Grand Canyon's Yavapai Lodge: A Great Experience, Even Thought It Doesn't Need To Be

When you're Penelope Cruz or Megan Fox, you don't exactly need to know how to cook. You're going to get noticed either way. Guys will gawk. People will want you.

The same could be said for the Grand Canyon. It's so imposing, so daunting, so well, Penelope Cruz-like that people flock.  From all over the world. The food in the park is almost beside the point.=

Which is why I was so impressed with the Yavapai Lodge and its new restaurant. It's actually good. Really good. You'd go there even if wasn't sitting next to a ginormous gorge widely regarded as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

You'd choose it from a lineup for a Saturday night date because it has seven kinds of burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, local beers and such specialty cocktails as the Grand Canyon Mule with Absolut vodka, Angostura bitters, ginger ale, lime juice and fresh mint leaves.

Yes, Yavapai Lodge has a prime location amid pinons and junipers, a general store, a bank and a post office. Yes, you can hike to the South Rim in less than 15 minutes.  Yes, you can catch a free shuttle to Bright Angel Trail, Mather Point and the Visitor's Center. And, yes, you could just rest on your beauty, your convenience, your awesomeness.

But Delaware North, the global hospitality group that just took over the National Park Service contract for this long-time Grand Canyon lodge, decided that wasn't good enough for the country's most famous national park. They decided to go all in.

If Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed in 1903 that the Grand Canyon is the one great sight every American should see, then Delaware North was going to make it worth every American's while.

As we speak, Delaware North is in the process of renovating the rooms. They've already given the main lodge a makeover. They've totally revamped the menus (brisket mac & cheese, anyone?) at the main restaurant, at The Tavern and at the Grand Canyon Market Deli. They're putting in gardens and an outdoor patio, using local ingredients. They've added coffee drinks that put Starbucks to shame.

So, yes, the Grand Canyon will always attract visitors who come to hike, to watch the sun rise (and set), to ride horses, to take Pink Jeep tours, to stand at the top of the 70-foot Desert View Watchtower and to realize, as they gaze out over a 275-mile-long canyon, that they're not the center of the universe.

But now those visitors can do it with a happy belly filled with prickly pear baked brie, bacon wrapped jalapenos and grilled elk with pepper jack cheese, grilled onions and Poblano pepper marmalade.