Recently Don and I had a pleasant surprise, while exploring the town of Midway in an area called Heber Valley. The shops in town and many of the homes appeared to reflect a Swiss history. We saw Alpine style chalets and hand painted stucco exteriors. Evidently in the 1800's about 50 Swiss immigrants arrived to open dairy farms and the area continues to enjoy an Alpine flavor. We were enjoying our drive when we cam upon the Blue Boar Inn sitting on a hill at the entrance to a neighborhood. First I noticed the boar looking at us... a copy of the famous bronze statue in Florence, which I'm very fond of. Then my eyes took in the building, which seemed right out of a fairytale. There was painted stucco and a stone tower, plus a veranda with international flags waving in the chilly breeze.
Had to Stop
We had eaten a late breakfast and weren't in search of a meal, but I insisted we pull over so I could run in and have a peek inside. I climbed the stairs to a heavy rounded door, that matched the shape above the fireplace inside. Another boar greeted me, this one with an almost playful wig of greenery!
I couldn't hold back my grin when I took in the grand display in the entryway and dining room. It was lunchtime, but there were no diners. A lovely young server named Brittany, (who managed to pull off a uniform that included knickers laced at the calf) greeted me warmly. I wasn't really hungry and I don't usually feel comfortable eating in my road trip attire at quiet tables with white cloths. But Brittany was so enthused showing me around, that I just went out to the car and dragged Don inside for lunch.
A Perfect Lunch
We were seated at a cozy corner table where we could check out the display of medieval crossbows and a swooping alpenhorn mounted on the wall. As we settled in, snow flurries swirled just enough to excite, but not worry these Texan tourists. Brittany's eagerness to serve us almost made me feel like we were surprise guests at a snowed in cabin... but she chatted and lingered just enough, never making us feel awkward for being the only diners.
We studied the wooden menus carefully and chose just enough food for our small appetites. I had the Onion Gratinee, which tasted as decadent as this photo. I was in heaven with my favorite soup filled with dark broth, thick with onions and a thick layer of cheese covering chewy bread. Eating my soup was a little comical as I splattered and slurped. Don's pork sandwich was mouthwatering moist, with crispy pomme fries that he generously shared.
Our bill came in horn shaped pewter mug, with some chocolate treats! I pondered how a place like this could have classy touches, reasonable prices, a prize winning chef who serves everything from escargot to wild boar chops and have so few customers! But Brittany explained John Warnock, the founder of Adobe Systems opened this inn with his wife as a sort of dream 13 years ago. Brittany invited us to tour some of the luxurious guest rooms named for writers such as Shakespeare and Frost. I pictured Mr. Warnock and his wife having quite a good time decorating and designing every nook and cranny of this amazing place. Not too many businesses could survive such an out of the way spot, during the off season!
On a cold day, my favorite room was the pub with it's whimsical and yummy name. The cozy walnut-paneled room had numerous antiques, including a 16th century bar imported from France. I of course loved the carved boars, the stone fireplace and the deep arched windows looking out to the garden patio. The chairs didn't look too comfy, but each table had a tiny flag and a bowl of pistachios. Now that's a unique touch!
Till Next Time
After our unexpected feast and our tour of some of the 12 guestrooms, we headed off. Hopefully we can return to stay a night or two and enjoy some of the heartier meals at dinner or Sunday brunch! I'll take a room with an iron balcony please!
Utah in November
A couple weeks ago while staying in Park City, Don and I took off for a different kind of dining adventure. Before any food was involved we enjoyed a scenic drive through Provo Canyon. Eventually we found a large boulder with the word Sundance, at the entrance to the resort owned by Robert Redford since 1969.
This little sitting area next to The Foundry Grill was very quiet. Outside the window a machine was blasting snow on the slopes and reminding me that the resort wouldn't be quiet for long. Skiing and the Sundance Film Festival will keep this place busy in the months ahead.
Casual Lunch in The Foundry Grill
My dining adventures are usually about curious cafes and hole in the wall joints. This was hardly a dive, but it's the most casual of the 2 resort restaurants. The photos above barely hint at the cozy atmosphere with planked floors and Old Hickory furniture. There were a number of fireplaces and a great display of curious old tools. The fresh flowers on the table were sitting in vases that were hand-blown from recycled glass. The photo of me shows my citrus hummus and veggie wrap. The salad and lemon vinaigrette was the perfect match. You can see I'm sighing (with closed eyes) at the delicious-ness.
Of course I had to wander a bit and take in the atmosphere. I stopped and chatted with the hostess who looked like the model on about every Sundance catalogue I've ever seen. She was very young and extremely nice and probably a bit bored because it was slow. I told her she looked like she was right out of the Sundance catalogue and she laughed and said she wasn't, but admittedly very innocently that she'd been told she looked like a model.
Art and Antiques
I then wandered down the hall past the gift shop and deli and enjoy the walls. I really wanted to sit in the rocker and study the beautiful quilt for a while...and the horse painting. That sweet white horse seems to be staring at the partially open barn door, trying to decide whether he has enough energy to face the day. And the sleds! I was tempted to take one out on the slope!
Another server who seemed delighted that I was curious, took me into one of the back rooms. None of the other diners seemed at all curious about the place. They had either visited before or they were far too cool to oooh and ahh over art work and fireplaces.
And then she told me to open a heavy door that lead into this very small room with only 4 tables and a fireplace. "This is the room where Mr. Redford eats when he comes." She smiled, then pointed to the table by the window. "That's the table where he always sits."
A Celebrity Sighting?
My dining adventure would have been complete had Bob Redford casually strolled in to have a burger. It didn't happen, but that's okay. I had my Redford sighting in January of 2011 when in Park City during the Sundance Festival. I was so giddy to see him walking by just a few feet away, that I fumbled my camera dial off of auto-focus. Here is my photo that I for some reason did not delete!
The Lincoln Highway - November 2013
Recently my husband and I drove the nearly 300-mile stretch of the Lincoln Highway, known as the Loneliest Road in America. There aren't many dining options on the loneliest road...but I guess that made it a dining adventure.
Stop 1 - International Café and Bar in Austin, Nevada
Being big fans the Austin in Texas, we liked the name of this tiny town that suddenly appeared. We also liked the idea of a 140 year old (once) hotel, out in the middle of nowhere, serving international food. There was a lot of stuff attracting our attention as we pulled up. I particularly liked the welcoming sign announcing Ice and Free Restrooms and a very intriguing sign on the side saying, Serbian Christmas Jan. 7!
The sign said OPEN, but it was awfully empty when we entered the diner portion of the building. The portrait of W.C. Fields glaring down over the counter seemed to match the look of 60ish woman who entered from the kitchen in a Hawaiian shirt and ponytail. "Hi, do we just sit anywhere?" I asked apologetically, feeling as if we'd rudely interrupted her quiet. She nodded and left the room.
There were many tables to choose from. Most were round with Lazy Susans in the center. My photo looks like some kind of comfy pancake house with all the light wood, but there was really nothing cozy about the place. We sat and waited and I was scared to look at Don or I might burst out laughing. We know each other's thoughts too well.
Another woman entered. Her moccasins actually stomped the floor as she headed to our table. She hadn't bothered to pull her pink shirt down over her stomach, or to hide her bra or the tattoos on her bosom. However, our 40ish, frowning server may have been covering something on her neck, since the white hand towel was meticulously wrapped (not slung) around her neck. She slapped 2 sticky menus on the table and I almost jumped. She said nothing, so I greeted first. "Hi, how are you doing?" She answered with. "Do you want something to drink?" She left to get our coffee and Don and I shared nervous grins before searching the menu. There was nothing at all international on the menu! But the menu did mention something about the friendly staff at International Café. Hmm?
Ordering and Eating
When she came with the coffee, Don and I knew better than to stall with ordering. I did make the mistake of changing my order from fried egg to scrambled after she had gone to the trouble of writing it on her pad. She said nothing, but I felt a flood of childlike guilt when she shifted her weight and sighed and closed her eyes very slowly. After a short wait, our plates arrived without a word. The food was steaming hot, but I had no appetite. Don's biscuits and gravy tasted a bit spongy and my hash browns were greasy, I think...but maybe they were good. I'll never know. Our silent pink waitress had me so intimidated I couldn't taste my food.
After a while I went in search of the free restroom and discovered the old bar. The morning sun lit up the ornate wood columns and mirror, as well as lots of clutter including a wheelbarrow filled with logs...? Maybe this bar is the reason Pinky and her possible mother were so grumpy. Maybe they had worked into the wee hours and it was all they could do to serve 2 travelers on a Friday morning.
I had so many questions I wanted to ask Pinky, but before we headed to pay at the counter a middle aged couple entered with cheery smiles. I was amused to see they were treated no differently. I exchanged a few pleasant words with them to practice my social skills before attempting a conversation with Pinky. I was just so curious about the kind of reaction I might get if I asked her about the cafe's history. Or maybe I could be a little braver and find out if she grew up in Austin. Or I could just go all out and torture myself by asking her to pose for a blog photo. But more customers arrived and she was not approachable. I left disappointed that I hadn't had my chat. So disappointed that I actually called a day later. "Do you all serve International food?" I asked innocently. The confused woman's voice answered. "No?" As if no one had ever asked. With a few more questions she did explain that her husband was Serbian and they serve Serbian food for a Christmas celebration once a year. I doubt we'll ever return for the Serbian Christmas, but I bet the ladies in their bright shirts might be a little more lively during the evening.
Stop 2- Ely's Hotel Nevada Café!
A few hours later at the end of the lonely stretch, we stopped for lunch in Ely. I was pretty excited to be in Ely, because Ely happens to my middle name...an old family name. And I was quite thrilled to dine at the Hotel Nevada. This 84 year old casino may not be the oldest building in Nevada, but it was once the tallest! AND, it has a very cool neon sign with the macho miner.
Not only did the neon miner welcome us in, but the donkey mural was very encouraging with the words, Western Hospitality. That's something we were craving by lunchtime!
As soon as we entered there were things to see...starting with the floor!
I'm not a big fan of casinos usually, but give me one with neon, buffalo heads and a cowboy and I'm impressed!
Animals and Ranch Stuff
Every nook and cranny was crammed with blinking casino lights or stuffed critters or ranching gear! I love the wall behind this wild cat. In the 1960's, ranchers from the area brought their branding gear right into the casino and branded their mark right onto the wood wall.
I was kind of disappointed that the dining room had been updated with a somewhat corny race car and motorcycle theme. But at least our server arrived with a smile and she took our order and answered an important question of mine. Yes, the locals of Ely pronounce the name as if you're describing something "eel-like". I hated the teasing I got as a child, but defended the name in recent years when people argued about the pronunciation.
It's fun to eat when you're hungry and I was starved since I hardly ate my breakfast. My simple BLT came with a pickle and super-crunchy AND creamy coleslaw which was delicious! Don had a bowl of cream of broccoli soup. (I liked my pick better) We even got a free bumper sticker which did not ride home on our bumper. But the food and atmosphere hit the spot. Clean, fast, yummy and our bill came to less than $10.00!
Yea for Dining Adventures along Nevada's Highway 50!
The Martin Hotel
A week after our first Basque experience, Don and I passed back through Nevada and just had to try one more wonderful family owned Basque restaurant!
Looking In and Out
I love windows with words. From the front porch we couldn't peer through the curtains, but we could read the words and start to wonder about the hotel and restaurant, established in 1898. Once inside, we heard the whistle and watched a train rumble by from the front window.
The bar and dining areas were cozy and worn. It reminded me of a grandmother's house...a grandmother too content or too busy to bother with remodeling updates. It was 11:30 and the place was already filling up with locals, many greeting one another. We started to sit in the room with wood paneling, but there were only large community tables. We chose a cozy table for 2 in a corner where we could study old framed photos, belt buckle collections and a display of sheep knickknacks.
We were relieved to have lunch options instead of a many coursed feast like our last experience. I started with a cup of the garlic soup! The Nancy Burger came with a choice of fries or mashed. I've never had mashed potatoes with a burger and I've never had such incredible gravy either! Gravy, with chunks of bacon and onion!
A week ago we missed out on the Picon Punch tradition. Even though it was lunch and we had 5 hours of driving ahead, we let the sign above the bar persuade us. Owner, John Arant was very excited to know we'd been to JT's in Gardnerville 200 miles away. He teased that he made a much better Picon than Marie at JT's. I'm sure only wimps split a Picon, but it was a good compromise. Now we have really been initiated into the world of Basque dining!
The chicken sandwich was huge and Basque fries were piping hot and crispy. No lamb or beef tongue this time, but the garlic soup and picon gave us two new Basque specialties. Note the pressed tin walls and flowered carpet. Best of all, the table made us feel like we were eating at my mom's old drop leaf kitchen table.
There was a nice little tiled area in the hall between the men's room and ladies room...where we could freshen up before hitting the road. Gotta love that touch, left over from the day when the building was a boarding house for Basque sheep herders.
To be honest, the ladies room did have its own sink, but the men had to use these sinks...along with one of those great powdered soap dispensers!
Cheers to The Martin Hotel for feeding us well and making us feel more than welcome. I would love to come back for an evening feast and sit at a community table locals!
This was my first Basque food experience! My brother in Boise, ID has talked about the Basque cuisine for a long time. But I knew little about the Spanish and French Basque sheep herders that immigrated to the US west until our fine meal experience last week!
A Building with History
The 113 year old building itself is amazing. It was moved from Virginia City to Gardnerville in 1896. It was an inn for sheep herders in 1947 when 22 year old Jean Lekumberry left the French side of the Basque Pyrenees for Nevada to make a living herding sheep. In 1960, Jean and his wife and brother bought JT's and worked the bar, restaurant and inn themselves.
We were greeted by a colorful bar scene when we entered JT's. Jean Lekumberry is no longer alive to serve up the picon which is the caramel colored traditional Basque cocktail. But his daughter was working the bar that night. (not pictured) We would have loved to sample a couple, but they're known for being very strong and we knew had a long, mountain drive back that night.
The Bar Décor
A lot of the décor is up high in the bar. The upper wall is covered in well worn cowboy hats, all signed by the owners. The ceiling is covered in dollar bills...for good luck we were told. There was a juke box playing traditional Basque music, that seemed to have little yodeling! And the wall paper and old polished bar added to the old west appeal.
Old Fashioned Dining Room
The dining area brought back a different era. The banquet hall with long tables and autumn leaf décor made me feel like I was in a 1960's American Legion hall. The framed family photos and restaurant history displays hanging throughout made me feel like I was visiting a grandparent's home in my childhood.
Our Dining Experience
Don and I did have our own table. In 1960's and before, there was one seating at dinner. The dinner bell rang promptly at 6 pm and herders, travelers and locals sat down at long tables and passed the bowls down. The food is still served family style, but we did get a choice of entrée. In this photo you can see that a small bottle of red wine came with our meal, which started with a tureen of vegetable soup and basket of bread. Note the flags. French Basque? I forgot to ask!
The Food Kept Coming
After our soup, a large bowl of salad arrived. Then the lamb stew and bowl of beans. (Basque restaurants still serve the hearty basic dishes cooked by sheep herders long ago...lots and lots of lamb!) Then our entrees came. Don's steel head trout with a picante style sauce was delicious and moist. My Basque chicken was smothered in a yummy tomato and pepper sauce. Too bad we were almost too full when they arrived. Miraculously I was able to sip coffee and eat my whole bowl of cheesecake ice cream! All meals are one price...$26.95!
Good Bye JT's
By the time we left, the bar had filled with a loud, mingling crowd of locals. I noticed a baby and toddler getting lots of attention and everyone was being greeted by name. This could have felt awkward as if we'd entered a private party, but the group was friendly and welcoming. We thanked our waiter, David and walked out in good spirits.
We had to grin to notice this sign in the window of the barber shop that shares the building with JT's. Now we know there are a few things we can return for... a haircut, a prayer and a picon!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.