Sep 042012

Anyone who traveled years ago along Route 66 near Pond, Mo., knew that Big Chief – which opened in 1929 as a hotel and restaurant – was the place to stop. Thanks to a recent renovation, Big Chief once again is the place to stop along the old roadway to revel in good food and nostalgia.

New owners are responsible for returning the historic Big Chief building to its former glory days, reopening back on June 11 as Big Chief Roadhouse.

“It’s like a dream come true,” said Stephanie Mulholland, who co-owns the restaurant with John Fox, admitting she had a tear in her eye when she first walked through the renovated building that preserves the authenticity and integrity of Big Chief. “You can’t find places like this anymore.”

It has been a 20-year vision that has come together for Mulholland, whose passions are cooking and history.

“I’m a huge history person,” Mulholland said. “I’ve read every history book on Wildwood, St. Albans and the area. I live just a couple of miles down the road and always loved the Big Chief and its history.”

Mulholland has used items such as vintage advertisements and western memorabilia illustrating Big Chief’s history to decorate the interior walls of the bar and dining room. An iconic buffalo head trophy seems to smile as it overlooks the dining room and new, open kitchen.

Also smiling are Big Chief’s customers when they view the menu, which is best described as a playful mix of classic retro and creative, new age cuisine. Signatures include fruitwood, house-smoked meats like the beef brisket, turkey and apricot jalapeno-glazed pork chops. Retro offerings include a tuna salad-stuffed tomato, and chicken-fried steak draped with white pepper gravy.

For something more modern, try the toasted lasagna. Resembling an egg roll, it is lightly breaded, flash-fried, baked and then finished with red and white sauces.

Mushroom fans will enjoy the Chief’s stuffed baby portabella. An order includes four baby ‘bellas stuffed with Monterey Jack, cheddar, gorgonzola and cream cheese, sauced with a decadent, rich, garlic-infused cream sauce.

Salads, soups and sandwiches are given equal attention. Soups are made from scratch daily with onion soup being the Big Chief specialty. Order up a bowl to complement an entrée salad, such as the Route 66. Reminiscent of a chef salad, Big Chief’s Route 66 salad features grilled chicken, shredded cheese, hard-cooked eggs, tomatoes and red onions with a bacon onion ranch dressing.

The house-smoked beef brisket is a sure winner for those with hearty appetites. Topping a pile of house-cut French fries is sliced brisket that is drizzled with barbecue sauce. Big Chief also offers a range of burgers and pizzas, plus a “Little Indians” menu with kids’ meals priced at $4.95.

Before checking out, ask for a slice of Ghia’s award-winning cheesecake.

“You gotta try the cheesecake,” Mulholland said. “It’s my mother’s recipe.”

Suzanne Corbett – Newsmagazine

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