Formidable French Bakery in Central Washington State

French toast and strong coffee hits the spot at Anjou Bakery near Cashmere, Washington

French toast and strong coffee hits the spot at Anjou Bakery near Cashmere, Washington

An artisan bakery near the speck-on-a-map town of Cashmere in central Washington has my GPS so befuddled it sends me out to an apple orchard. Finally, I seek directions from a local, who directs me back to Highway 97/2, just west of Wenatchee, where I soon spy a big road sign for Anjou Bakery (which aptly is backed by a pear orchard). So much for high technology.

Inside the lovely cafe is a bakery, which for some two decades has been producing loaves of hearth-fired bread. But that’s just the opening act for an irresistible lineup of baked goodies one might expect in a French patisserie.

There are flaky almandines, airy meringues, mini cherry and marionberry pies. I go for a crispy slice of fruit-filled French “toast” to accompany a good, strong coffee. Formidable!

Why go for a slice of formidable pie when you have the whole thing?

Why go for a slice of formidable pie when you have the whole thing?

Other customers don’t seem encumbered by my directional challenges, as there’s a steady stream of travellers stopping for their morning treats. One simply says to the server: “Give me six of your pastries. You choose.”

Anjou Bakery
3898 Old Monitor Highway, Cashmere, Washington
Thursday to Sunday 8 am-5 pm. Closed Monday to Wednesday
509-782-4360

Old-School Diner in Snowville, Utah

Mollie's Cafe is a classic diner just off the interstate in tiny Snowville, Utah

Mollie’s Cafe is a classic diner just off the interstate in tiny Snowville, Utah

A woman peers over the high counter as I enter Mollie’s Cafe in Snowville, the last Utah outpost on the I-84 west before it enters Idaho.

“Are you a salesman?” she asks, perhaps noticing the nylon briefcase slung over my shoulder. “Because if you are, I’m not buying.”

“But, hey,” I counter, “aren’t you selling something? Like, maybe, food?”

“I’m just the cook,” she laughs.

Lots of barstools and red vinyl booths. What's not to like?

Lots of barstools and red vinyl booths. What’s not to like?

Mollie’s is the kind of place you enter as much for the colour, the character and the conversation as the food—and the food’s pretty damn good for a classic country kitchen.

I go for a classic BLT on sourdough, lots of crunchy bacon to offset the tomatoes. Nicely done, with a side of chunky vegetable and beef soup. There’s nearly a dozen fresh fruit and cream pies to tempt, but with hours still to drive, I don’t want to fall into a food coma.

The classic diner fare is bountiful and affordable

The classic diner fare is bountiful and affordable

Of course, the soup comes with crackers

Of course, the soup comes with crackers

Mollie’s Café
15 Main Street, Snowville, Utah
Daily 6 am-10 pm
435-872-8295

A Classic Small-Town Utah Diner

The Parowan Cafe is a classic small-town Utah diner

The Parowan Cafe is a classic small-town Utah diner

I once, in younger years, literally jogged up Brian Head Peak, an 11,300-foot mountain near Cedar Breaks National Monument in southern Utah. If I’d been better informed, I would have first headed to nearby Parowan Cafe to carbo load for the wheezing run.

It’s a classic small-town diner, in business for some 80 years in well-kept, wide-street Parowan (hey, it’s Utah). The menu covers breakfast and lunch classics such as a hot sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.

My steaming, three-egg omelette arrives stuffed with crumbled bacon and melted cheddar and a generous helping of hash browns to fill out the platter. Then there’s my “side” of two pancakes, each covering a dinner plate. I could have run a marathon on these cakes alone.

Breakfast for one: Carbo loading for a major run

Breakfast for one: Carbo loading for a major run

It’s a slow morning, with many of the regulars off for the opening of a deer hunt with black-powder rifles. So the cook and waitress come out to chat for a while, no doubt eying my pathetic attempt to make a dent in the hotcakes. They’re just too damn big to hide under a napkin.

“May all who enter as guests leave as friends,” a sign at the back reads. I think we’ve got that covered.

Could have used a car wash after this muddy run up Brian Head Peak

Could have used a car wash after this muddy run up Brian Head Peak

Parowan Cafe
33 North Main Street, Parowan, Utah
Daily 7 am-9 pm, except 8 pm closing Sunday

Great Thin-Crust Pizza With an Extra Topping of Friendliness

Nicely blistered pie at Centro Woodfired Pizza in Cedar City, Utah

Nicely blistered pie at Centro Woodfired Pizza in Cedar City, Utah

I’m not sure if there’s something in the rarified air of Cedar City, Utah (elevation 5,846 feet), but the folks at Centro Woodfired Pizzeria are just so darned friendly. The staff all smile broadly each time they walk by my table.

They welcome a group of youth volunteers on a fundraiser; no surprise, these beaming teenagers are soon helping bus tables. The server even apologizes when my pizza takes all of 10 minutes to reach the table.

The nice thing about Centro’s pizzas is they don’t gild the lily. My $12 pie has but three ingredients: roasted crimini mushrooms, creme fraiche and thyme, atop a thin, blistered crust. Good stuff.

Pizza isn't the only bread product pulled from the wood-fired oven

Pizza isn’t the only bread product pulled from the wood-fired oven

And if that’s a bit charred for my liking, they’ll happily undercook it a bit. Enough!

P.S. The woman in charge of the youth volunteers says she used to oversee similar volunteer projects in Southern California. These often involved helping the homeless or picking up litter. In Cedar City, she says with some astonishment, “they don’t have either.”

Centro Woodfired Pizzeria
50 West University Boulevard (Center Street), Cedar City, Utah
Monday to Saturday 11 am-10 pm. Closed Sunday, of course (it’s Utah!)

Cafe + Books = The Perfect Combination

The cafe part of Canmore's Cafe Books is a little station at the back of the bookstore.

The cafe part of Canmore’s Cafe Books is a little station at the back of the bookstore.

I’ve loved the idea of combining a bookstore with a cafe ever since I wandered into Seattle’s famous Elliott Bay Book Company many years ago. Indeed, one of my “must stops” on long western Trans-Canada Highway drives is Bacchus Books & Cafe, in Golden, B.C. The wee cafe—up a rickety flight of stairs above the bookstore—serves great coffee, muffins and healthy soups and imaginative paninis, witness a Nutella/bacon combo.

Actually, I’m surprised this concept isn’t more popular (outside of corporate joint ventures like Starbucks and Chapters/Indigo), though it does come with the risk of pages stained by coffee and sticky jam. So, it’s a pleasure to discover Café Books, on the busy main drag of another mountain town, Canmore, Alberta.

Owner Joy McLean runs this great, eclectic bookstore, with a hallway leading to a room of used books surrounding a small cafe. Here, I enjoy a lovely little French-press pot of coffee (beans from local roaster RAVE), served with a couple of bite-sized cookies.

A shameless promotion of a book signing I was doing at Cafe Books while savouring a lovely French-press pot of coffee

A shameless promotion of a book signing I was doing at Cafe Books while savouring a lovely French-press pot of coffee

The short menu features British-style snacks like Cornish pasties and Welsh rarebit, along with sweets such as cupcakes and macaroons. You can even order high tea, complete with scones, jam and clotted cream. Just be careful not to spill on the books.

A short but diversified menu, with a British bent

A short but diversified menu, with a British bent

Cafe Books
100, 826 Main Street, Canmore, Alberta
Monday to Thursday and Sunday 9:30 am-7 pm. Friday-Saturday 9:30 am-9 pm
403-678-0908

A Fresh Seafood Poke in Landlocked Utah

Roberta D'Amado is introducing Utah consumers to Hawaiian poke dishes at her St. George restaurant

Roberta D’Amado is introducing Utah consumers to Hawaiian poke dishes at her St. George restaurant

Roberta D’Adamo is educating St. George residents about a Hawaiian culinary classic one dish at a time.

As the owner of Utah’s first poke (po-kay) restaurant, she usually opens the conversation with bewildered customers something like this.

“Is this your first time here?” “Yes.”

“Have you had poke before?” “No.”

“Well, it’s mostly cubes of sushi-grade yellow fin tuna, served in different styles over a bowl of white or brown rice. You like sweet or spicy? Try a couple of samples and see which you prefer.”

After going through this pleasant ritual, I pick a ceviche style, the tuna cured in lime and lemon juice with some coconut milk. Although poke is considered an appetizer, this is a full-flavoured meal, with chunks of tender tuna sliding effortlessly down my throat.

My poke bowl features yellow-fin tuna cured in lemon and lime juice

My poke bowl features yellow-fin tuna cured in lemon and lime juice

Roberta is a poke missionary with impeccable credentials. A born-and-raised Hawaiian, she still has a fishing boat back home. And once she’s conquered St. George, she has plans for Salt Lake City, Provo, Orem… Will land-locked Utah soon be applying for island status?

Hawaiian Poke Bowl
175 West 900 South, St. George, Utah
Weekdays 11 am- 3 pm (“the St. George streets roll up after 3”). Closed weekends
435-628-7653