Finding Food in the Black Hills, South Dakota
I recently had the chance to drive from Denver to Lead, South Dakota, for a wedding. In case you’ve never heard of Lead, don’t be embarrassed, as neither did we until we made our way up there. This part of America is known for a couple of things – and neither of them are the food.The most iconic thing to see here is clearly Mount Rushmore, and so we drove that way into South Dakota in order to stop for the obligatory viewing. It’s cool, and now I can check that off my list. But Lead and the surrounding small towns of Deadwood, Sturges, and Spearfish, are perhaps mostly known for being smack in the middle of the Black Hills of South Dakota. This is heaven for outdoor people: some downhill skiing, miles and miles of snowmobile terrain, lots of gorgeous hiking trails, ponds, and more. But in the mud season of late March, after a particularly dry and warm winter, it’s not good for any of those things really. So instead, we went exploring.We drove to Sturges, having heard forever about the huge motorcycle rally held there every year. Well, it turns out that when the rally isn’t there, there isn’t really anything else there either. The sentiments remain, as you can see from this store sign. (The Sturges Coffee Shop has wonderful coffee and cute gifts and souvenirs – it’s about the only thing we even saw worth stopping for in Sturges.) We also took a ride into Deadwood, the well preserved historic town that is now a gambling mecca. Tip: these kinds of towns are NOT the place to be during the mayhem that accompanies St. Patrick’s Day weekend!I’ve heard about food deserts – I mean, I work in the world of trying to end hunger in America – but can’t say I ever experienced it for myself until this trip. The timing of our trip coincided with my foray into the carb cycling diet, so I was trying to eat healthy foods. Between Denver and Lead, there is a whole lot of rural, barren land. I figured I could get something at a local shop or rest area along the way, but I’m telling you I couldn’t find anything except processed junk food in every place we stopped. I did find two hardboiled eggs in one place, but was horrified to find they had expired 6 weeks earlier (I didn’t see that until they were down the hatch!). Even in the towns, the restaurants served almost no vegetables of any sort, and the menus relied heavily on battered and fried foods.The one exception we found was at the Bay Leaf Cafe in Spearfish. (Guide books do mention that Spearfish has more upscale options than say Deadwood, which is largely a series of small, dark casinos strung together.) The small restaurant, housed in an historic hotel building, serves creative, healthy, local, seasonal foods. And the tabbouleh and salmon I had for lunch before the wedding lived up to their slogan: “A culinary adventure that will say to your tongue â€˜wake up this tastes good’!” I’m not sure I’ll have a reason to visit this part of our country again, but if you do, check out the Bay Leaf Cafe for sure!