Neil Loomis and Gavin Fine both moved to Jackson Hole in the mid-1990s. They didn’t know the other when they arrived in the valley, but, Jackson being about half as big then as it is now and both men working in the restaurant industry, it didn’t take long for them to meet. Gavin, a native of Chicago and graduate of Cornell University’s Hotel and Restaurant Management School, worked in the kitchen at the Snake River Grill. Neil worked at, and went on to manage, the bars at the Gun Barrel Steak & Game House and then the Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse.
Having worked for Lettuce Entertain You in Chicago, a Chicago-based company that today has more than 120 restaurants in 9 states, Gavin never planned on staying in the kitchen. “I had multiple concepts in mind for restaurants of my own,” he says. In 2001, with partner Roger Freedman, who he worked with at the Snake River Grill, Gavin opened his first restaurant, Rendezvous Bistro. It was—and still is—in a former Denny’s on West Broadway Avenue. (Not that you’d ever, ever recognize the space as a Denny’s.) Neil was hired as the Bistro’s bar manager, but, “Gavin still jokes today that I interviewed him for the job,” Neil says. Today Neil is a sommelier and oversees all wine and beverage services for Fine Dining Restaurant Group, which now operates six restaurants, a catering company, specialty grocer/bottle shop, craft sausage company, and artisan ice cream brand in the valley. Fine Dining’s restaurants include: Roadhouse Pub & Eatery (which opens on the Town Square this summer), Il Villaggio Osteria, The Kitchen, Bin22, Bodega, and Bar Enoteca. Cream + Sugar is their ice cream company and Bovine + Swine the group’s specialty butcher.
Because Gavin and Neil have been involved in the valley’s food and bar scene for so long, we were excited to chat with them about how it’s changed, their favorite Fine Dining Restaurant Group dishes, and where they eat away from work.
How Jackson Hole Dining Has Changed
Gavin Fine (GF): There are so many more options for eating now. I think everyone has elevated the dining scene to try and compete with other mountain towns, and even with cities. People are coming here from places where they’re used to eating and drinking well and that has forced everyone here to really step up and deliver.
Neil Loomis (NL): Jackson Hole has become a foodie place to visit. Chefs and restauranteurs are pushing it and everyone wants to make great food and be proud of their restaurant. It’s competitive, but good competition: everyone is trying to be better at what we do. Also, we have a winery here now, Jackson Hole Winery. And they make good wines [using grapes mostly from Sonoma County]. There’s also Jackson Hole Still Works, making vodka and gin. There’d always been a brewery in Jackson—and now [Fine Dining] has its own, Roadhouse Brewing—but it’s cool to be on the floor of Bin22 [Fine Dining’s bottle shop with a tapas restaurant in the back] and having interesting, local stuff to sell.
GF: It depends on what kind of mood I’m in. If I’m in the Village on a winter day, Osteria is hard to beat. In the summer, riding my bike out there, I love a fried chicken sandwich at Bodega, a glass of rosé on tap, and then heading back on the bike path. On a nightly basis, I can usually be found at The Kitchen eating crudo plates.
NL: Last fall at Bin 22 we changed our octopus from how we prepared it in the past. It has always been one of my favorites. And the pickled veggies—they don’t make for a good wine pairing—but they’re cool and something different. At the Bistro, the duck confit has always been one of my favorites. We change up the menus at all of the places twice a year, but the duck confit is likely to stick around.
GF: I’ve got a soup named for me at Teton Thai, Gavin’s Soup. [It’s rice noodles in a hot and sour soup with a choice of chicken, shrimp, or tofu.] I could eat that everyday. I’m a supporter of the whole Jackson Hole food scene. We all make each other better.
NL: I don’t feel like when you go out to eat you have to have a really proper, sit-down, formal meal to get great food. StreetFood at the Stagecoach has great tacos and sandwiches. I like Thai food a lot and I think all of the Thai places are good.
Don’t miss out on spring off-season specials
Gavin is a great supporter of the local community and gets involved with many non-profits. Now through May 17th, Rendezvous Bistro, The Kitchen and Osteria guests are able to purchase one entree and get the second for $2. At Bin22 and Bar Enoteca guests are able to purchase one plate and receive the second for $2 during lunch. With each effort, the additional $2 (from the sale of the second plate) is then donated to that week’s featured local, non-profit organization.
Drop in and say hello to Gavin, Neil and their terrific staff.