You likely won’t just stumble onto Sardine Lake Resort. You have to know about it and plan your visit ahead of time with a reservation. Do so! It is a breathtaking experience from start to finish, rooted in family history.
In the late 1800s, there was a miner’s mule named “Sardine” who tripped on the rocky road and into a lake. Just like that, it was dubbed Sardine Lake. In 1946, a man named Geroge Browning arrived to realize his dream: to build a resort on Sardine Lake. With his wife and father-in-law, he opened Sardine Lake Resort in 1941. Their daughter and son-in-law—Dorothy and Chandler Hunt—eventually took over, then left it to their grandchildren, Jan Boucher and Thomas Hunt, who still own and operate the resort and restaurant.
The property is simple enough: nine log cabins on the shore of Lower Sardine Lake with stunning views of the craggy Sierra Buttes. The restaurant is slightly bigger than the cabins, with pictures of the family lining the walls, knick-knacks, Slim Jims, and fishing lure for sale at the front counter. The food is surprisingly more refined. In the summer, there are two nightly seatings, at 6 and 8 pm.
We arrive in time to take a short one-mile hike to what we discover is Upper Sardine Lake: the entire hike and experience affords us sweeping views of the Sierra Buttes and both lakes. A quick dip in the water proves it’s nearly as cold as the glaciers that formed it.
Back at the lodge, we head to Poor George’s Bar, which sits in a picturesque spot on the lake next to a row of fishing boats. Here, about no more than 20 people could cram in for a drink. Or, you can take your wine (or excellent dirty martini) to go and sit on one of the picnic benches overlooking Lower Sardine Lake. We do the latter. When the dinner bell rings, we head inside.
Nightly options and daily specials come with house soup or salad, fresh vegetables, and “starch du jour.” Baskets of warm rosemary rolls and sweet butter kick things off. The soup is creamy asparagus with slivered almonds wanting only a touch of salt. A grilled Caesar is sprinkled with Parmesan crisps.
My favorite entree is braised lamb shank, which is tender and slightly smoky. It falls off the bone, and is dripping with flavor from the au jus. Fried carrot hay sits atop and adds slight crunch. It elicits “oooo”s and “ahhh”s from just about everyone who tries it.
Pan-seared salmon is served with bright green asparagus and blood-orange “caviar pearls,” which add a citrus-y tang. One night, the chef’s special is seared venison strip loin, a gamey meat that’s well-cooked and served with a slightly sweet apple bourbon demi-glace. Finally, the Saturday special: a huge, 12-ounce rib eye cooked medium-rare and served with a garden herb chimichurri, crispy leeks, and mild horseradish.
For dessert, we try just about everything. Ricotta cheesecake is the winner, served in a neat circular shape. It has a slightly tart bite that’s sweetened by a thin layer of graham cracker-y crust on the bottom. An elderberry sundae is a red and white tower of ice cream and tangy elderflower syrup/jam topped with whipped cream and three cherries. Mud pie is drizzled with caramel and chocolate, layered with ice cream and cookie crumbles. Carrot cake is dotted with walnuts and topped with a cream cheese frosting.
After all that, we can barely move. But we make our way out, as the second seating’s coming in at 8. Before we go, we take in the sunset over Lower Sardine Lake and decide that next time we’re going to get a cabin … and may never leave.
|Sunday||Open 24 hours|
|Monday||Open 24 hours|
|Tuesday||Open 24 hours|
|Wednesday||Open 24 hours|
|Thursday||Open 24 hours|
|Friday||Open 24 hours|
|Saturday||Open 24 hours|