With winter persisting well into April in Calgary, it was definitely time for a spring road trip to the U.S. southwest and its warming sun. The destination this time was all the way south to Tucson, Arizona—a trip involving plentiful hiking, eating and drinking.
But as they say, the journey is often as important as the destination. So before I delve more deeply into Tucson eats and drinks over the coming weeks, here’s a pictorial sampling of road life on the three-day route down and on the way back.
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.
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.
15 Main Street, Snowville, Utah
Daily 6 am-10 pm
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.
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.
33 North Main Street, Parowan, Utah
Daily 7 am-9 pm, except 8 pm closing Sunday
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.
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!)