bed in my cabin named after the Marlow Brothers, the figures in local history who inspired the movie “The Sons of Katie Elder.” And below, that’s the shortly-after-sunrise view from my veranda, hopefully looking down on terrain I will cover shortly during the resort’s daily trail ride.