Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, June 2018
Written by Gail G. Collins
When Mormon Lake Lodge invited the families of local ranchers and loggers to enjoy a steak and some lively music on a Saturday night, the owners likely never dreamed of its lasting impact. Originally dubbed Tombler’s Lodge in 1924, the name later changed to honor Mormon dairy farmers, who settled the area in the 1870s. The rustic outpost was remote enough to embrace local, calloused hands, yet enticing enough to draw guests from Flagstaff, and perhaps, further afield. The lodge still serves all of those purposes. The loyalty of rural residents remains strong and the pull for traditional steak, cooked over an open fire, lures travelers from Phoenix. Executive chef Dylan Gold, who plays with fire at the steakhouse, summed it up best, “Mormon Lake Lodge is a time capsule for the area.”
Mormon Lake Lodge has long been a statewide gathering point for rodeo events. In fact, the world’s largest jackpot team roping contest, is held there annually. Such devotion is longstanding and the reason the lodge is literally standing today. During the July 4th weekend events in 1974, a faulty heater caused a fire that burnt the lodge to the ground. True to the grit and determination it takes to rope and ride, the cowboys vowed to rebuild before the next event, Labor Day weekend. Volunteer labor coordinated and executed the timely construction project, and as protection, ranchers burned their brands into the walls. “People regularly come in and search for their family’s brand,” Chef Dylan said.
One thing survived the blaze—The Pit. As one of the state’s last open-pit barbecues, its name is hung alongside a pair of longhorns high above its leaping flames. The Pit produces grilled steak, chicken and ribs for 500 guests over busy holiday weekends. Mesquite chips lend the local smoke to meat that needs little else as far as seasoning. “We don’t muddy the quality flavor,” Dylan said. “Simplicity built the restaurant’s fame, and that means doing steak really well.”
Remembering the traditions and values that built the lodge and its reputation is vital. Food and beverage manager Leigh Gold confirms only sustainably-raised meat hits the grill. Arizona supply companies, such as Shamrock Foods, are also a priority.
All boneless steaks are hand-cut and generous burgers are patted into shape. The attention shows. The 12-ounce ribeye, famous for its marbling and flavor, is perfectly permeated with smoke and bears a scoop of herbed butter. Grilled asparagus and whipped spuds with a ladle of beef gravy create a staple meal. Add salad, corn, rolls and signature cowboy beans for a heartier appetite. The beans were perfected by General Manager Scott Gold, Dylan’s father, when he worked the kitchen. Originally, a pot arrived as a perk before the meal. Like other time-honored items, they’re a standout for their simplicity and flavor. Now, the iron pot delivers a family portion of chocolate chip cookie, ice cream, hot fudge and whipped cream. Spoons up!
Combine everything you love about a BBQ dinner, and the Mormon Mountain takes the plate. The double-sized, loaded, baked potato comes topped with your favorite protein. The Border Burger bears a cross of bacon, green chile heat and chipotle ranch dressing, plus pepper jack cheese and guacamole. Moist and messy with steak fries on the side, the beast will leave you groaning. Prime rib is available on the weekends, and the slow-roasted meat sells out early. Soups are fresh daily, sauces are secret and scratch made, like whiskey peppercorn ranch for dipping those Tarnation Wings.
Fancy some fish? The shrimp cocktail delivers an extra kick of horseradish to the prawns as a starter. For a meal, Zane’s Fish and Chips covers cod in ultra-crisp, light batter, effervesced with Mormon Lake Lager. The super slaw is a cruciferous blend of kale, Brussel sprouts and broccoli, dressed in citrus vinaigrette.
Loyalty and continuity surround Mormon Lake Lodge. Old-timers have a dedicated seat at the saloon-style bar, and one fellow, Mike Murphy, even collects mail from a personal box. As you would imagine, there is also generational devotion. A couple married at the lodge, who returned for anniversaries, as many do, recently celebrated 50 years.
The Old West theme is over the top, meaning you can observe the open pit grill from the second floor. Wagon wheels lights; plank fencing between tables and benches; buffalo, deer and other horned taxidermy are mounted throughout; plus an unabashed display of Zane Grey memorabilia—everything from movie posters to a saddle—keep it country.
Mormon Lake Lodge is exactly as it should be and always has been—a comforting, classic time capsule of pioneering traditions. NAMLM