By Jason Reagan
Nestled in a mountain cove between Boone and Blowing Rock, the Gamekeeper Restaurant is the perfect intersection of fine dining, comfort food and exotic game-meat creations.
Housed in a stone cottage built in the 1920s, the Gamekeeper offers farm-to-table cuisine for both the adventurous and sedate. Yes, rattlesnake salad might be on the menu but so will macaroni and cheese and mashed taters.
“Most of the folks traveling to this area—whether to their second home or to get away from things—they have a sense of adventure,” chef and owner Ken Gordon said.
“They come to the mountains to get away, have fun and try something new.”
Much of the menu employs the Gamekeeper’s wood-fired grill to prepare game meats such as antelope, bison, emu, elk and a few surprises as they become available, like the aforementioned rattlesnake. Ken and his team also enjoy using time tested techniques to preserve, cure, and smoke these exotic game meats “nose to tail.”
And while the menu may seem exotic, the Gamekeeper’s core values are local. The staff uses as many local vegetables and meats as possible, purchased directly from local or regional farmers.
“Before we found ourselves owning the Gamekeeper in 2000, I knew that I wanted to work with whatever was local,” Ken said. “When I knew that game was definitely gonna play an enormous role, I thought about the wide variety of things that we could do. It made sense to me to stick with the theme of the North Carolina mountains and what has been available here both in the past and present—things like venison and rabbit, and even bison once roamed these woods.”
Even game traditionally found in other countries are often sourced from regional farms. In the past, Ken used an ostrich farm near Winston-Salem and currently buys from an emu rancher just over the state line in Tennessee. Although the Gamekeeper’s menu offers a predictable list of game meats, it also offers a bit of intrigue—the culinary team often amps up the exotic factor as game meats become available. A diner might be greeted with a special creation of kangaroo or llama on any given evening.
But what about vegetarians? With such a variety of local vegetables available, the Gamekeeper has something for just about any non-meat eater. “We have so many people who are vegetarians who come back time and time again,” Ken said. “There’s such a wonderful world of vegetables.”
With its dedication to top-quality game and farm-to-table freshness, it’s no wonder the Gamekeeper has consistently earned the AAA’s Four Diamond Award.
It also should come as no surprise that the Gamekeeper gives back to the community by supporting the Blue Ridge Conservancy, hosting special events and charity auctions. “They do such an amazing job taking care of the health of the land itself,” Ken said. “I appreciate them so much for all their efforts to maintain the land and preserve the wildness of it all.”
3005 Shulls Mill Rd., Boone, NC