Dinner with Johnny Depp and John Wayne

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All’s fair in love and competition. When a restaurant boasts of its connection with celebrity, it’s good marketing. Think of all the autographed photos you’ve seen on the walls of certain restaurants, whether they’re real or not. “Loved your pizza! Kisses, Johnny Depp.” Or the old movie about the dilapidated lodging house, “George Washington Slept Here.”

Other places highlight their connection with historical events. I stopped in a bar in Deadwood, South Dakota that claims to be the site where Wild Bill Hickok was shot playing poker. They re-enact this murder every two hours for tourists, who get to play the part of the other card players. Sure it’s cheesy, but fun.

Another “Old West” themed bar, the “True Grit Cafe,” in Ridgway, Colorado, was a location for the eponymous 1969 movie, which earned John Wayne his only Best Actor Academy Award. Much of the movie was filmed in Ridgway and surrounding Ouray County, and the southern wall of the restaurant was the outdoor wall of a grocery store in some early scenes. Despite this relatively tenuous connection, the restaurant enthusiastically embraces it, with many images from the movie and of “Duke” himself, all featured in a reasonably authentic setting.

The “x-factor” is that the food is quite good. The cafe uses many local sources, even raising their own beef. While the hamburgers were excellent, a surprise hit was a salad with farm-raised salmon, complemented by an amazing lemon basil vinaigrette dressing. Cafe co-owner Tammee Tuttle was kind enough to share the recipe with me. The fresh basil and rice wine vinegar make this a real standout.

True Grit Cafe’s Lemon Basil Vinaigrette

1/4 cup fresh basil

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

2 cups seasoned rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Put all the ingredients, reserving 1/2 the vinegar, in a blender and emulsify. Add the remaining wine vinegar and emulsify.

An added bonus for this meal was the opportunity to finally meet Randy and Kit Cassingham of Ridgway, after subscribing for many years to Randy’s excellent publication, “This is True” (thisistrue.com). You can learn more about the restaurant at truegritcafe.com. Needless to say, travel is not only an opportunity to see new places, but make new friends, and - for purposes of this column - snare some excellent recipes.

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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel
 

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