Offers Southern twist to Sierra cuisine
BY VIRGINIA STILL
There is a unique and historic culinary experience waiting for travelers and adventurers in the Sierra foothills —Hotel Léger Restaurant and Saloon, in the heart of Mokelumne Hill. The destination hotel was originally built in 1851 to house gold prospectors during the California Gold Rush as thousands of people from all over the world arrived in search of their share of the “mother lode.”
This historic location was once the Calaveras County courthouse, jail, and in the back near where a pool is now located is the old hanging tree. There are 13 rooms available to rent with a variety of options that will transport you back to the Wild West like a shared hallway bathroom or balcony access that overlooks Main Street. The rooms also feature antique furniture.
There is a saloon that at one time was filled with rowdy characters and outlaws and today offers a full bar. Diners have the option to savor the unique menu with three dining areas that have rustic stone walls or, during the warmer months, dine out on the patio that overlooks the backyard and orange trees.
Executive Chef Louis Chiero has handpicked the items that are on the menu which he calls a contemporary American and Southern fusion. Some of the items that are most popular are the creations with the Southern twist like the New Orleans Jambalaya that is said to bring out one’s inner Cajun, a pan roast to die for, and the shrimp and grits, to name a few. The Jambalaya was his mother’s recipe and consists of chicken, sausage and shrimp with black beans, okra, bell pepper and rice in a flavorful red creole sauce. Food quality and presentation is most important to Chiero, noting that people eat with their eyes first.
“I really love being in the kitchen,” stated Chiero. “I have never had a job that was not in the kitchen. I have never done anything else. I work a second job as a DJ…We joke around and say whipping up treats and spinning the beats.”
For those that may be looking for something not so Cajun, Chef Chiero has been given rave reviews on his grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu, which is a marinated chicken breast grilled with melted brie cheese, prosciutto ham, topped by a drizzle of hollandaise served on a bed of purple potatoes and house vegetables. Another item on the menu that is over the top is the apple cranberry 10-ounce pork cutlet seasoned, seared, and served on a bed of cinnamon sugar glazed apples and topped with a cranberry puree.
There is also an assortment of appetizer options like the lobster and crab cakes, honey walnut prawns, balsamic chicken, boudin balls, and deep-fried raviolis. The balsamic chicken is a Hotel Léger classic that has garlic marinated chicken dipped in batter and fried until it is golden brown, garnished with balsamic reduction and served with ranch dressing. The avocado toast was recently added to the menu that is made with homemade vinaigrette, sliced grapes, an assortment of heirloom tomatoes, and crumbled feta cheese and, of course, a slather of avocado on toast.
For those warmer days, lighter options include a Cobb salad, seafood Louie salad and a beet salad.
There is much more to the hidden gem in the Mother Lode than just the array of delectable options to fill one’s belly; there is also some form of entertainment each week like comedy on the first Friday of every month, karaoke night, live music, open mic nights, or the backyard BBQs thrown during the summer with live music and a specialty menu like Hawaiian barbecue one weekend, Texas BBQ on another or Kansas City barbecue. There is something sure to delight the weariest of travelers at Hotel Léger.
Hotel Léger has been featured on the Travel Channel along with a few ghost hunter-type shows due to the paranormal activity that has been said to occur at the hotel, which makes this historic location an even more intriguing destination.
“There is just something about this place,” said Chiero. “It was calling me. This is the perfect place for the semi-Cajun menu that I have always wanted to do and to get out of my Italian comfort zone.”
Proprietors Debbie Rangell and Krissy Haderer recently celebrated their one-year anniversary as
owners of Hotel Léger. Rangell has been with the hotel for over 30 years and Haderer over five years and they are both very pleased to have Chiero running the kitchen.
Drive off the beaten path down the old Main Street in Mokelumne Hill to get a taste of the ‘Old West’ and to enjoy a place where the locals and travelers alike gather.
IF YOU GO:
Hotel Léger Restaurant & Saloon
8304 Main St., Mokelumne Hill, CA
Open for dinner Mondays and Wednesdays;
Lunch and dinner available Thursday, Friday and Saturday;
Breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner offered Sundays;
Closed on Tuesdays.