Are you heading to Kirkwood to enjoy the slopes? Silver or Caples Lakes to do some fishing and camping? Carson Pass anybody? No matter where you're headed to enjoy the wonderful recreation the Eldorado National Forest has to offer, you'll most likely be working up an appetite, and I can't think of a better restaurant to visit than Ham's Station, located east of the small community of Pioneer, on State Route 88.
As with all of reviews that I publish, I have no affiliation with the restaurant reviewed, and there is no monetary gain on my part, as I am simply a person who likes to eat, and I love to write-up, and publish my dining experiences.
Photo: It's early Friday afternoon, March 01, 2019, and I've arrived at Ham's Station, located east of the town of Pioneer, in Amador County. The building was constructed back in 1882, and is virtually changed, on the outside, since it was built. Today, it's an Amador County landmark, and a bastion of fine eating in the Eldorado National Forest.
Photo: You walk in the door, and you're treated to rustic elegance. There are actually two dining rooms, divided by a low partition. I chose to dine at a high table, near the bar, as the other side of the dining room sports lower, more "restaurant like" furniture. Look to the rear of the photo and you'll get a peek into the kitchen through the swinging door.
The current owners, Gary and Nancy Gladen, re-opened the restaurant back in August of last year, after an extensive remodeling. The left much of the original woodwork and decor - which dates back to the 1880's - but thouroughly revamped and modernized the building. Ham's Station definitely sports a rustic decor, yet it's comfortable and modern in every way. I'm not an architect, but I think the Gladens have done an outstanding job.
The first thing I noticed when I entered was the heavenly smell of delicious food, and the light aroma of pine smoke, as the restaurant is heated with a wood burning stove. Talk about warmth and rustic charm! To set the mood, traditional country music was playing the background.
Photo: The dining room on the other side of the room is a bit more conventional, yet it retains rustic charm. As nice as this dining room is, I prefer to sit at a high table near the bar.
Photo: One of several pages of the lunch menu. I'd seen the menu on line, and I'd planned to order a "Ham's Burger," but when my friendly server, Jasmine, described the chowder and "Prawn Plate," I changed my mind without hesitation.
Photo: Ham's Station has a talented chef, who is very creative, and loves to prepare special dishes, that aren't on the menu. As I previously mentioned, I was in the mood for a burger, but when Jasmine described the clam chowder, with a prawn, and the "Prawn Platter," I fell for the platter and a bowl of chowder, hook, line, sinker and prawn. Prawns and clam, or should I say, "prawn chowder?" ... have got to top my list of favorite foods.
Jasmine brings my cup of "Prawn Chowder" to me with a smile, before my main dish has arrived.
Photo: Today is the first day of March, and since Ham's Station is at elevation 5125 feet, there is around two or three feet of snow on the ground, but the parking lot is clear and dry. Looking out the front window at my truck, parked at the restaurant.
Photo: Meet co-owner Nancy Gladen, along with her adorable granddaughter, Georgia. Nancy and I had been messaging on "Facebook," and she was expecting me, and she welcomed me and treated me like family. Georgia was home from school, and during my visit, spent most of her time doing homework on a laptop computer.
Photo: Chef Bobby, who performs creative magic in the kitchen, along with Jodie, the bartender, who happens to be Gary and Nancy's daughter. Ham's Station is family owned and operated.
Photo: Co-owner Gary Gladen, sat at my table and welcomed me as if I were family. The Gladens, along with their staff are wonderful hosts, and treated me like royalty.
Photo: Jodie tends bar. I arrived early in the afternoon, and it seemed like I timed it out between customers, as I almost had the restaurant to myself. Although the restaurant's address is Pioneer, it's location is about 25 miles east of Pioneer, in a sparsely populated area of California. There aren't many local residents, but there are plenty of travelers heading to and from the mountains, which keep the staff busy. On this early Friday afternoon in early March, the staff was gearing up for skiers heading to nearby Kirkwood for the weekend.
Photo: Chef Bobby worked his magic, and baked a blackberry cobbler for the weekend. I wanted a sample, as it looked and smelled heavenly, but after devouring my platter of prawns, I didn't have room for dessert. I did the next best thing and snap the photo...
Photo: It's not often that you get a guided tour of the kitchen, but today was my lucky day, as proud co-owner, Gary, shows off his remodeled and spotless kitchen, where Chef Bobby works his magic.
Photo: By the end of my kitchen tour, the bar was beginning to be seated with local customers. I noted several them were enjoying bowls of "Prawn Chowder." These folks have good taste!
Photo: Great timing after the tour of the kitchen, as friendly Jasmine brings my "Prawn Plate" with a smile.
Photo: Thanks, Jasmine, for snapping my photo, as I prepare to enjoy one of best lunches you could ever imagine. The rustic dining room, and the beautiful Eldorado National Forest outside made the meal taste even better.
Photo: My amazing lunch of deep fried prawns, fries, coleslaw, bowl of prawn chowder, and a draught beer. Look closely and you can see the prawn in the chowder. Amazing!
Before visiting Ham's Station, I'd looked at their menu online and already decided on a "Ham's Burger" - love the name - but when my friendly server, Jasmine, described the "Prawn Plate," along with the chowder, I was simply hooked, as I LOVE fish and I LOVE chowder.
With the "Prawn Plate," you get large, breaded, deep fried prawns, a mountain of fries a large scoop of coleslaw, cocktail sauce and tartar sauce for enhancement. Note the beautiful presentation, including the bed of romaine lettuce and the fancy lemon.
Chef Bobby really worked his magic on the "Prawn Plate," as it was amazing. Each large prawn was breaded, deep fried just right to a crispy brown on the outside, and tender inside. The bread/batter was cooked perfectly, and held in the moist, tender, juicy prawn, and complimented the prawn, without overpowering it. The fries were cooked just the way I like them, golden brown on the outside, tender and chewy inside, and definitely NOT greasy or salty. Perfect! Ham's Station likes to "local source" and it shows with the coleslaw, as the cabbage and carrots were fresh, with a bit of "snap," and just plain delicious.
As good as the "Prawn Plate" was, I simply fell in love with the "Prawn Chowder." Actually, it was clam chowder with a prawn in it, which was a totally new dining experience for me. The chowder was rich, flavorful, creamy and just plain delicious. The chowder I enjoyed with my lunch today at Ham's Station was some of the best chowder that I've enjoyed in many years!
As much as I wanted a "Ham's Burger," I'm glad I went with Jasmine's suggestion, as this lunch was simply amazing! It was definitely worth the 60-mile drive from Roseville...
Photo: Before I left, I invited the friendly staff to pose for me, in front of the restaurant. I rarely take "posed" photos, but today was different.
Left to right, Jodie, the bartender, Jasmine, my server, Bobby, the talented chef, little Georgia, with Nancy and Gary, who own Ham's Station. Such a great bunch of people!
When you're driving over Carson Pass, if you're on the way to the slopes, the streams, or you're just on an excursion, and you're in the mood for some amazing cookin', just like your mom used to make, stop at Ham's Station. The food is delicious, the atmosphere is rustic, yet comfortable, and the Gladen family and staff will treat you like royalty. I highly recommend Ham's Station for the best in everything that a restaurant has to offer.
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