The Sportsman’s Hall is a lonely roadhouse that occupies one of California’s early media centers, the Pony Express stop during the Gold Rush. Originally built in the 1850s as a hotel, it was a refuge for travelers coming over the Sierras, and eventually riders carrying correspondence from points east. It has burned to the ground twice, and twice it has been rebuilt. It is a Registered Historical Landmark.
The Sportsman’s Hall does not rest on its historical laurels. Its roadhouse diner food is good. It is known for made-to-order fried chicken and a giant pasty, both of which take a half-hour to prepare. While you wait, soup or salad and giant mugs of beer are available to pass the time. Beef barely soup is hot and hearty.
Portions are impressive. Fried chicken, meant for one, is a full half of what must have been at least a ten-pound bird. Its breast is the size of a man’s clog and its crust has a peppery dredge. It is so fresh from the fryer that it stays too hot to eat for a good ten minutes. It comes with big, soft, fresh-cut fries as well as sautéed squash and mushrooms.
As delighted as we are with the chicken is just how disappointed we are with the pasty. It comes out hot and fresh, and it is absolutely giant. It looks beautiful. The pastry part is good, flaky and hot from the oven. But its inside is perplexing: rather than a meat-mixed potato stuffing, it is filled with a hash of plain fried potatoes and wads of seemingly unseasoned ground beef, all so dry that we soon run out of gravy.
Take your time, have a slow meal, and walk around the historic building and grounds. It once meant salvation for exhausted messengers. Today, it’s a fine chicken dinner on a trip to Tahoe.