Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada receives visitors from all over the world for the beauty and splendor of iconic granite cliffs, amazing views, a multitude of waterfalls, and so much more. The Hetch Hetchy valley and reservoir in the northwestern part of the park has a natural beauty and a draw of tourism and recreation of its very own year round.
Nestled deep in the woods not too far from the park’s northwestern entrance is the remote, serene Evergreen Lodge Restaurant and Tavern. The historic resort was built in 1921 and was originally a place for workers that were building the O’Shaughnessy Dam in Hetch Hetchy reservoir to stay. The Tavern was a place for employees to socialize and unwind. In the beginning, there were very few cabins on site and now the lodge has 88 cabins spread out in the woodsy landscape in a remote location off the beaten path.
In 2001, Brian Anderluh and Lee Zimmerman purchased the lodge and renovated it, adding several cabins and buildings. They also have a sister property called Rush Creek Lodge that has been opened for about a year now.
After almost four years as the executive chef, Jesse McClelland has created a unique menu for travelers who stop and stay at Evergreen Lodge. He has been cooking for about 13 years and prior to his residence at the lodge, was a catering chef in Eugene, Oregon.
“It feels great to run my own kitchen,” said McClelland. “I’ve got a really good crew of about 35 employees that work for me. We make a lot of really good food here and make a lot of people happy.”
Receiving great reviews from customers and staff, McClelland is very passionate about his craft and changes the menu on a regular basis but he always has something for everyone’s diverse palate whether they prefer vegetarian, gluten free, health conscious fare, or looking for something hearty.
“First of all, I design four different appetizers,” explained McClelland. “I always try to keep it even, like offering seafood, a meat appetizer, a vegetarian appetizer and a cheese so there is something for everyone to pick.
“With the salads, obviously for fall, I like the root and winter vegetables so I will do a butternut squash and apple soup that really fits this time of the year.”
Some other surprises on the menu this winter is a customer favorite, venison chops with a tart cherry jus and roasted garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed kale, and fried hazelnut goat cheese balls. McClelland also serves up Italian potato pasta guest favorite, gnocchi. Although the process is long and the technique has to be just right, the house made dish is a creamy delight with a parmesan herb crust, gorgonzola cheese béchamel, pear and toasted walnut salad with lemon vinaigrette.
The chef also makes sure to cater to clientele he knows will be arriving for a visit.
“A lot of people like coming here from the city and they want wild game like quail, venison and trout,” he pointed out.
The pan seared wild salmon on the menu may satisfy taste buds, served with saffron fingerling potatoes, wild mushrooms, arugula hash, and citrus pepita pesto for that acid and texture for that explosive bite.
“I also like to keep things healthy and light as well,” said McClelland.
“We do get a lot of people that come up here that are really health conscious. So I like to have those options for them. I try to keep a really well balanced menu. There is something on there for everyone.”
The braised short rib slowly cooked for six to seven hours that slides right off the bone is another highly requested menu item. The braised short rib is served with wild mushrooms, sun dried tomato risotto, grilled asparagus, and shaved black Italian truffles.
“So I like things that will fill people up,” said McClelland, referring especially to the winter season. “What I like to try and do is go for dishes that are recognized by a lot of people and then give them an interesting twist. It is comfort for them; something they are familiar with and then they go, oh hang on, that is not something I have had before.”
Chef McClelland has a French and Asian background and has traveled all over the world trying all kinds of different cuisines. He was born and raised in Australia and trained at William Angliss Institute in Melbourne.
Although they have soups, salads, and burgers on the menu as well, the appetizers at Evergreen are not typical selections. They offer a fried cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and warm brie that leave guests asking for more. The dish features an apple cider vinaigrette, dried currants and Cotija cheese that keeps customers returning. The warm brie has a poached pear in a simple syrup of brandy and red wine, candied pistachios and a white balsamic-ver jus reduction served with herb focaccia crostini.
The Lodge also has a Youth Program where troubled teens, foster children, or young adults can spend time in the mountains as paid seasonal interns to assist with tasks like cooking, dish washing or cleaning, as well as enjoying the many activities the outdoors has to offer.
“That (intern program) is one of the biggest reasons I love working here for this company,” added McClellend. “It really is good satisfaction seeing them go through that program and then get a job and they are just doing a bloody good job.
“We try to educate them and mentor them and help them out.”
The peaceful ambiance, rustic cabins free from the distraction of television, the recreation and activities including guided tours, hikes, fishing, and photo shoots are not the only reasons to make Evergreen Lodge a destination spot. Guests will be well fed with the plates of divine cuisine.
“It is a really nice place to work,” stated McClelland. “I couldn’t imagine working for anyone else. The whole company really works well together.”IF YOU GOGetting there:
33160 Evergreen Rd, Groveland, CA 95321
(209) 379-2606 orwww.evergreenlodge.comHours:
Breakfast Daily from 7:00 am – 10:30 am
Lunch Daily from 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Dinner from 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm in winter and 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm in summer