It’s easy to imagine the Cowboy Dinner Tree in Silver Lake, Oregon, as it must have been in the 1800s. Back then, this remote area served as a dining spot for cattle drivers — there would always be a chuckwagon waiting for them under the large juniper tree near the restaurant. There, the cowboys would fill up on beans and rolls before they moved on.
Today, visitors can kick some dust off their shoes and pile in to seats around wooden tables for a delicious ranch-style meal in a setting that feels far from just about anywhere. No one knows for sure how long ago the main dining room was built, but local lore says the original shack looked old 100 years ago.
The three-room restaurant is owned by Silver Lake native Angel Roscoe and her husband, Jamie. They met at Cowboy Dinner Tree in 2005, when Jamie was there to celebrate his 28th birthday and Angel was serving, and they have been married since later that year. Angel has worked at Cowboy Dinner Tree since she was 14, when she and her mother worked for the people who originally turned it into a restaurant in 1992, Al and Marcy Prom. Angel’s parents, Don and Connie Ramage, purchased it in 2007. When they were ready to retire in 2012, she and Jamie took over.
There’s a sense of history around everything — from the dim 12-volt lighting in the dining rooms to the cowboy country relics lining the walls. There’s no menu and no ATM. Guests are served by reservation only, and you have to choose your protein when you reserve your time. You can choose from mason jars of lemonade or sweet tea, salad with two homemade dressings, rolls, beans, and a whole 4-pound chicken or 32-ounce steak served with a baked potato. Dessert is a square of strawberry shortcake. Angel says Al was an original cowboy, and he created the coveted recipes that are still used. Needless to say, just about everyone leaves with leftovers.
In 30 years, the owners have done no advertising, but word keeps spreading about the cooked-to-perfection meats and large portions. “People bring their friends and family and then they come back,” says Angel. “People talk about the simple menu with the huge steaks and the delicious roll recipe and all that. It’s traditional and very authentic and you can’t really get that anywhere else.”
When Jamie and Angel bought the restaurant, they knew they wanted to raise their kids in Silver Lake, and they already knew how to run the place. Repeat customers who have been coming in for decades have seen Angel grow up, get married, and raise her family, which now includes six children. People come regularly to celebrate family events and remember lost loved ones who brought them there. “We considered not buying it, because we knew how much work a restaurant is,” says Angel. “But the customers told us that they didn’t want it to change and if it wasn’t in the family, it just wouldn’t be the same. We knew we wanted to raise our kids here, so we saved all of Jamie’s money from his deployment and bought it.”
Jamie says that part of the appeal is that it takes some effort to get here. “You have to make a reservation and it takes a little time,” he says. “It’s a little bit of a road trip, so it’s kind of a destination to itself just to come here for the food and the experience.”
Among the changes they have made are adding to the cabins on the property. Customers appreciate that they can dine and then meander over to their rustic lodging without having to drive back to where they came from. Right now there are four cabins, but Jamie and Angel are building a new, larger house on a nearby hill for their family, and turning their original house into another cabin. They also started a company called 1875 Beef to allow visitors to take home some ethically farmed, pasture-raised beef from the gift shop. One of their sons raises bees, so the gift shop helps him sell his honey. Local girls make jam, which also is on the gift shop shelves. “We hope that the gift shop is something that can benefit the whole community,” she says.
Right now, all the Roscoe children work there, and their oldest daughter, Danny, is considering taking over Cowboy Dinner Tree in time. “We want to keep this going to give our kids the opportunity to take it over if they want to and stay here if they want to stay here,” says Angel.
If you do stay in one of the on-site cabins, you’ll have a lot to explore within a short drive.The Cowboy Dinner Tree is near the community of Fort Rock, where several 10,000-year-old sagebrush sandals were found in 1938. It’s also about an hour from La Pine, which is close to Newberry National Volcanic Monument. A homestead village and museum is open from Memorial Day through September.
Angel says one reason people love Cowboy Dinner Tree so much is that it hasn’t changed. “People come out here and know it’s going to be like it was the last time they came out here,” she says. “People like the simplicity. It’s such a fast-paced world that I think it’s comforting to come out to the Dinner Tree. It’s a place that has brought so many people together and people just want to keep coming back.”
Cowboy Dinner Tree, Reservations are required and only cash is accepted.. 50836 E. Bay Rd., Silver Lake, 541/576-2426, cowboydinnertree.com