Housed in a 1950’s stone cottage, you haven’t fully experienced the region until you’ve dined at The Gamekeeper. It’s a true gourmet restaurant, with the perfect blend of upscale elegance and simple mountain charm. The staff is top notch and very attentive. The Gamekeeper is famous for Southern favorites - ultimate in comfort food - prepared with creativity and originality, offered through an evolving seasonal menu that blends the traditional with the exotic, satisfying both the meat lover and the vegetarian. Much quality and care goes into each dish, from the selection of the freshest ingredients to the wood fire preparation and the exquisite presentation. It is perfection for even the most discerning palate! The restaurant is located off Shulls Mill Road near Yonahlossee Resort.
Wednesday-Sunday: 5 pm - 9 pm
Business Spotlight: Gamekeeper Restaurant Opens After Two-Month Hiatus, An Experience that is Elegant, Unpretentious, Exotic and Local – All at the Same Time
By Jesse Wood
The elegant yet unpretentious Gamekeeper Restaurant, famous for cuisine that fuses the traditional with the exotic, is back open after a two-month hiatus to address what was essentially bad luck on top of the costs of doing business.
Just over a year ago, the owners of the Gamekeeper Restaurant had to dig a new well because of a planning oversight that occurred years before Ken and Wendy Gordon bought the restaurant in 2000. While the old well was still pumping 10 gallons per minute, the new well isn’t producing the amount of water to operate a restaurant seven days a week. To conserve water, the Gamekeeper is currently open five days a week, while chef owners Ken and Wendy figure out another way to bring in water.
After absorbing some financial woes throughout the ordeal, the couple finds themselves back in the kitchen and loving every minute of it.
“We closed for most of March and all of April – those are our two slowest months – to take care of things, rearrange how we do things,” Ken Gordon said. “So one of the things we realized was that we missed being in the kitchen. When we started 13 years ago, we were totally in the kitchen as much as we could be together, always juggling kids. So at this point, we are finding ourselves back in the kitchen and its fantastic. It’s a lot of fun to be in there, doing our thing.”
Like many couples in the High Country, Ken and Wendy met while attending Appalachian State University and married in 1990. They moved down the mountain to work in the Piedmont, where Ken learned the culinary arts under Jim Noble, who was described as “one of the best chefs in the South” in The New Southern Cook. Throughout his time in High Point, Ken soaked up knowledge in the kitchen and cookbooks, knowing that one day he and Wendy would open a restaurant in the Boone area.
Initially and ironically, the plan was to open a vegetarian diner in a downtown area. But after a friend mentioned that the Gamekeeper was for sale, the Gordons checked out the restaurant located along Shull’s Mill Road in between Boone and Blowing Rock in 2000. The building housing the Gamekeeper was the headmaster’s cabin of the old Yonahlossee Girls’ Camp, which was developed into a mountain resort in the ‘80s.
“We walked in and said, ‘This is it,’” Ken said. “So we rolled with it, and it’s been a great thing. We would be just another restaurant I think, but the game part has set us aside. It’s been a good 13 years.”
While wild game – such as venison, bison, duck, ostrich and pheasant – has dominated the menu since the restaurant’s inception, Ken and Wendy focused on acquiring local meats. They also became perhaps the most ardent supporter of New River Organic Growers, a nonprofit cooperative of farmers in Western North Carolina. As a marketer of New River Organic Growers told The Appalachian Voice, The Gamekeeper “by far buys the most from us and is the most committed to supporting local agriculture.”
The Gamekeeper annually ranks as one of the top restaurants in the state. It is the only AAA four-diamond restaurant in the High Country and has held that designation for seven years. Asked for what’s contributed to the success of the Gamekeeper, Gordon mentioned that relationships have been at the heart of the mission – not to mention the beautiful setting.
“It’s beyond the fact that it is just a gorgeous place to be day in and day out. I am sitting on the deck right now, listening to the birds, checking out the clouds, trees and mountains. That’s one part. What is at the heart is definitely the people that we work with and all of our friends that we’ve made throughout the years. This is where they find us and they keep coming back and almost every night we are reconnecting with people and our staff. It’s an enjoyable place to work. It’s fun,” Ken said. “So what does everybody want at the end of the day. They want to be happy. There are so many reasons to be happy while we are at work. We don’t have to wait until we get off.”
As for the customers, Ken said that the goal is to make the customers happy when they leave. Ken talked about borrowing a method from another restaurant where the back and front of the house communicate and rank the customer’s happiness.
“How is that table? They are a seven? Let’s make sure we get them up to an eight or nine before they leave here. That’s always the goal. No matter what state of mind they arrive in, hopefully they are feeling better by the time they leave,” Ken said, adding that the customers are allowed to take their time and enjoy themselves without feeling rushed.
The Gamekeeper is open Wednesday through Sunday from 5 to 11 p.m. and offers catering at Camp Sky Ranch. Check out the menu here or a sampling below:
Appetizers include soup, flash-fried oysters, artisanal cheese and homemade crackers, grilled tiger shrimp and a “mixed game grill” plate of choice game meats and dipping sauces. Salads include Buttermilk Blue, Grilled Escarole and Mixed Greens.
Game entrees – such as Venison Denver Leg, Field and Stream, Long Island Duck Breast, Ostrich and Fettucine with Sauteed Pheasant – are cooked on a wood-fire grill. Other entrees include beef tenderloin, lamb rack chop, basil-seared corvina, mountain trout and the “best veggie plate in town.”
The menu also features a slew of wine and beer options.
The Gamekeeper is located at 3005 Shull’s Mill Road. For more information, click to http://gamekeeper-nc.com/ or to its Facebook page or call 828-963-7400.