We were pretty skeptical about the glowing review our guidebook gave of the Gustavus Inn – how amazing the food was, how hospitable the owners were, what a special experience visiting/staying would be, that it was a meal he’d always remember. For the most part Gustavus, while extremely charming, was also very expensive. Lodging options were primarily limited to massive full-service all-inclusive lodge-style resorts that seemed so out-of-place for a town as quaint as Gustavus. Because most meals were included in lodging packages, there were hardly any stand-alone restaurants beyond a coffee shop and a pizza parlor.
The restaurant at Gustavus Inn stood out not only because of the glowing reviews, but because it recently won a James Beard award. We were curious more than anything, but had pretty low expectations. For one, how many times has a guidebook been on the money? Second, how great could food in this tiny town of 200-400 people be?
The guidebook was right.
It was one of the most amazing meals and food experiences of our lives. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was that made the Gustavus Inn so special – the fact that the place has been there since forever, that they grew most of their own food in their gardens, the idyllic peaceful setting, the simple, yet mindful preparation of the food. Maybe it was that we sat around a big table and shared our meal (everything was served family style) with a bunch of old fisherman that had a lifetime of stories they shared with us that night. Or maybe it was the soy-butter smoked king salmon, homemade rolls, garden greens, and berry cheesecake for dessert. It was a meal I will remember forever. Yes, it was that good.
Sadly, on the way back home to our lodge, our driver told us that the owner of the inn – who we met and talked with that night — was thinking of selling the inn. We hoped it was just a rumor, or that if it were the truth, that things would never change at the inn.
Gustavus seemed to be on the cusp of change though – increased flights and the addition of a ferry stop has made this tiny village more accessible to tourists, and who knows what that will bring. When we spoke to locals and seasonal workers alike, they already expressed a sort of wistfulness for the old Gustavus. We had only been in Gustavus for a few days, but we understood what they meant. Gustavus was they type of place you bring your children and children’s children so that you can eat at the same restaurant and stay at the same hotel that has been there for who knows how long. There’s a comfort in the unaltered continuation of life, for things staying the way they always have been, to know that you can return to a place and have it be as it always was. Maybe that search for a constant is why people are attracted to nature, but who knows.
I just hope that Gustavus never changes. It truly was a special place.
We spent our last night in Gustavus in our cabin reminiscing over the amazing meal we shared and all the amazing things we saw and experienced that day. After reading a bit, we called it an early night – we had yet another early flight at the crack of dawn the next morning.