Valley a’ la Carte

Graham’s Celebrates 25-Year Milestone

 

 

 

Graham Rock (center) & his loyal crew.

Graham Rock (center) & his loyal crew.

It was in December of 1990 when Graham Rock first welcomed guests to the restaurant on Squaw Valley Road that bears his name. Twenty-five years later, many of those early patrons are still stalwart customers and now long-time friends.

I love my business because I love socializing with people,” explains the British-born restaurateur.

Rock first started out in Squaw Valley in the late ’80s, running the Backstage Bistro in the old Squaw Valley Opera House which is now the Far East complex. After two years, the opportunity arose to move across the street into the original home of Wayne and Sandy Poulsen, co-founders of the ski area, and Rock has been doling out delicious comfort food and good will ever since.
Within the property, which was the first residence ever built in Squaw, Rock also maintains the Christy Inn Lodge, which consists of five snug guestrooms separated from the restaurant. Just a short distance across the street from the Far East lift and next door to a ski shop, it’s become a popular getaway for those looking to escape traffic and desire something out of the ordinary.

As far as his success in the restaurant business, Rock professes a simple formula for his longevity. “We create cravings,” he says. “Patrons know we do certain things, and we do it consistently well.”

The many regulars who frequent the cozy restaurant also know that the menu contains many items not usually found in resort areas. Entrees such as osso bucco, grilled scallops and a buffalo rib-eye are year-round customer favorites. In the colder months, Chef Rudi Martinez will add specialty dishes like cassoulet or rabbit fricasse with pasta.

Rudi has a unique ability to take an idea and develop it,”says Rock. “But we stick with the favorites we have developed through the years, and that’s what our customers expect. They know if they come in on a Monday, it will be the same menu as on Saturday.”

One of Martinez’s most popular creations is the seafood chowder. Rock recalls a patron from Boston who was especially enamored with it.

He owned a famous restaurant in Boston which, of course, served chowder,” says Rock. “He ordered two bowls and afterward he said, ‘I guess now I have the second best chowder in America.’”

Rock’s adherence to consistency is also reflected in his staff – practically everyone-Rudi, Peter, Liz, Kat and Big Al – have been with him since the start. And some of his regular customers include the very people who grew up in the building.

The Poulsens are good landlords and great friends,” says Rock. “We all miss Sandy’s personalty and humor. I remember once I told her she was like a mother to me and joked she should adopt me. Sandy retorted, ‘So, you are charging your own mother for dinner?’

But on any given night you might find her sons Russell or Eric dining here, and they graciously tell stories about growing up in this building. People just love to hear the history.”

The Main(e) Attraction at Morgan’s

For many waiters and line cooks, the dream of owning their own restaurant is a common one. It was no different for East Coast-raised Shawn Whitney, who along with his wife Heather, opened a Maine-style lobster shack in Truckee despite the many naysayers who groaned that the small town could not support such a restaurant with a high-cost, main(e) ingredient. Shawn found a small, low-rent space across the tracks and was bolstered by the support of his wife’s lobster fishing connections in Maine, as well as his own connections from a clam digger and family friend in Massachusetts. Morgan’s opened in 2013, gained a following and was accidentally destroyed by an equipment fire less than two months after opening. This situation forced Shawn to either give up or go through all the bureaucratic hoops again with the historical association, the health department, the building department and others. Luckily for us, Shawn chose the latter, as he re-opened last summer, and his hard work has paid off in the form of a successful restaurant with high accolades and a far-reaching clientele. Shawn is proud of how transplanted East Coasters will call the restaurant to inquire about the lobster roll preparation. After Shawn tells them they use Country Kitchen split buns from Maine, steamed Maine lobster meat, mayonnaise, lemon, salt and pepper, the callers say that they will be right over. While the lobster roll is their signature dish, the crustaceans are also served in a variety of preparations: including whole-steamed, in macaroni and cheese, on grilled cheese sandwiches and in salads and wraps.

Shawn had lived and worked in the area for a dozen years before opening his own establishment. The relationships he developed with chefs by working at the Resort at Squaw Creek helped springboard his menu into an appetizing array with higher standards. All sauces, French fries and fish items are prepared on the premises daily. The New England clam chowder is excellent, possessing a velvety texture and a fresh clam taste. Crab cakes, also prepared daily, are panko breaded and served hot with dressed spring greens. In addition to the above, there are a variety of salads, a soup du jour, appetizers, fried clams, a po’ boy sandwich and a delectable fish and chips platter. Shawn uses fresh haddock for the beer battered fish and chips which are served with Tartar sauce, hand-cut fries and cole slaw. For those who prefer something other than seafood, Morgan’s offers chicken, house-smoked BLT’s and a kiddie menu. Shawn is especially proud to offer Ipswich full belly clams, lightly breaded with panko crumbs and deep fried. Looking like tiny octopuses with four long arms, the lightly-cooked clams have great flavor along with the flavor of the sea. Shawn describes this East Coast specialty as nearly impossible to find. In addition to the fixed menu boards, there is a pick and choose menu offering diners a half dozen fish items, such as halibut or scallops, that can be either fried, sautéed, grilled or steamed. The customer then chooses their seasoning style and if they would like it served as a wrap, sandwich or salad. Diners can add onion rings, potato salad, house-cured pickles or Valrhona chocolate lava cake to their order. They can then eat-in, take-out or sit outside on the patio tables by the Truckee river.

A significant and beneficial portion of Morgan’s Lobster shack business is their fresh fish market with fresh fish flown in daily. Shawn orders frequently and in small batches to insure keeping the product fresh for the consumer. On my visit, they offered Dungeness crab meat, lobster meat, live lobster, king salmon, swordfish, scallops, wild shrimp, Chilean sea bass, cod, snapper, Fanny Bay oysters, ahi and halibut. Although Shawn is at the restaurant seven days a week, his manager Jeremy and the staff will gladly offer knowledgeable tips on how to prepare the fish you are taking home.

Morgan’s is located at 10089 West River Street in the quaint, historical building that was once part of Earthly Delights Bakery. Morgan’s is open daily from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. They offer catering, beer, wine and hope to open a patio oyster bar this summer. Call 530.582.5000 for information or visit morganslobstershack.com.–By Mike “A.K.” Akay