Thursday, April 9, 2009

Breakfast at Clarke's

I have joked that, based on our ten months of travel, there is no town so small that it didn’t have a Dollar store.

I have to revise that. Cannonville (home to our campground) and Tropic, Utah, left, (seven miles up the road toward Bryce) are so small that together they don’t warrant a Dollar store. Talk about being in the middle of nowhere--albeit an absolutely beautiful middle of nowhere.

Finding restaurants is going to be a challenge. Unlike Zion NP, where Springdale, UT, sat at the entrance to the park and had a mile (roughly) of motels, stores, and restaurants, Bryce Canyon has no such small town gateway. Either prior to or just upon arrival in a new area, I try to Google local restaurants. Not that I am adverse to adventure, but when two-thirds of the on-line reviews contain statements roughly paraphrased as: “If I were starving to death, I wouldn’t go back to this place!” or half remark on the cleanliness, usually the lack thereof, of a particular place, I suspect that I want to stay away.

But it was dumb luck that led us to Clarke’s Restaurant. I had seen a small grocery in Tropic with a restaurant attached, and since Tropic was on our way to Bryce Canyon, I suggested that we stop in on our way to the Park for breakfast. A couple of points to keep in mind: first, we are here off-season and many of the local spots are either not open or are serving a limited “winter menu” and second, speed of service does not seem to be the hallmark of Southern Utah restaurants. The wait staff is prompt to take your order, but be prepared to wait for the kitchen to send out the food.

At our first stop, the restaurant was almost empty with only two other tables occupied. The breakfast menu lists three different omelets, an egg/meat/hash brown offering, biscuits and gravy, country fried steak with eggs, ham and eggs, stuffed French toast, and either buttermilk or blueberry pancakes.

Chuck elected to have the blueberry pancakes with a side of hash browns (by this time you can’t be surprised) and a side of grilled sliced ham. I chose the half order of biscuits and gravy (right) with a side of hash browns fried crisp. While the sausage gravy with my breakfast was better than average, the biscuit was way below average. Dense and tough, it had to be cut with a knife and fork. My hash browns were cooked as ordered so that the crisp edges provided a textural contrast to the soft inner potato. I did overhear a fellow diner this morning (more on that breakfast later) ask for toast instead of the biscuit, and I will remember that if we get back to Clarke’s for a third breakfast.

Chuck’s blueberries pancakes, two large and light cakes, were delicious with an intense blueberry flavor and were served with a cup of fresh berries on the side. He had his choice of either maple syrup or commercial (imitation) blueberry syrup and wisely chose the maple. The blueberry syrup would have spoiled the flavor of the real berries. His grilled ham slice was also delicious – not too smoky, not too sweet, and not too salty and very tender. A wise choice on his part.

We returned to Clarke’s again the morning, before departing to another park and another morning of hiking. This time I ordered the Southwestern omelet--a three-egg omelet stuffed (and I mean stuffed) with sautéed onions, green and red peppers, mushrooms, and sausage. Again, this came with a side of hash browns. This was a very good and filling choice. The veggies were cooked crisp tender and the sausage had just the right amount of peppery seasoning.

Chuck tried the stuffed French toast. He had his choice of blueberry cream cheese stuffing or an apple cinnamon stuffing and took the latter. Again, he added the grilled ham steak and hash browns as sides. (Remember, we were going hiking!). The French toast was four halves of thick-sliced pieces of bread with a generous amount of apple filling separating the bread halves. The apple filling was not overly sweet, although he was glad to have the saltier ham to counterbalance what sweetness there was. And, since he is not fond of generous amounts of cinnamon, the kitchen used a light hand with this spice.

If it hadn’t been for my awful biscuit that first morning, I would have given Clarke’s 4.0 Addies. But that biscuit was unforgivable and knocks the rating to a 3.5.

As we left Clarke's, we passed photos of the ancestors of today's residents of Tropic.

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