When you're considered one of the Midwest's best resorts your restaurants are held to a higher standard. The cuisine needs to meet and exceed expectations of excellence. The staff should be loyal and passionate. The ingredients must be fresh and, when possible, local.
Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa nails it on all counts.
Located seven miles from Galena, the resort offers a variety of dining options featuring inventive cuisine using local ingredients. Chef Randy Hoppman has been with the resort for 36 years and he's been Eagle Ridge's Executive Chef for the past thirteen, and he's not alone in his longevity. Food and Beverage Director Steve Curtis has been there for twelve. Randy's right hand man Sam Riniker - sixteen. Chef Todd Switzer has also been at the Galena resort for more than thirty years.
At the Morel Media Dinner last week it was evident that this team knows what it's doing. Any expectations, even for those of us who have had the privilege of enjoying their cuisine before, were definitely exceeded.
Our evening began with wine and morels served lakeside. The weather was perfect, with the temperature hovering in the mid- to high-sixties and a balmy breeze stirring the air. As members of the media introduced ourselves to each other Steve poured red and white wines while Chef Randy offered freshly sauteed morels. Lightly dredged in flour, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and sauteed in real butter, the simple preparation showcased the unique texture and rich flavor.
This was just a teaser, though, for the extravagance that was to follow.
Dinner was served in the ballroom, and the setting alone was a fairy tale, replicating a lush woodland filled with ferns, tree branches, and morel mushrooms, both real and carved. Clear glass chargers were placed atop pie-plate sized glass dishes filled with earth, fern leaves, rocks, branches, and more morels, creating a glass-bottomed boat effect. The silverware was inserted with greenery into floral foam, and the menu holders were branches. Brilliant.
Despite this extravagance we were barely prepared for the dinner to come. The first course, Seared Diver Scallop Dry Land Trio, was a play on one of the mushroom's nicknames, Dry Land Fish. So called because it looks like a fish when cut in half, the mushroom was featured in the three sauces that accompanied the mullosk. The sauces, a morel citrus butter, a morel cream reduction, and morel pepperonata with lavender essence, introduced us to the variety this kitchen is capable of producing.
Next came the soup, an asparagus and hickory chicken (a.k.a. morel) potage crécy served with ramps, creme friache, morels, fizzled leeks, and camembert crostini. The ingredients in this carrot soup were remarkably well defined. The creaminess portended a hearty, thick soup, but instead it was refreshing and, as my colleague and I commented at the time, tasted like spring. The layered complexity could be the result of the intense respect the chefs have for their ingredients, The ramps in the soup came from Chef Sam's parents' farm and the several pounds of mushrooms used throughout the meal were harvested the night before, at 3 a.m.
The intermezzo was a beautiful, vibrant dish of wild violets and lavender. Chef Sam hand picked 1500 violets, and then pulled the petals from each stem to create this amazing sorbet. It was sweet yet earthy; fragrant but not too floral. For many it was the favorite dish of the evening, and while it didn't include any morels it fit the foraging theme.
Our entree was a rich dish of porchetta and gnocchi with fava beans, concasse, morel ragout, and micro radishes. The porchetta, or the turkucken of the pork world, as Chef Sam calls it, was a pinwheel of pork belly and pork tenderloin, topped with the slightly spicy ragout. This was somehow both elegant and hearty.
As you can probably imagine, including mushrooms in dessert is difficult, so the team at Eagle Ridge improvised and made a representative morel out of sugar, flour, and water. This Florentine cup was shaped on a champagne bottle (of course!). The dessert itself was a fantastic finale of vanilla bean gelato atop a pistachio rhubarb tart. Perfection.
This dinner was thoroughly impressive, and yet lunch the next day, after we'd all experienced just how hard it is to find these elusive fungi, was another meal filled with morel mushrooms prepared in multiple, ingenious ways.
The barbecue cut wagyu beef was brined and marinated and prepared sous vide and then coated with a morel mushroom crust, resulting in a medium rare richness that had me going back for seconds. I wanted to swim in the morel agnolotti. Similar to ravioli, the pasta itself is made with 17 whole eggs for two cups of flour. SEVENTEEN. Then it's stuffed with mozzarella, ricotta, parmigiano reggiano, and boursin cheeses and topped with a morel cream reduction sauce. And then a finishing sauce of butter, garlic, morels, English peas, asparagus, and charred tomatoes is dished over the top. (They gave us the recipe, so when I have a spare 37 hours I'll try to make it.) Dessert this time did include morels, in a pot de creme. And it was amazing.
There are multiple reasons that Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa is one of my favorite places to visit. The cuisine is a perfect example of the excellence that can be achieved when a business is dedicated to producing the best.
In Part III of our Into the Woods series I'll share the breadth of options and amenities that Eagle Ridge offers its guests, and what makes it such a fantastic getaway. Part IV will introduce you to The Galena Territory, a semi-private recreational, residential, and resort community in which Eagle Ridge resides.
Into The Woods at Eagle Ridge
- Part I: Hunting the Mighty Morel
- Part II: A Resort with High Morel Standards
- Part III: R, R, & R at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa
- Part IV: The Galena Territory
Disclaimer: I was invited to the Morel Dinner and Hunt as a member of the media, and Eagle Ridge provided accommodations, miles of hiking paths and oodles of serenity. And lots, and lots of calories.