Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

September 17, 2013

Gourmet at the Gorge

Boyd County natives' business combines hot dogs, adventure tourism

Tim Preston
The Independent

PINE RIDGE — Ask Brian Gillespie and Clifton Gifford why they decided to make gourmet hot dogs the signature entree at their business Sky Bridge Station in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge and you will get a two-part answer.

“It’s hard to mess up a hot dog,” Gifford says, just before Gillespie adds, “And, it’s easy to make them really good.”

Located at the intersection of Ky. 715 and 15, Sky Bridge Station welcomes Red River Gorge’s hikers, bikers, campers and climbers to leave the outdoors behind for a little while and enjoy a gourmet dog, craft beer, a Wi-fi signal and a chance to just relax.

The business is also home to KRAG, Kentucky Rock & Adventure Guides, where Gifford and Gillespie meet rock-climbing clients from around the globe who are drawn to the miles of sandstone walls that have made the area one of the world’s top destinations for the sport.

The upstairs area features a tidy and inviting hostel area that provides guests a place to sleep for the night at a minimum of expense. Gifford said they also plan to add a small fleet of kayaks and canoes for rentals starting next spring.

When they aren’t climbing and enjoying the area’s natural resources, however, the Ashland-area natives focus their energies on providing an oasis for those who want something good to eat and drink while at the Red River Gorge.

“We have all kinds of crazy ideas for dogs,” said Gifford, who is quick to offer a string of “weiner” while explaining they have intentionally emphasized Kentucky on their menu as well as at their bar.

“We want to push local as much as we can. For example, if someone comes in and asks for a Bud Light then I say ‘We have Kentucky Kolsch Light. People try it and they love it,” he said, noting they also feature ice-cold Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale on tap.

At its heart, each Sky Bridge Station hot dog depends upon a top-quality weiner made in Kentucky by the Bluegrass brand with five generations of experience, Gifford and Gillespie said.

While the partners, as well as their associates in the kitchen, often formulate new hot dogs and titles, the menu board now offers: Chili-Cheese Dog; Slaw Dog; Steakhouse Dog; Pizza Dog; City Slicker Dog: BBQ Dog; Zee German Dog; Epic Journey Dog; Homestead Dog; and the Yeah Dog!, as well as the “weiner of the week,” which was most recently a Taco Dog.

Gillespie says top-quality toppings are a real key to creating a gourmet hot dog, citing components such as the Feta cheese they add to their Pizza Dog, or the kraut piled upon Zee German Dog. Some include sauteed components such as mushrooms and onions or peppers, while others feature select combinations of cheeses or herbs and spices for individuality. The Epic Journey Dog, for example, is topped with bacon, jalapeno peppers, chipotle mayo, french fried onions and pepper jack cheese.

KRAG and Sky Bridge Station typically open around 9 a.m., although food isn’t offered before noon and the business serves patrons “until people stop eating and drinking” each evening. Sky Bridge Station is closed Wednesday, although Gillespie and Gifford plan to be open seven days per week as the peak visitor season of October comes and goes.

For more information, visit Sky Bridge Station’s Facebook page or kragky.com, or call (606) 668-9927.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.