Some restaurant sites are cursed. You know what I mean. Once a building is tainted by terrible food, it just seems that all new restaurants that try to open in that space are doomed to fail.
So when I saw that The Warming Hut was opening where a so-unfortunate-it-shall-not-be-named restaurant used to be, I felt regret for this new place, fearing it would always be overshadowed by the painfully mediocre (at best) food and service that came before.
But at the same time, this place seemed to have so much going for it.... The nostalgic name harkens back to the old Mammoth days when Canyon Lodge was called "The Warming Hut 2;" the location is fantastic, right along Old Mammoth Road; the space is perfect for a mountain town restaurant, with just the right amount of indoor space and a huge outdoor patio. I wished for it to succeed, but imagined the ghosts of restaurants past would stand in its way.
So on an August Sunday, we headed out mid-morning to find some delicious weekend grub and decided to try the new place. But on our drive we could see that the The Warming Hut was slammed, even though Mammoth was relatively empty of tourists and travelers. Apparently, every local in a 1000 mile radius shared our Sunday brunch idea. The parking lot was full, the patio was full. Staff was buzzing in and out, through the crowded spaces. Plan B-- We opted to hit the Latin Market for a quick breakfast (read about that here) and come back to The Hut on a weekday.
When we returned on Monday around 9:30am there was only one other car in the lot. The place was nearly empty which meant that we got to enjoy the decor, see the details, and visit with the staff a bit to talk about their new endeavor.
I'm a simple girl, and I like a simple menu. Please don't give me a 500 page menu, because I'm easily confused, usually forget my glasses, and I'm too impatient to read 1 million iterations on an omelette. This menu is perfect for me. Crisp, white paper, black type, breakfast on one side and lunch on the other. There are interesting basic and trendy (keto & gluten free) choices, but nearly everything is a la carte or customizable. So even though the menu is simple to read, the choices are nearly limitless.
There isn't a designated children's menu, but with many small bite options available, there are plenty of affordable options for kids and light bite eaters. Read on to find out about the coma-inducing sugarshock pancakes my son dreamed up.
The overall design of the space is one I love -- modern rustic with warm grey tones punctuated with red accessories. It feels cozy and quaint without the usual clunkiness of 'mountain' decor. There are nods to alpine tradition, including pine trees above a doorway and a faux deer mount in the dining room. But somehow, the fact that both of these were chosen in red makes them seem more modern than mountainy.
There are three main public areas: a bar, just at the entrance with several high tops, an awesome chess table, a long bar and plenty of tvs. There's also a bright dining space that includes standard tables to seat 2-8 and an expansive patio with lots of tables and shade sails cutting the harsh high altitude sun.
The interior flooring is a rustic, grey-hued wood plank, and the walls are lined with tongue-in-groove paneling painted a soothing shade of grey. There's a warm fireplace area, with two cozy red leather chairs. The interior spaces are all lined with large windows, so even if you choose to sit inside (as we did) the space is still bright and open.
Throughout our brunch, the staff was friendly, attentive, and eager to please. Jackie, our server, stopped at our table nearly immediately to bring us hot coffee and took time to give us advice about the menu and popular choices. Our coffee never got cold as the staff seemed to anticipate just the right second to swing by with a new pot.
Paul, the owner, circulated constantly, ensuring that all the guests had all their needs met. He pointed out the handmade ketchup and hot sauce bottled in his home town of Fort Collins, CO. (He was right, the hot sauce is delicious -- not to hot, smokey, perfect). He made pleasant, but not intrusive, conversation.
As the space filled with a few brunch eaters, we also got to 'enjoy' hearing the kind of feedback the owner got, and accepted graciously. It reminded me of how hard the food and beverage business is and how humble you have to be. We only heard one complainer, but he was relentless. Everyone else was having a grand time, as did we.
My date, Little #1, chose chocolate pancakes, with Snicker bar mixed in, and whipped cream on top. It was, in a word, ridiculous but I need to add 2 more words-- delicious and decadent. A first time guest behind me had the buttermilk, and I heard him comment that they were the best pancakes he'd ever had in town -- and he seemed like the kind of guy who knows his way around a pancake. A friend who has been there told me that the gluten free are also good, and in my experience, that takes some kind of voodoo magic.
I ordered the Corned Beef Hash, which I should not have done because I have very particular expectations of what that should be. And this wasn't it. My server had suggested that I order something different and to be honest, I should have listened. Its not that it was bad, the hash was great, but the corned beef was in giant chunks and was a little on the tough side. Chopping it would have been a really good call and is how I do corned beef hash myself. My eggs, which I wanted overlight, were overcooked, which was also disappointing. I took Paul's suggestion and tried the hot sauce on the hash. You should, too. Its awesome and I'm planning to buy some to keep around.
I chalk the negatives about our experience up to my wrong expectations, unwillingness to listen to the expert, and the newness of the place. I will go there again, without hesitation, and can't wait to take the whole family. But I'll order something about which I have less stringent expectations. In the end, we've eaten a lot of breakfast places in Mammoth and the Eastern Sierras and if I want sit down breakfast service, this will be at the top of my list.