By Hailey Blevins
Just in time for the Valentine’s holiday, OpenTable, the online restaurant reservation service, just released it’s list of the 100 most romantic restaurants across the U.S., based on their analysis of more than 12,000,000 reviews on more than 26,000 restaurants across the country submitted by verified diners.
On that list was the High Country’s own Gamekeeper Restaurant. Gamekeeper owner Ken Gordon commented on making the Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants list, “It’s really exciting and humbling to realize what a small percentage of restaurants make the list. It’s funny because we’ve never tried to do anything like this. All we’ve ever tried to do is make sure everybody has a good time, that’s all.”
Ken Gordon and his wife Wendy have operated the Gamekeeper for the last 19 years. The restaurant is know for its menu featuring elk, duck, emu, venison, boar, trout, beef and bison. A popular dish is the Mixed Game Grill, a sampler platter featuring Gordon’s choice of game meats and sausages served with 3 dipping sauces and fries.
This isn’t the first time Gamekeeper has made one of OpenTable’s Top 100 lists though. The staff always aims to make sure the food is great and everyone is enjoying themselves. “Going back to 2009/10, we were on their Top 100 of All Restaurants. Working with OpenTable has been good. It just lets people know we’re doing a good job, and everyone that makes a reservation through OpenTable gets to leave a review. Presently, we have 4.9 out of 5 stars,” noted Gordon.
According to the reviews left on OpenTable, the Gamekeeper has lived up to the expectation of everyone enjoying the experience they offer. “First time eating at The Gamekeeper but will definitely be back!!! Food was outstanding and service was impeccable – our waitress was very knowledgeable about every dish on the menu and we even changed our order on one dish based on her description of it,” according to reviewer BradleyB in December. A review left by BaileyT said, “We were in town for our birthdays and what a treat Gamekeeper was! The atmosphere is so cozy, especially with snow outside! The service is top notch and there aren’t even words for the food.”
Often, diners come into The Gamekeeper that are new to game and wary of trying it, but a variety of options and great staff make them feel right at home, sometimes even getting diners to try things they wouldn’t try otherwise. “Our staff is extremely welcoming and friendly and knowledgable, so if there’s any questions about the food, there’s nothing to be nervous about. The staff guides them through the menu so the guests feel comfortable.”
Diners that are still skeptical have other options that are less intimidating than game but are just as wild and delicious. Even vegetarians aren’t left without options at The Gamekeeper. Gordon commented that the veggies at The Gamekeeper have just as much thought put into them as the meats do, ““If they don’t want it, they don’t have to have it. We have all kinds of stuff. We’re excited about the meats, and we do a good job with it, but as the seasons change and our local farmers bring stuff in the back door, that’s exciting. We try to represent that as much as we can with all the entrees. The veg plate is loaded up with every leaf, nut, stalk, flower, basically every vegetable we can find. We pair them together so every plate is going to have twenty some flavors, and it’s all unique and all paired up well. I think it’s one of the best ways to go.”
The Gamekeeper will still be featuring their current Bavarian themed venue for Valentine’s Day, an outcome of their love for creating new tastes with their food. “In the winter, we play with our food a little more. Most of the things we’re known for are still on the menu, but we’ve just played with them a little bit. It’s a different take on comfort food and Bavarian in the winter seems perfect.”
Set in a gorgeous, rustic stone cottage that was built in the 1920s, The Gamekeeper has a welcoming feel all around. “You can sit in it and feel that it was somebody’s summer cottage. It has a big stone fireplace, and with most of the tables in the main dining room, you can see it and feel it. Stone is cold, but there’s so many elements that make it a truly warm environment.” Gordon went on to say that there is also a fireplace in the bar area, where his personal favorite table is. Regardless of where you’re seated with your significant other, you’re sure to stay cozy and enjoy the atmosphere. To ensure they’re taking care of their diners, The Gamekeeper’s valet keeps diners from having to walk up and down the hill to the parking.
“I think a big part of it is because it’s a destination and people think about it before they come, so they’ve already built excitement, and they’ve already decided this is a special occasion and they want to do something special for their loved one. They’re ready for it, and we just make sure there’s the follow through,” said Gordon.
The Gamekeeper may be highly rated, but diners aren’t expected to dress up when visiting. Even though Gordon says that many prefer to, the restaurant welcomes everyone in whatever makes them comfortable, saying, “Everything we do is geared towards people enjoying themselves, so come as you are, and we’ll take good care of you. If you have special requests, we’ll take care of them the best we can.”
In the winter months the Gamekeeper is open Thursday-Saturday from 5-9:30 p.m., and of course they do use OpenTable for reservations and for diners to leave reviews.
For Valentine’s week, the Gamekeeper will also be open Wednesday, January 13, through Sunday, January 17.
The restaurant is located on Shulls Mill Road, close to both Boone and Blowing Rock.
Other restaurants that were featured on OpenTable’s most romantic from North Carolina were: Caprice Bistro in Wilmington, The Fig Tree Restaurant in Charlotte, The Melting Pot in Charlotte, Ryan’s Restaurant in Wilmington, Saint Jacques French Cuisine in Raleigh, Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern in Raleigh and Webb Custom Kitchen in Gastonia.
Almost 1/10th of OpenTable’s Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants are in our home state. Maybe that just says something about southern hospitality.
To learn more about The Gamekeeper’s menu and reviews, or to make your reservation, visit https://www.opentable.com/m/100-most-romantic-restaurants-2018/.