HIDDEN GEMS, WYOMING’S BEST EATS: Casper Steakhouse Gets It Right

By David Dudley

Special to the Wyoming Truth

CASPER, Wyo.—My date, Samantha, was celebrating a milestone, so the food had to be special. An acquaintance suggested the Silver Fox Steakhouse was the place.

The parking lot was packed when we arrived just after 5 p.m. on a Wednesday, which meant that my acquaintance was right, and there would be a wait. I was thankful for the tip, but I hadn’t eaten all day.

Once inside, we were greeted by lounge manager Brian King.

Silver Fox Chef Bernard Ambrosino helped start the business with his friend and mentor Bill Armor in 1981. Ambrosino bought the Silver Fox from Armor 15 years ago. (Courtesy photo from The BARK Firm)  

“Do you have reservations?” he asked. We did not. I’d already started moving to a nearby bench, defeated, when he said, “OK. Follow me.”

Let’s split it

Silver Fox has something for everyone, but the restaurant is known for its baseball cut top sirloin with a mushroom demi-glaze ($26), slow-roasted prime rib ($35) and filet mignon ($38). Seafood dishes include grilled salmon ($25), butterfly shrimp ($26) and king crab legs (market price).

We ordered the Silver Fox sampler ($15), a shared plate that consists of chef and owner Bernard Ambrosino’s signature bacon knots, beef maki and mushroom supreme. For dinner, Samantha chose the rack of lamb ($39), and I got the New York strip steak served a la Oscar with shrimp, crab and scallops in Hollandaise sauce ($40).

I quickly forgot about the entrees when the sampler arrived, sizzling on the plate. The bacon knots, Ambrosino’s bestseller, burst with sweet and savory notes. The restaurant sells about 2,400 portions in a week.

“Not all cuts of bacon are equal,” Ambrosino told me via phone a few weeks later. “A good cut is everything. We coat slices of bacon in brown sugar before tying them into knots. Then we bake them for 45 minutes.”

The resulting knots were so good I almost forgot my manners. I reached for the last one, but my date’s gaze stopped me cold. I offered the knot to her, and she took pity on me. We split it.

Then we tried the beef maki, which melts in your mouth. To achieve this tantalizing result, Ambrosino marinates tenderloin tips overnight in teriyaki sauce and black beef seasoning. Then they’re deep-fried for one minute.

We finished with the mushroom supreme, which is sautéed in Marsala wine, garlic, shallots and cheese. Then the entrees arrived.

More important than money

I wanted to dig in immediately, but I took a moment to appreciate the presentation. There’s beauty in the elaborate structure of a rack of lamb.

These bacon knots, which are coated in brown sugar before being slow roasted, are the Silver Fox’s most popular dish. Ambrosino and company sell up to 2,400 portions a week. (Courtesy photo from The BARK Firm)  

“Eye appeal is half the battle,” Ambrosino told me. That’s something he learned from his mentor and long-time friend Bill Armor. It was Armor who convinced Ambrosino to leave Fort Pierce, Florida, for Casper in 1980.

“I was in college, studying to become a contractor,” Ambrosino said. “I was only 19 then. I dropped out to help Bill open a restaurant. It was silly. But, boy I’m glad I did it.”

Ambrosino learned to cook and run a restaurant on the job. Together with Armor, the two transformed a barbecue restaurant into a fine dining experience that survives to this day. The recipes were developed throughout the decades by countless experiments in test kitchens.

“Armor always said that our name and reputation are more important than money,” Ambrosino said.

That statement doesn’t acquire its full weight until you consider that Silver Fox launched during the oil crash of the early 1980s, which led countless people to relocate. Many took their businesses with them. But Armor and Ambrosino dug in their heels and kept experimenting with food and concepts, seeking their own vision of perfection.

It paid off in 2003, when the restaurant finally clawed its way out of the red.  Ambrosino bought the restaurant from Armor 15 years ago, when the latter retired. As he took the reins, he received what he called the “ultimate compliment.”

“Our customers wanted to see me succeed,” Ambrosino said. “They came to eat our food, and often. The community, and their support, is one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

This dish — lightly battered, flash-fried lobster — is a Silver Fox favorite. (Courtesy photo from The BARK Firm) 

He paused, then added, “That, and hiring a Canadian woman who owned 1,000 cookbooks.”  

‘Is it right?’

Today, Ambrosino is every bit as hungry as he was in 1980. “My philosophy has always been to show up, do the work, do your best and let everything else take care of itself,” he said.

Beyond that, he’s guided by one question: Is it right?

Though I’ve only dined at Silver Fox once, I’m convinced they get it right. My steak a la Oscar was cooked to medium-rare perfection. The shrimp, scallops and crab in Hollandaise complimented the beef with a sweet, buttery finish. And the lemon flourish made it truly memorable.

When I asked Samantha how she liked the rack of lamb, which is rubbed with Dijon, garlic, rosemary and thyme before it’s roasted, she couldn’t speak. With a rib in each hand, and her mouth full, she could only nod enthusiastically.

Silver Fox Steakhouse, 3422 Energy Lane, Casper, Wyoming; (307) 235-3000. Open Monday, 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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