Category Archives: Salida

Historic Downtowns: Where the Real Action Is

It may have been gussied up for tourists, but downtown Bisbee, Arizona retains the character of its mining past

It may have been gussied up for tourists, but downtown Bisbee, Arizona retains the character of its mining past

I recently read a New Yorker article on the demise of the traditional megamall, with their soulless concrete façades surrounded by a moat of parking somewhere in the suburban sea. It got me thinking about the entrances/freeway exits to most North American cities and towns.

Like a Las Vegas casino, they inexorably parade you past a gaudy, neon spectacle of gas stations, chain motels and the usual fast-food outlets. So familiar is this blueprint that without a map, you’d be hard pressed to tell where you are. It all looks the same.

The cookie-cutter gas/motel/fast food strip entrances to most North American towns and cities tell you nothing about the character of these places

The cookie-cutter gas/motel/fast-food strip entrances to most North American towns and cities tell you nothing about the character of these places

But from all my road-trip travels, I’m detecting a kickback. The glittering entrances may be where the traffic is, but the real action is someplace else—in the centre, in fact. And the key to finding it lies in the freeway signs, not the ones luring you to the chains but the ones saying “Historic Downtown.” (This obviously applies more to compact towns than sprawling cities, where interesting, independent places are harder for visitors to find).

Take that exit, drive for a few minutes and look for another indicator: a line of low downtown buildings, with little collections of cars and trucks parked out front. Not surprisingly, these businesses are often literally on Main Street. This is where these towns got started, where the remaining historical buildings are, where the true soul and character of these communities reside.

The historic downtown (the main street here in Lacombe, Alberta) is where the heart of these communities resides

The historic downtown (the main street here in Lacombe, Alberta) is where the heart of these communities resides

It’s where, as a road-trip diner, you’ll usually find two things. One is the local hangout, a diner or coffee shop where the regulars banter with the servers on a first-name basis and where the fare is basic but filling and affordable. The other is older buildings refurbished by, typically, youngish entrepreneurs interested in more modern cuisine but in a historic setting.

The character-filled Palm Cafe is where the regulars hang out in Orick, California

The character-filled Palm Cafe is where the regulars hang out in Orick, California

EXO Roast in Tucson, Arizona is a superb example of translating history into a funky cafe

EXO Roast in Tucson, Arizona is a superb example of incorporating history into a funky cafe

Finding these places involves a willingness to get off the bypassing highway and do a bit of exploring. There’s no guarantee you’ll hit pay dirt, but at worst you’ll get a drive past what defines, or once defined, these communities.

Recently, for example, three of us were driving on Highway 6 between Salt Lake City and Moab, in southeast Utah. It was a scenic road I’d taken half a dozen times without stopping. But this time, I glanced over at some old buildings in the small community of Helper and took the exit into the historic downtown.

Artists are leading the charge to revive historic Helper, Utah

Artists are leading the charge to revive historic Helper, Utah                                   Photo: Kairn Kunelius

While I was ordering a coffee at the nicely renovated and wonderfully named Happiness Within, a companion ducked into a potter’s studio and discovered that Helper had become a magnet for artists, who were helping refurbish a town named for the extra engines required to pull trains up nearby steep grades. I wandered across the street to the spacious, wood-floored Balance Rock Eatery & Pub. We’d already eaten, but I was impressed by a monstrous breakfast burrito being tackled by a local diner.
Balance Rock Eatery & Pub on Urbanspoon

A similar willingness to explore led me to one of my favourite western U.S. towns, Salida, in mountainous central Colorado. The approach on Highway 50 promised nothing but the usual commercial strip, but we persevered and drove into the heart of downtown. There, we discovered great galleries, an art park and, alongside the headwaters of the Arkansas River, painted containers of flowers and great little eateries like The Fritz.

Even the public flower planters are funky in Salida, Colorado

Even the public flower planters are funky in Salida, Colorado

The lesson here is what is old is new again. Finding it will unlock you from your chains.

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Best Pizza in the Mountain West

Can I get this entire pizza, from Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria B.C., in my gut? You bet

Can I get this entire pizza, from Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria B.C., in my gut? You bet

Over time, I’ve become a sucker for thin-crust pizzas. Preferably, the dough has some sour sourdough starter and has been rested/proofed a while. The decorated pizza should then be cooked in a smoking-hot brick oven for scant minutes, emerging slightly blackened on the bottom and puffy and leopard spotted along the edges. The true test of a great, chewy-but-still-soft-in-the-middle crust is I could eat it all by its lonesome.

I’ve also learned to love simplicity—a few outstanding, house-made ingredients that complement and don’t overwhelm that fine crust. So, no more three kinds of oily meat, blankets of greasy cheese or hearty ladlings of indifferent tomato sauce; heck, increasingly, I don’t want any sauce. As for ham and pineapple, just banish it to Hawaii, please. Instead, I’m all over freshly-made mozza and sausage and maybe something I’ve never tried before: dried cherries, yes, peanut butter, not so much.

I’ve organized these by best pizza in each mountain state and province, extending the latter to include British Columbia. The list is by no means exhaustive, a starter in pizza parlance. For instance, I’ve yet to try two Arizona standouts: Pizzicletta in Flagstaff or Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. By all means, let me know about your favourites.

Mountain States

Utah
At Pizzeria Seven Twelve, in Orem, the focus is on fresh, creative ingredients like hand-pulled mozzarella, house-made sausage and roasted fennel and cauliflower, all riding atop a thin, bubbly crust with a nice tangy flavour from the sourdough starter. The servers wear t-shirts hammering home that point with single words on the front—simple, local, inspired. Check, check, check. Definitely check it out.

This pie from Pizzeria Seven Twelve has it all: hand-pulled mozza, house-made sausage and sourdough crust

This pie from Pizzeria Seven Twelve has it all: hand-pulled mozza, house-made sausage and sourdough crust

Pizzeria Seven Twelve
320 South State Street, Orem, Utah
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am-2:30 pm, dinner Monday to Thursday 5 pm-10 pm and Friday-Saturday 5 pm-11 pm. Closed Sunday
Pizzeria Seven Twelve on Urbanspoon

Arizona
It’s a tossup (sorry, bad joke), with entertainment winning the day at Screaming Banshee Pizza in Bisbee and The Parlor Pizzeria taking the flavour crown in Phoenix.

I’ve always thought if you’re going for wood-fired pizza, you might as well get a front-row seat and enjoy the show. Sure enough, as soon as I sit down at Screaming Banshee Pizza and start sipping a hearty Kiltlifter Scottish ale, the pizza maker starts rolling out discs of dough and tossing them ceiling-ward three or four times. I’m so entranced, I don’t notice my own Screaming Banshee pizza ($15) getting lifted from the 760-F. oven with a long-handled wooden paddle. It has a lovely, lightly charred crust strewn with creamy fresh mozzarella, strips of fennel sausage and caramelized onion. After a game effort, I’m still left with half to go.

Enjoy the show at Screaming Banshee Pizza

Enjoy the show at Screaming Banshee Pizza

Screaming Banshee Pizza
200 Tombstone Canyon Road, Bisbee
Tuesday-Wednesday 4 pm-9pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am-10 pm, Sunday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Monday

At Parlor Pizzeria, it only takes five minutes in a 460 F. oven for my eight-inch Forager pizza to emerge, with, no surprise, a bubbly char on the thin crust. The topping is a compelling, rich mix of wild boar meatball, rabbit sausage and finocchiona. Add some radicchio, thinly sliced fennel and rosemary, and I’ve got a first-rate, six-slice pie for only $10, knocked down to $6 during happy hour (3-6 pm).

Boar meatball and rabbit sausage highlight this gem at Parlor Pizzeria

Boar meatball and rabbit sausage highlight this gem at Parlor Pizzeria

The Parlor Pizzeria
1916 East Camelback Road, Phoenix
Monday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm. Closed Sunday
The Parlor Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

New Mexico
Any surprise that Santa Fe takes the pie here? At Rooftop Pizzeria, you can dine in-house or, even better, head down the elevated hallway to Marble Brewery’s Taproom and enjoy a pint with your pizza from a patio seat overlooking the historic downtown plaza. I pick a New Mexican theme for my plentiful 12-incher—green chile with a fair kick, toasted piñon nuts and a blue-corn crust—alongside tender chunks of chicken, cotija and asadero cheese and alfredo sauce ($13.50). I must say, it goes down nicely with a 21.5-ounce tumbler of Irish Red.

This Rooftop pizza has a New Mexico twist with a blue-corn crust, pinon nuts and green chile

This Rooftop pizza has a New Mexico twist with a blue-corn crust, pinon nuts and green chile

Rooftop Pizzeria
60 East San Francisco Street, Santa Fe
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm, with slightly reduced winter hours
Rooftop Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Montana
There’s no contest here. As previously mentioned in my Best of 2012 road food post, the guy sitting next to me at Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza, in Missoula, says it’s the best pizza he’s ever tasted. Here, they use a sourdough starter, known as biga (bee-ga), add fresh, ingenious ingredients like fig paste and toasted hazelnuts and slide it all into a 650 F. brick oven for about eight minutes. I get a half and half—one side their award-winning sausage, cherry chutney and smoked gouda (my favourite of the two), the other a medley of local squash and pumpkin. I wash it down with a pungent, Missoula-produced Kettlehouse Cold Smoke Scotch ale.

This half cherry chutney standout at Bob Marshall's Biga Pizza is in my top three favourite pizzas

This half cherry chutney standout at Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza is in my top three favourite pizzas

Bob Marshall’s Biga Pizza
241 West Main Street, Missoula
Lunch weekdays 11 am-3 pm, dinner Monday to Thursday 5 pm-9:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 5 pm-10 pm. Closed Sunday

Colorado
I can’t say I’ve tried enough pizza in this great culinary state to yet declare a winner. Here are some places chosen as much for character as fine pizza. One is The Sink, a graffiti-laced rabbit’s warren on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder (try the Buddah, featuring tofu, spinach and artichoke hearts). Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub and Amica’s Pizza are two good reasons for making the pilgrimage to Salida, my favourite Colorado town. Oh, they also both make their own beer.

The atmosphere rivals the Buddah pizza at The Sink in Boulder

The atmosphere rivals the Buddah pizza at The Sink in Boulder

Wyoming. Okay, I’ve only eaten pizza at one place, Lander Bar in downtown Lander. But it gets high marks for character, largely because of the boisterous, young crowd and my seatmates: three local women with a ranching heritage and a penchant for chewing tobacco. As for the pizza, it was a fine chicken and artichoke medley thrown down with a Five Pound brown lager from Lander Brewing next door. If you’ve noticed a theme here, it’s that pizza goes down well with a good craft beer. Sorry, wine just doesn’t cut it for me.

Again, the liveliness of the Lander Bar kept pace with the pizza

Again, the liveliness of the Lander Bar kept pace with the pizza

Lander Bar
126 Main Street, Lander
Monday to Saturday 11 am-2 am, Sunday noon-10 pm. Note: The Gannett Grill is open daily 11 am-9 pm

Canadian West

Alberta
As the name suggests, Una Pizza + Wine obviously breaks my beer-and-pizza rule. It’s also somewhat expensive ($15-20 per pizza) and often has a lineup (though it does Tweet about how long the wait is). But it’s worth bending some rules for one of the top-rated restaurants in Calgary, somewhat unusual for a place largely dedicated to pizzas. Creativity, first-class ingredients and execution are the reasons for its popularity, plus it’s a fun, noisy place to hang out. Our pizza choice is a puffy crust covered with roasted cremini mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, fresh arugula and the trump card, splashes of fragrant truffle oil. Una has also transformed the predictable Caesar salad into a mountain of kale topped with crisp Serrano ham, garlic panko, an organic egg and shaved pecorino Romano.

Una Pizza + Wine
618 17 Avenue S.W., Calgary
Daily 11:30 am-1 am
UNA Pizza and Wine on Urbanspoon

Coco Brooks also breaks some of my rules. It’s not thin crust, it’s a little heavier on the cheese and its toppings are by no means leading edge. Indeed, it pumps out the little cardboard boxes of pizza with industrial efficiency. But the Egg n Bacon is a guilty pleasure, with the soft, puffy filling offset by just a slight crunch of smoked bacon and melted mozza and aged cheddar. And at $6.29, it’s maybe the best value on this list for an individual-sized pizza.

Egg n bacon works spectacularly well at Coco Brooks

Egg n bacon works spectacularly well at Coco Brooks

Coco Brooks
640 42 Avenue SE, #80 (two other Calgary locations)
Monday to Thursday 8 am-8 pm, Friday 8 am-9 pm, Saturday 9 am-8 pm
Coco Brooks - Highfield Industrial Park on Urbanspoon

British Columbia

Getting the pizzas ready for the 850 F. oven at Pizzeria Prima Strada

Getting the pizzas ready for the 850 F. oven at Pizzeria Prima Strada

Here’s how Pizzeria Prima Strada, in Victoria, earns its Italian certification for thin-crust Neapolitan pizza. It begins with a well-aged sourdough starter, mixed with fine-ground Caputo flour from Italy and left to rest for two days. After it’s stretched out and loaded with toppings, it goes into a 650 F. wood-fired oven for a minute, is turned and then finished for another minute in the 850 F. section. “The cook’s eyes are on the oven at all times,” the waitress tells me. My Salsiccia Piccante pizza ($15 for six substantial slices) features house-made fennel sausage, roasted peppers and mozzarella. But it’s that deliciously chewy, leopard-spotted crust that makes it a home run for me.

The sourdough crust at Pizzeria Prima Strada is among the best I've tasted

The blistered sourdough crust at Pizzeria Prima Strada is among the best I’ve tasted

Pizzeria Prima Strada
230 Cook Street (one other Victoria location)Sunday to Thursday 11:30 am-9 pm, Friday-Saturday 11:30 am-10 pm
Pizzeria Prima Strada on Urbanspoon

From Pueblo To My Favourite Colorado Town: Salida

Gorgeous Arkansas River flowing through Salida, Colorado

Gorgeous Arkansas River flowing through Salida, Colorado

A half-hour’s drive south of Colorado Springs on the I-25, Pueblo is a much quieter, more Latino-based town with nice brick buildings and a river walk in the historic downtown. While strolling these streets, drop into The Daily Grind Cafe for a coffee and maybe a breakfast burrito in this cozy café. You might even want to sit in the distinctive red “hand” chair.

Be careful not to sit on the middle finger, Daily Grind, Pueblo

Be careful not to sit on the middle finger, Daily Grind, Pueblo

The Daily Grind
209 South Union Avenue, Pueblo
Monday to Friday 6:30 am-11 pm, Saturday 7 am-11 pm, Sunday 7am-9pm
The Daily Grind Cafe on Urbanspoon

(Note: I’m repeating this pick from my Best of 2012 road trip eats, but it’s well worth it). When I walk into *Bingo Burger, the very helpful, friendly server tells me my lamb burger will take 10 minutes to prepare—somewhat surprising since there’s only two other customers in the restaurant. But then I see why. All burgers and fries are cooked to order, and from a counter seat I can watch my thick, hand-formed patty grilled and then finished under a lid. Next come the twice-cooked fries—from San Luis Valley potatoes—hot out of the fryer and tossed with a little salt. My God, these are easily the best fries on the trip, good enough I don’t want to sully them with the roasted garlic dipping sauce. The Goat Hill burger (Colorado-raised lamb with goat cheese, mushrooms and a lemon-rosemary aioli) is right up there with it, cooked slightly pink as requested and requiring a well-hinged mouth to bite into. The most popular menu item is the basic Bingo Burger, with pueblo chilis worked into the beef patty. Owner Richard Warner gets about 75% of his meat and produce from area farmers, and it shows, easily justifying the slight premium charged for these superior products.

I wouldn't blame if you bit your computer screen, Bingo Burger, Pueblo

I wouldn’t blame if you bit your computer screen, Bingo Burger, Pueblo

Bingo Burger
101 Central Plaza, Pueblo
Monday to Thursday 11 am-8 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Sunday
Bingo Burger on Urbanspoon

A hop and a skip away, Richard’s wife, Mary Oreskovich, runs the killer *Hopscotch Bakery, which turns out artisan breads, daily sandwiches and to-die-for sweets. The sweet treats include an “orange beast” (croissant dough, orange zest and sugar); a kitchen sink cookie with chocolate chunks, almonds and pecans; cream cheese brownies and honeymoon bars. The challenge here is restraining myself.

How about a cookie or three at delectable Hopscotch Bakery in Pueblo

How about a delectable cookie or three at Hopscotch Bakery in Pueblo?

Hopscotch Bakery
333 South Union Avenue, Pueblo
Tuesday to Friday 7 am-4 pm, Saturday 8 am-4 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
Hopscotch Bakery on Urbanspoon

If you want to experience a longstanding Pueblo tradition, drop into Pass Key Restaurant and order a Super Pass Key Special. It’s a house-made, slightly spicy Italian patty that’s grilled and stuffed inside a mini-loaf along with three cheeses. Puebloans have been eating these sandwiches for more than half a century. The story goes that when former residents return to Pueblo, they stop at Pass Key before visiting their families. As an outsider with no emotional attachment, I find this sandwich a decent change from the regular roadside fare and not nearly as artery clogging as described by some online commentators.

Pass Key Restaurant
1901 US Highway 50 West and two other Pueblo locations
Opens daily at 11 am. Closed Sunday
Pass Key 50 West Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The nice thing about road tripping without deadlines is making spontaneous decisions, which invariably lead to interesting encounters. So it is when a highway sign inspires me to take a detour into sleepy Florence, located along the Arkansas River and sustained by antique shops and a high density of area prisons, so I’m told. I walk down the main drag and into Pour House Coffee Roasters, intrigued by the presence of an in-house organic coffee roaster in such a small place. So while I sip a nice French Press coffee (only $1.95), I chat with young owner Ken Paul, who’s up every morning at four, baking breakfast treats as well as later roasting coffee and making quiches, quesadillas and chicken salad sandwiches.

Pour Coffee House Roaster owner Ken Paul no doubt needs a few coffee shots for all his roasting and cooking

Pour Coffee House Roaster owner Ken Paul no doubt needs a few coffee shots for all his roasting and cooking

Pour House Coffee Roasters
202 West Main Street, Florence
Monday-Tuesday 6 am-8 pm, Wednesday-Friday 6 am- 5 pm, Saturday 7 am-5 pm, Sunday 7 am-1 pm

Just down the street, you can get a nice slice of quiche or pie at Aspen Leaf Bakery and Café. I’ve already eaten two lunches by the time I get here, but Colorado Springs reader Kay Williams Johnson calls it a hidden treasure, well worth the drive for the “fabulous sandwiches” and “best pastries in the area.”

Aspen Leaf Bakery and Cafe
113 West Main Street, Florence
Monday 11 am-3 pm, Tuesday-Thursday 8 am-4 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 am-5 pm

Salida (pronounced Sal-eye-da by locals), is my favourite Colorado town. It’s a nice mix of vibrant arts community (check out the local sculptures) and a lot of young folk playing on the Arkansas River and hills around the leafy town. The historic brick downtown buildings also contain interesting galleries, eateries and drinking establishments. “It’s a great place to be broke,” says a guy who holds down three jobs to make ends meet. But I spot a new condo project along the river, perhaps a sign that Salida will not long remain a relatively undiscovered gem of a mountain town. (By the way, props to Mike Ryan of Mike’s Automotive for quickly fixing my jammed back seat, which wouldn’t fold down, and not charging me.)

Even the kayaks are turned into art in Salida, Colorado

Even the kayaks are turned into art in Salida, Colorado

Close to the Arkansas River, *The Fritz is a cozy, local bar/restaurant that serves sandwiches by day and excellent small and larger plates by night. To me, the atmosphere is more intimate and exuberant at night, when the beer taps really get running. The burger plates (heavy, slightly rare patty) with sweet potato fries are great as are smaller dishes of beet, pear and gorgonzola salad (a bargain at $3.50) and sliced, medium-rare steaks with dijon cream ($6), all washed down with local microbrews. The thick-crust mac and cheese is also very popular.

The Fritz, in Salida, has some fabulous food

The Fritz, in Salida, has some fabulous food

The Fritz
113 East Sackett Street
Daily 11 am-2 am
The Fritz on Urbanspoon

Here’s how things work in small Colorado towns. Sitting in The Fritz, we start talking to a couple at the next table, Kim and Scott, who happen to own Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub. We don’t make it there that trip, but a year later I make a point of visiting their small corner eatery, fronted by several mini kayaks. The fine pizzas start with a chewy, made-daily crust, topped by layers of meat in my Caveman, which the menu describes as having turned “yoga instructors into snarling savages.” Moonlight—which donates 10 per cent of its Monday proceeds to local projects—also brews some flavourful ales, along with house-made sodas such as limeade, vanilla cream and root beer.

A Caveman pizza and a house-made ale hit the spot at Moonlight Pizza

A Caveman pizza and a house-made ale hit the spot at Moonlight Pizza

Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub
242 F. Street
Opens daily at 11 am for lunch and dinner
Moonlight Pizza & Brew Pub on Urbanspoon

It’s enough that a place the size of Salida would have one pizza joint with a brewery. But within two blocks of Moonlight is another fine pizza place, Amica’s Pizza, which also doubles as a brewery. I’m not sure if it’s the water or just a place where people want to live… and make pizza, and beer.

Amica’s Pizza
136 East 2 Street
Daily 11:30 am-9ish
Amicas on Urbanspoon

Cafe dawn (named in part for co-owner Dawn Heigele) is a cozy hangout for a good, strong early morning coffee or a late afternoon Colorado craft beer or wine (weekday happy-hour specials). I don’t usually order outsourced breakfast treats, but the local Flour Girl make a tasty quiche baked in a brioche pastry; if need be, you can even heat it yourself in a microwave.

Early morning patrons at Cafe Dawn in Salida

Early morning patrons at Cafe Dawn in Salida

Cafe dawn
203 West First Street
Daily 6 am-6 pm. Cash only
Cafe Dawn on Urbanspoon