Gassing Up For Great Food at Andrae’s Kitchen in Walla Walla, Washington

Kevin tends the grill at fabulous Andrae's Kitchen in Walla Walla, Washington

Kevin tends the grill at fabulous Andrae’s Kitchen in Walla Walla, Washington

This can’t be right, I’m thinking, as I drive around and around a gas station in Walla Walla, Washington. Finally, I go into the attached convenience store and there, just off to the cashier’s side, it is: *Andraes Kitchen.

Andrae’s is serving up no convenience store snacks, let me tell you, but scratch-made breakfasts and lunches, produced in a little, open kitchen. And diverse to boot. How about a pork schnitzel sandwich, halal-spiced chicken, short-rib tacos or grilled corn salad? They even sometimes slow-roast pigs and goats out back.

Andrae's Kitchen is inside a Walla Walla gas-station convenience store

Andrae’s Kitchen is inside a Walla Walla gas-station convenience store

It’s the brainchild of Andrae Bopp, a French-trained chef who migrated to Walla Walla and eventually set up this gas-station kitchen, along with a roaming truck.

“I wanted to cook, not just open bags,” says Kevin, who’s running the early morning grill. “I’ve learned more here in three months than I did in five years at other places.”

He flips my perfectly over-easy eggs onto a toasted biscuit, melts some topping cheese under a lid. Voila, I’ve got a first-class breakfast biscuit ($5), which I scarf down at a plastic table.

A great, inexpensive breakfast biscuit

A great, inexpensive breakfast biscuit

It seems Andrae has made a convert of the convenience store cashier, too. “You’ve got to try the Voodoo fries (with pulled pork),” he calls out to me as he’s rings up a gas purchase. “I never knew French fries could be a meal.”

Andrae’s Kitchen
706 West Rose Street (Co-op gas station), Walla Walla, Washington (check the web site for truck locations)
Daily 6 am-6 pm, except 6 am-4 pm Sunday at the Co-op
Andrae's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Great, Healthy Fare at the Bronze Cafe in Las Vegas’s LGBTQ Center

Eight Pass Route 303

Ready for something healthy and unexpected in Sin City? Just head to the scruffy fringes of downtown Las Vegas and, yes, the gleaming new LGBTQ Center, with a lovely front garden patio. That’s where you’ll find the Bronze Cafe, where Carmen greets me with a thousand-watt smile.

Beautiful front garden at the Center

Beautiful front garden at the Center

As I’m perusing the breakfast options, she asks if I’d like a sample dixy cup of soaked-overnight Swedish oatmeal, served cold with fruit and agave nectar. Yum. As I’m polishing this off, she hands me a taster of an Ethiopian teff cereal (interesting!) and a swallow of ice-brewed coffee. At this rate, I won’t have to order anything.

Finally, I  succumb to a half Tree of Life, a pita flatbread containing a cornucopia of roasted peppers, avocado, house-made pickled onions, cashew crema, Brazil nut crumble and a mango-ginger vinaigrette. It’s a delightfully different wrap and vegan to boot, like much of Bronze’s scratch-made menu. But fear not, carnivores, there’s a much-lauded maple-glazed bacon sandwich, slathered in bacon jam.

Tree of Life goodness with a healthy side salad

Tree of Life goodness with a healthy side salad

As I’m leaving, another server gives me a sample of a refreshing watermelon-chia drink. Oh, and it’s a hot day, so here’s some ice water for the road.

The LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender, Queer/Questioning) Center supports a lot of neighbourhood social projects and offers meal discounts to area residents. And apparently free samples to road-tripping bloggers.

Bronze Cafe
401 South Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas
Weekdays 7 am-10 pm, weekends 10 am-8 pm
Bronze Cafe at the Center on Urbanspoon

A Bread Trail Leads to Fabulous Crumb Brothers in Logan, Utah

Fresh-from-the-oven bread at Crumb Brothers Artisan Bakery in Logan, Utah

Fresh-from-the-oven bread at Crumb Brothers Artisan Bread & Cafe in Logan, Utah

How do you build the perfect breakfast sandwich? You start, as you must, with fabulous, fresh-baked bread.

Obviously, *Crumb Brothers Artisan Bread & Cafe, in Logan, Utah, has this covered with an ethereal, slightly chewy ciabatta bun. But then chef Robert kicks things up a notch with two airy, pan-fried local eggs and some good bacon. For a creamy touch, he adds avocado slices, melted provolone cheese and a swipe of lemon aioli. The final, artistic note is a stacked swirl of thinly sliced apple on the side.

Breakfast sandwiches don't get any better than this

Breakfast sandwiches don’t get any better than this

It’s simple, and simply the best breakfast sandwich I’ve perhaps ever eaten, on bended knee, and for a token $6.50. (It’s a perfect comeuppance to people who suggest you have to spend a small fortune to experience the divine).

Indeed, it’s more souffle than sandwich, something to make you consider giving up the same-old egg-and-bacon breakfast forever. The only thing missing is a better name than Ciabatta Fried Egg Bun.

Of course, Crumb Brothers has a lot more to offer, including all-day sandwiches (try the artichoke tapenade with fresh mozza) and a savoury bread pudding. Most important is a baker’s dozen roster of rotating breads, highlighted by the five-seed Decker loaf, named after the California breadmaker who taught bakery founder and co-owner Bill Oblock many of his yeasty tricks.

The daily bread and food menu

The daily bread and food menu

Crumb Brothers has a nice indoor cafe, with a lovely jazzy playlist chosen by a local musician. But the patio is where you want to be on a sunny day, surrounded by a fantastic garden of drought-tolerant plants. You may never want to leave.

Crumb Brothers' fabulous garden patio

Crumb Brothers’ fabulous garden patio

Crumb Brothers Artisan Bread & Cafe
291 South 300 West, Logan, Utah
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm, Saturday 8 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday
Crumb Brothers Artisan Bread on Urbanspoon

Kickstarting the Day at Lovely Caffe Ibis in Logan, Utah

Caffe Ibis is a great place to wake up to in Logan, Utah

Caffe Ibis is a great place to wake up to in Logan, Utah

This being efficient Utah, I’m not surprised that Caffe Ibis opens 10 minutes before the advertised hour, perhaps to provide a caffeine fix to those trembling outside the front door. It’s a lovely street-corner space in central Logan, with a shady street patio lined by flowerpots and, inside, open ductwork above washed walls.

Inside, Caffe Ibis has a relaxed feel that makes you want to savour the morning

Inside, Caffe Ibis has a relaxed feel that makes you want to savour the morning

Ibis serves fine cups of its own roasts, alongside blueberry scones warm from the oven. The morning menu includes my choice of farm eggs with herbed organic hash browns and two slices of delightfully chewy five-grain bread smeared with house preserves. It’s a great way to kickstart the day.

A first-class breakfast to accompany an equally fine coffee

A first-class breakfast to accompany an equally fine coffee

Caffe Ibis Coffee Roasting Company
52 Federal Avenue, Logan, Utah
Monday to Saturday 8 am-4 pm, Sunday 8 am-1 pm
Caffe Ibis Coffee Roasting Co. on Urbanspoon

Scenes From a California Road Trip

Some photos from a recent 7,500-kilometre road trip from Calgary down through Nevada and California and back by a circuitous route through Washington and southern B.C.

A passing storm near Logan, Utah

A passing storm near Logan, Utah

A slightly used mattress for my Walmart campout

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A Small Bet on a Fantastic Vegas Sandwich

Josh ... is putting high-end ingredients into most affordable sandwiches at The Goodwich, in Las Vegas

Josh Clark is putting high-end ingredients into most affordable sandwiches at The Goodwich, in Las Vegas

You may think you’ve eaten a great BLT or two in your time. But you obviously haven’t met Josh Clark, co-owner of *The Goodwich. From an 8-by-12-foot cart in colourful downtown Las Vegas (i.e. not The Strip), he dispenses a BLT&G (the “g” is for cheddar grits) that’s the best bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich I’ve ever sunk my teeth into.

The primary reason is Josh’s obsession with his bacon. It starts with a slab of pork belly that’s brined and slow-roasted/smoked and then sliced and crisped at the last minute on the blacktop. Oh, and all the drippings from the bacon makin’ are added to the sandwich for an extra hit of bliss. The remaining ingredients are equally well thought out, including fresh, flavour-filled tomatoes and grilled bread from local Bon Breads.

You won't find a better BLT than this one

You won’t find a better BLT than this one and certainly not for $7

A relaxed, friendly guy who greets his customers at the front of his cart, Josh has years of experience as a chef in some high-end Vegas restaurants. The premise behind the new sandwich shop (with co-owner Jake Leslie) is this: You should be able to take everything in, say, a high-falutin, high-priced meal, slap it between two pieces of bread and charge the change in a customer’s pocket. What a concept!

Thus you can get a “simple” heirloom tomato, aioli and smoked salt sammy for a ridiculous $3 and work all the way up to $9 for a pork butt and belly combo. Even a lowly egg salad ($5) is transformed into something fabulous by the addition of pickled onion, chorizo and chip bits. It’s all about ingenuity, exacting standards over the smallest details and execution.

“The idea,” says Josh, “is to exceed expectations.” Mission accomplished.

The colourful Las Vegas downtown area is home to Goodwich and Viva Las Arepas

The colourful Las Vegas downtown area is home to Goodwich and Viva Las Arepas

Note: Goodwich is in space owned by Viva Las Arepas, a block away and one of my top overall road-trip food picks of 2013. Owner Felix Arellano is hoping to soon expand that fabulous eatery to another Las Vegas location or two.

The Goodwich
1516 South Las Vegas Boulevard, Suite A, Las Vegas
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am-10 pm, except 4 pm closing Sunday. Closed Monday
The Goodwich on Urbanspoon