Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Small Towns, Big Hearts, and Mighty Fine Food

There's something about small towns.

Kate and I grew up in a moderately small town (Clinton, IA) and a small town (Plainfield, IL), respectively, and live in a very small town (Wycombe, PA, pop. less than 600). So as we drove down Main Street in Torrey, UT, we felt right at home. Stopping at Austin's Chuckwagon Lodge and General Store provided all the basic foodstuffs, along with advice on places to go and where to find a physician if we needed one.

Finding parking spots in front of the stores you want to shop in, not having to pay parking fees, seeing trees lining the street were very reassuring sights.

Finding a fenced-in yard with a few goats just a block away reminded us our Wycombe neighbor whose ducks, geese, chickens, and peacock were often in our back yard.

Small towns also seem to appreciate their history. Several homes in our hometown are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In Torrey's case, the Torrey Log School and Church fits the mold. Construction began in September, 1898 and was completed three months later. In addition to serving as the school and the church for the town, the 21 x 37 foot building was used for dances and civic, social, and religious meetings until the new school house was built in 1917 (see photo below). It continued to be used as a Latter Day Saints Church and community center until the 1970s.

About two blocks away was the Torrey Schoolhouse Bed & Breakfast Inn (center, photo right). Begun in 1914, the Torrey Schoolhouse operated as a school and cultural center from 1917 through 1954. The second-floor community dance hall served as a gym for its students during the week, and as community dance hall or sporting arena on the weekends. One of its most famous (or rather, infamous) regular visitors was Leroy Parker (AKA Butch Cassidy) who, along with other outlaws of his time, found refuge in this area-- sometimes called "Robber's Roost."

And then there's the food. Not large enough for the chains to set up, small towns are often blessed with the specialities of the best cooks in the area.

The Patio, described as the “place where the locals hang out,” was such a place. Walking in there one noon, I could easily believe that statement. Decorated with strings of lights hanging from the ceiling, a lava lamp (you do remember these from the 60’s, don’t you?) sitting by the bar, and a Victoriana-style lamp complete with those dangling icicle things hanging from the shade, you could picture a fine time being had by all after a few beers.

Add the horseshoe pit, dart board, disc golf, live music, and outdoor tables facing the cliffs – well, you get the picture.

That day, the restaurant was populated by three other grey-haired couples, so the atmosphere was subdued. Or as subdued as a place can be when the cook hadn’t shown up, and the waitress/bartender/cashier was also doing kitchen duty. The menu is short and to the point: chili, three sandwiches (BBQ chicken, smoked brisket, and I forget), nachos, baked spaghetti, and a long list of pizzas. At first we took a table outside, but the wind soon began to blow the sand, and we quickly retreated inside.

Our last experience with Utah pizza had not been satisfying (I chose not to write about it), so we were hungry for a decent (we were not even looking for great) pizza. We asked the server/cook if the crust was thin or thick, and she said it was medium. Some help. We decided to give it a go and ordered the large sausage and asked her to go light on the sauce. The result was a pizza with a crust thicker than we prefer but with good somewhat spicy sauce, good sausage, and an abundance of stringy cheese.

This was definitely an average (3.5 Addies) pizza, but it did satisfy our pizza craving. Maybe at our next location we will find pizza more to our taste.

Have you been to a restaurant where, as soon as you enter the front door, you feel that you are at home? It can be the funky décor, the smells coming from the kitchen, the friendly greeting from the servers. Or it can be a combination of the three. That was our feeling about Slacker’s Burger Joint in Torrey, Utah. Sure, the 5.0 Addie fries and great burgers had us coming back. But Cherie, the owner’s mother and counter person/waitress certainly played a major role.

So as we approached the end of our stay in Torrey, a final trip to Slacker’s was mandatory. Knowing that we planned on dessert, Chuck only ordered the single cheeseburger and we shared an order of the excellent fries. I had been anticipating the Bleu Bacon Burger, and it totally lived up to my expectations. A juicy burger on a toasted sesame bun, crisp smoky bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a very generous topping of outstanding tangy and salty bleu cheese. What more could a burger lover want?

Then, on to dessert. We shared the banana split: two servings of vanilla ice cream, one serving of chocolate ice cream, hot fudge on the chocolate, raspberry topping on one serving of the vanilla, and strawberry topping on the second. And, if this was not enough, a mound of whipped cream covering all.

Slacker’s, like Frog City Café in Rayne, LA; New Jersey Pizza in Flagstaff, AZ; and Hill Country Café in Kerrville, TX, is one of those places we wish could follow us on our trip around the country.

A final thought. Everywhere we have been in Utah, we have encountered the friendliest and most accommodating service staff. I mentioned the cook/waitress at the Patio. While the ceiling was falling in around her, she maintained her good humor and provided excellent service. Cherie at Slacker’s may be the restaurant’s secret weapon. The staff members at grocery stores would repeatedly ask if we needed help finding anything. And the young cashier at the Walgreen’s in Hurricane drew me a verbal road map for finding the Ace bandages.

We are getting spoiled!

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