Saturday, May 1, 2010

This Spud’s for You

As you may have gathered, potatoes are not my favorite food group. But every once in a while along comes a restaurant that makes a potato lover of me. Such was the case with Pine Country Restaurant in Williams, AZ.

The plan had been to take a walking tour of beautiful downtown Williams and then stop for lunch. Unfortunately, the only restaurant boasting a lunch menu that showed some originality was closed on that day. Time to regroup. Why don’t we go for breakfast instead?

So, we headed past the Red Garter B and B Inn, past a restaurant with an interesting name (right), and headed to a place I had read about that just might fill the bill – the Pine Country Restaurant.

Opened in October of 1997, this small restaurant (far right in the photo below) soon became “a familiar place because of the strong sense of family. Dee Seehorn, the owner, was born in Williams, went to school in the Phoenix valley, but would always come back to Williams during the summer to visit her grandparents. When she and her husband, Jim, decided to start the adventure of opening a restaurant, they looked in Prescott, Flagstaff, and a few other northern cities. She says that they did not choose Williams, but that Williams chose them. Having worked in the restaurant business since she was 13, this adventure was not totally unknown territory for her.”

The large café in downtown Williams is decorated in a knotty pine meets Victorian lace meets western motif. The walls are pine paneling; the windows are covered with lace curtains; and the walls are hung with prints depicting western scenes including the Grand Canyon. The restaurant was almost empty when we arrived at just after 9:00 a.m. This might have been worrisome, but given that the town exists mostly to serve the Grand Canyon and that the train to the Canyon had just departed, I wasn’t too concerned.

Now I didn’t select this restaurant because of its menu’s originality. Most of the choices were familiar to Southwest diners—items like Country Fried Steak and Eggs, Steak and Eggs, Biscuits and Gravy, Huevos Rancheros, and the omnipresent Breakfast Burrito. Others were standard diner breakfast fare – omelets, French toast, cinnamon roll French toast, and pancakes.

We decided to start by sharing one of the giant cinnamon rolls. Wow! Talk about a sugar rush. This gargantuan roll was warmed and the vanilla icing applied just before serving. It was yeasty, sweet, and sticky. And nuts had been included with the cinnamon filling. We looked at each other and declared that this might actually be better than the Iowa Café’s (Mesa, AZ) cinnamon roll.

When it came time to order, Chuck chose the Short Stack with Meat. This was two buttermilk pancakes with his choice of either bacon or sausage – he took the latter. And, this should come as no surprise; he ordered the home fries on the side. The pancakes were a breakfast lover’s dream, light and fluffy with nary a hint of the sour taste of baking powder. He declared that these were even better than those served at Matt’s Big Breakfast (Phoenix), which up until then had been his pick for “Pancakes of the Year.” The sausage patties were savory and peppery and were the perfect antidote to the sweetness of the syrup – especially following the sugary cinnamon roll.

I decided on the Chorizo and Egg scramble with hash browns, a flour tortilla, and salsa. The chili in the sausage had both flavored and given a slightly reddish tinge to the eggs. But I did think that both the eggs and sausage had been overcooked and were a little dry. But the accompanying dish of salsa did help moisten and flavor the eggs.

It was with both of our potato orders that the kitchen excelled. My hash browns were dry (as in not at all oily) and crisp as ordered. The potato shreds were a medium grate which meant that they maintained some structural integrity when cooked rather than turning into a soft mash in the center. And there were lots of crispy and lacy edges.

And Chuck’s home fries were equally good. The kitchen took cubes of potato, deep fried them, and then seasoned them with a Southwest-influenced spice mix. These were so good that a hash brown aficionado like me would be tempted to switch alliances, if I could always find home fries that good.

The sugar high lasted throughout most of the day. Unfortunately, this meant that we didn’t return to sample some of Pine Country Restaurant’s sinful-looking pies.

But we left Williams with the memory of this 4.0 Addie breakfast and some of the best breakfast potatoes ever.

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