In an article about visiting Mono Lake, The New York Times commented, "When the desire that is the cause of all human suffering returned in the form of appetite, our editors were relieved the find the Whoa Nellie Deli, a shockingly gourmet oasis located at the local Tioga Gas Mart."
We felt exactly that. Coming back to civilization from a 5-day trek in the beautiful wilderness of Yosemite eating nothing but bagels, cheese, fruits, polenta, and various forms of nuts and grains, the idea of a gourmet oasis juxtaposed inside a gas station and dishing out pan-seared ahi salad clung to me as steadfastly as does the worst of any desire. It just wouldn’t let go. It had all the right reasons not to though, because the reward that awaited us there, by the ethereal blue hues of Mono Lake and in the Mobil gas station, was a meal to remember.
So the story goes like this. Invited by his friend to open an eatery inside his gas station near the Tioga Pass, Chef Matt Toomey, who enjoyed spending half his time chilling at Club Med in the Caribbean’s, decided to take this opportunity very seriously. He would create the restaurant of his dreams there, serving high quality food for the hikers of Yosemite and drawing inspiration from the Caribbean. For the first few months he suffered severely. His friends teased him for serving gourmet hot dogs with hollandaise sauce in the culinary wasteland that was Yosemite Valley. And one day, after another quiet night at the gas station and a couple of beers, Matt and his friend started joking about a proper name for the restaurant, which had until then been referred to simply as Tioga Toomey’s, after its location. It was then when a car skidded dangerously past another down the road towards Mono Lake.
“Whoa Nellie!” Matt exclaimed. And Whoa Nellie Deli was born.
But it was not just the name that was born. It was the crowds and the media attention and the rave reviews. Not too long after this, anyone with a fair knowledge of Yosemite knew about Matt and his crazy delicious gas station cuisine and was raving about it.
Dressed in a white chef's jacket and baseball cap, Matt is one of those manic figures whose charisma and sense of humor are reflected in his cooking, and his endless energy reflected in the amazing speed at which food is turned out from the kitchen. The apricot and wild berry glazed pork loin was cooked to a tender perfection and coated in the perfect sweet sour sauce. The seared ahi, despite its rather chunky appearance and slightly soggy sushi rice, was comparable to something you would find at Nobu. The lobster taquitos, notwithstanding the fact that we could not find any lobster, were some one of the best we’ve tasted. And if you’re still hungry after this, you’ll be able to find the likes of osso bucco sitting on the menu alongside pizzas and coke.
If you want to catch a glimpse of Chef Toomey, come during the summer. In the winters he is now often busy catering for the likes Andy Garcia and Sean White. Just so you know.
"To have one of the better meals of your life in a gas station is bizarre. It leaves you staring at your plate for a moment or two in disbelief.” The Los Angeles Times
Whoa Nellie Deli is at 22 Vista Point Road, Lee Vining, CA. 93541
Tel: + 1 760-647-1088