Dining in Wyoming: Western Sky’s Family Restaurant

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Bringing the family into family meals

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wheatland may be just another place many of us pass through on our freeway trips, but luckily my job is to turn right, drive down the off-ramp, and see the delights gastronomy offered by these communities.

It’s always a pleasure to find a real family restaurant, run by friendly people, that serves good food – for example, Western Sky’s Family Diner just off Interstate 25 in Wheatland.

Western Sky’s is one of those places that reminds me of what a real local restaurant is. It is operated by locals, for locals. But everyone is local when they walk through the door. Greeted by my waitress Carla, I was greeted like I had been there a hundred times.

Looking around I could see that this place was clean and bright and the decor was tasteful western. I had arrived just before noon, and there were quite a few tables full of customers who were already enjoying a meal. That’s a good sign, because it means I’m in the right place for lunch.

Once seated, Carla took my drink order and handed me a menu that was more than a few pages long. I see Western Sky’s Family Diner is open for breakfast and has a large selection.

There are country-style fried steaks and eggs, the ever-popular breakfast burritos, and a long list of omelettes. There are pancakes, waffles, French toast, breakfast sandwiches, and even a bowl of oatmeal if you want one.

Focus on Tim! Focus! You are here for lunch!

Alright, let’s look at the lunch portion of the menu. As I was about to, my lunch buddy, Glenn, spotted “The Freedom Burger”.

The menu reads: “A: Patriots and First Responders, in honor of our endangered patriots around the world and at home defending America’s freedom WE offer the…FREEDOM BURGER!” The description promises a 7-ounce burger patty with American cheese, bacon, and grilled onions on Texan toast with Western Sky’s unique “Freedom Sauce.”

So the Freedom Burger was talked about. But now what? I see a substantial list of other burgers, but I also see a ribeye sandwich on Texas toast and a classic French dip sandwich. In the corner of the menu is even a spaghetti and meatball dish which sounded good.

As for dinners, there are even more! You’ll have to hang on to your hat, because it’s a long page! A few items on this page included a country fried steak, roast turkey, roast beef, 12oz or 8oz rib eye and, what I would settle for eventually, a seafood basket.

The seafood basket was a combination of breaded cod fillets and breaded prawns. Both are also offered as separate entrees. It looks really good, but I also see something under the side dishes that I couldn’t pass up, from macaroni and cheese to white cheddar. As Carla returned to take our order, I was already salivating.

I gave Carla my order but when it came to my friend’s choice, as he said Freedom Burger, Carla raised her fist and yelled “Freeeeeedom!” a bit like Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart”. Seems like there’s a running joke with a chef in the kitchen that every time someone orders that burger, they should shout it. Good idea, as it prompted a few other people around us to ask about it. Besides, it was just funny!

Waiting for our food, I see the place is really crowded now. Carla better have some skates.

At that point, owner Pat Hollingworth stopped by the table, so I asked him about the restaurant. She tells me she’s been running the restaurant for 10 years. I asked her if she had ever worked in the restaurant industry.

“No, but I had been a cook since I was 12,” she said. “I didn’t like that poverty mentality, so I went to work at 12. I always liked to cook.”

I just asked him who was in charge of the Freedom Burger. She smiled proudly and said “Me!” She said she really wanted to give away something to honor our heroes and first responders and so the Freedom Burger was born.

I asked what the most popular dish was and without hesitation she said roast beef. Our order arrives, and I can smell the Freedom Burger before it reaches us! WOW! It smells amazing! Bacon is the first thing to greet you. Then you get a whiff of grilled onions, and all of that before it’s put in front of you.

It doesn’t disappoint either. A twist on the classic flatbread, Texas toast is nice and thick, buttery and toasted nicely browned. On the side were “big fries” as our server Carla called them.

Next is the seafood basket. Ok, it wasn’t in a basket, but I won’t complain! Had two lovely golden cod fillets and lots of those breaded prawns. It was served with fattier fries, with a cocktail and tartar sauce.

I’m from Florida, and once in a while I crave seafood in my soul! It was going to be good.

Before I could stick a fork into my first shrimp, I was already getting an “Oh my God!” on the other side of the table.

“I know you wanted seafood for variety, but you’ll want some next time!” says Glenn. “Trust me!”

Glenn said the beef was nice and crispy on the outside like a melted patty should be, with a tender, juicy middle. Bacon and onions make a great topping, but the Freedom Sauce takes it all over the top.

“I don’t know what this sauce is, but I love it!” added Glenn.

Remember, that was all before I had my first shrimp! Speaking of which, I finally got one. Very nice medium sized prawns with just the right amount of batter. Dipping one of the prawns in the cocktail sauce was a wonderful change of pace for me. I love fried shrimp!

The cod fillet was next, and as with the prawns, the batter was perfect. Just enough to give you that crispy crunch that contrasts with the tender flaky cod. The fish was right. Moist and juicy with a fresh flavor. The tartar sauce on the side went well with every bite.

This meal is a 100% dinner winner, although what really excites me is diving deeper into the menu and trying the roast beef that Pat said was so popular.

It’s worth mentioning, and one of the reasons I wanted to stop here was that Western Sky’s Family Diner has an online rating of 4.4 stars with 858 reviews! With this kind of buzz, I couldn’t pass up this chance.

So head over to Western Sky’s Family Diner and see how they put the family in a family restaurant.

Western Sky’s is located at 86 16th St. in Wheatland. Hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. You can call them at (307) 322-9302

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