Food, Fun and Games at The Wheelhouse
● By Christy Milan
Let the Games Begin
Story by Christy Milan
Photos by Taryn Burkleo
PUSH OPEN THE DOOR and step into the restaurant, and you’ll likely be greeted with the chatter of patrons enjoying their meal. The bustling of activities create an energy and excitement that is contagious. Patrons at tables discuss anything from weather to the delicious food. Smells of bacon and bread swirl through the air.
The Wheelhouse is situated in the mountain town of Dunsmuir. The building itself is steeped in history – Alexander Levy, the town’s first mayor, moved his mercantile from the Rostel building into the Wheelhouse building after it was damaged in the fire of 1903. Since then, the building has been used for restaurants, galleries, flower shops and recently a vintage store. The Sacramento River winds through the canyon, and a tributary runs underneath this building. The Wheelhouse offers a glimpse of the clean, fresh “best water on Earth” as it flows to the Sacramento River under a glass enclosure built into the floor.
Partners and Wheelhouse owners Hannah Smith and Jon Dally named the restaurant after the classic saying, “in your wheelhouse,” referring to something being within one’s areas of competency. As for the quality of the food, Smith and Dally stick to a high standard. “Almost all of our food is house made, and if it’s not, we procure the best. Everything we do is a labor of time and love.” This can be seen from the house-ground sausage and slow-roasted corned beef to the house dressing and hand-cut fries. Dally claims his favorite is the corned beef hash, then says, “or maybe the chicken fried steaks. Both are amazing. We pound and batter every steak to order. It’s a real steak in there, not a frozen something-or-other.”
The uniqueness of the restaurant includes the activity of games. Board games, card games and the like line a wall in the restaurant. Dally and Smith operated a small farm growing organically certified garlic. The farm was off the grid, so entertainment was scarce. Board and card games became their outlet and a passion was discovered. “Most people don’t realize how far tabletop games have come over the years. The selection is endless, with thousands of games released every year. We have all the top new releases and all of your favorite old classics,” Dally says. “We are all about building community. We love the idea of getting people sitting down and talking face to face again. That’s how ideas happen, and we are proud to be a part of that.”
Dally credits the staff for The Wheelhouse’s success. “We have an amazing staff of service industry die-hards here who are so happy to help with all the fun little things we have going on. From the games to our commodities, we have something for everyone,” he says.
The Wheelhouse is a community collaboration. The Dough Bakery next door supplies most of the breads, and The Wheelhouse also uses products from Northbound Coffee Roasters and Infinity Kombucha in Mt. Shasta. Some of California’s finest beers are also served, along with other regional varieties. LP Design at the end of the block prints all the store materials on a vintage printing press, while SLR Metal Craft created the metal train and sign hanging in the restaurant. “All of these people and all the amazing other folk are why it’s so incredible to be in Dunsmuir right now,” Dally says. “We are transforming this block together.”
Recently The Wheelhouse expanded to incorporate what once was the Brown Trout Vintage store. The previous owner Debra Day retired, and
Dally and Smith approached Nathan Johnston and Bryce Craig from Pusher Inc. about splitting up the space. This space allows more patrons to enjoy games, food and hospitality. The recently added pub trivia event takes place every Friday night at 6:30 pm.
Life is not all fun and games, but The Wheelhouse aims to provide just that when you need a break. •
5841 Sacramento Ave., Dunsmuir
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