The Chuckwagon Bar and Grill, Fort Pierre, South Dakota, and Zesto in Pierre

This was not the best food, but it was easily my favorite meal of the trip thus far. Nancy and I had enjoyed our 10k walk around Pierre. Pierre is a small city, about 13,000 residents, but it’s a memorable walk. One thing that I loved was there is a statue in Pierre of every governor of the state. That’s no big deal, but the statues depicted the governors in their “civilian” garb. Oh, there were a few suits. Every state is plagued by lawyers, but there was one guy wearing a shopkeeper’s apron, one holding up a large fish he’d caught, some with hunting gear, some with their dogs, and, my favorite, one shirtless and ready for fisticuffs. These were citizens called temporarily to public service, each a Cincinnatus destined to return to the plow … whether he wanted to or not, as his most important public service. South Dakota now has its first woman governor, Kristi Noem. I see she ran the family farm and started a hunting lodge and a restaurant. That’s fodder for a statue.

We finished the walk as the temperature was soaring, and had an ice cream at Zesto.

Nancy ordered a small cone. The cone itself was tiny, but the ice cream was anything but, and they give you a cup in anticipation of the tower teetering, as it will. I had a delicious peach cobbler, vanilla ice cream with fresh peaches, pecans, and caramel.

Nancy pronounced her soft serve “very creamy,” and my cobbler was excellent. We both recommend Zesto’s.

The rest of the day we wrestled with laundry at our hotel, and started thinking about dinner. Alas, just about everything except bars close on Sunday in Pierre. We asked at the front desk and the fellow mentioned the Chuckwagon, across the Missouri in Fort Pierre.

We went, sat at the bar, and ordered drinks. Nancy and I were debating whether to stay or try a Mexican restaurant when I noticed that the five people at the table right behind us were drinking red beers — usually a light beer and tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix. I asked and verified that those were indeed red beers, and that started a conversation. The next thing you know, they’d invited us to join them at their table and we were hefting bar stools over, and I was enjoying a red beer.

What a group of friendly and engaging people! Nancy and I had a wonderful time. We also learned a lot. South Dakota is in two time zones. Pierre’s in the Central Time Zone and Fort Pierre, across the Missouri, is in the Rocky Mountain Zone. Naturally, most people and businesses in Fort Pierre operate on Central Time for convenience, but the bars close on Rocky Mountain Time, at 3:00 am Central rather than 2:00 am. Also, the highway along the west bank of the Missouri is Rt. 1804 and the east bank it’s Rt. 1806. The numbers track the years Lewis and Clark went up the river and returned, two years later. We learned much, much more about South Dakota, past and present. Their knowledge of history is impressive. And we got to know one another. Here we all are —

From left, that’s Troy, a local realtor. Then Jill, a teacher, sitting next to her husband, JJ, who works for the state and dabbles in real estate. To his right is Brian, a hunting guide visiting from Forks, Washington, the rainiest town in the US, and Mecca for fans of the series Twilight. Brian and JJ were childhood friends. Brian’s mother, Bonnie, is to his left. She lives in California in the winter. And you know Nancy. I didn’t get a picture of Jeff the bartender. It’s a shame. He added a lot to the evening.

The group already had ordered three large, and I mean large, pizzas, a taco pizza, a pepperoni, and a Ricky’s Pizza, which was topped with pulled pork, bacon, jalapeños, onions, green peppers, black olives, cheese, and sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. I especially liked Ricky’s Pizza. It’s not a combination I’d put together, but it worked, and I’m glad I was introduced to it.

I added an order of a South Dakota specialty, chislic, which is cubes of sirloin steak seasoned and deep fried.

They come with ranch dressing or any other sauce your heart desires. The chislic tasted pretty good, but it’s obviously not a concept that has traveled well, and even in South Dakota chislic fans may be a select group. I tried to order some chicken gizzards, which got a better reception at the table, but they were sold out.

The evening ended and it turned out that Troy picked up the whole tab, which was very nice of him. I was planning to pick it up but I think I’d lapped him by a red beer or two, and my reflexes weren’t as cat-like as usual. I hope he comes to DC some time so I can return the favor. I’d love for them all to come visit. What a treat that would be.

Have you seen those ads for Viking Cruises, the “Why we travel” ones on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre, Downton Abbey and shows like that? The ads show people on Viking Cruises happily interacting with local people in France or Hungary and sharing food in Italy or Germany, places like that. That’s what we hope for when we travel. We hope not only to see museums and cathedrals, but to learn about new places and meet new people and share in their local customs and their food. We hope to open ourselves to experiencing life outside of our respective routines, our bubbles. If we do it right, we see our commonalities, the things that make all of us a human family. There are great experiences, great people all over the world, not least in the Chuckwagon Bar and Grill. Go there and see that we’re all family, we’re all Americans. Friends, head to South Dakota. Go to the Cattleman’s Club and Zesto’s, and the Chuckwagon Bar and Grill. It’s well worth a trip.


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4 thoughts on “The Chuckwagon Bar and Grill, Fort Pierre, South Dakota, and Zesto in Pierre

  1. One of your best write- ups I’ve read! You well captured how special it is to meet folks when you travel and make new friends. It elevates the meal to a much more magical experience.

    Liked by 1 person

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