Tag Archives: Utah

Heading From Colorado Into Utah

Tons of Italian meats on this calzone at Carelli's Pizza & Pasta

Lots of Italian meats on this sandwich at Carelli’s Pizza & Pasta

Hungry? I hope you bring company, or at least a healthy appetite, to Carelli’s Pizza & Pasta in Craig, a short drive west of Steamboat Springs on Highway 40 in northwest Colorado. The calzones are enormous, stretching in a couple of instances to two or three feet. A more reasonable monster is the Carelli Calzone, featuring a liquidy furnace of meatballs, sausage, ricotta and mozzarella. I settle for the merely massive Mancinelli sandwich—layers of mortadella, salami, capicola, ham and lettuce—heated in the oven till the provolone cheese melts and the focaccia is nicely toasted. Attacking with a knife and fork, I put a healthy dent in it but have to box the rest for a later road snack, er, meal. The two young women beside me have a more manageable strategy, ordering big, single slices of pizza.

Carelli’s Pizza & Pasta
465 Yampa Avenue, Craig, Colorado
Monday to Saturday 11 am-9 pm
Carelli's Pizzeria-Pasta on Urbanspoon

Farther west on Highway 40, Vernal, Utah is the nearest staging point for Dinosaur National Monument, established to protect an historic dinosaur quarry, which can be viewed by guided tour. If you’d like a quick, authentic Mexican meal in town, stop at Tacos El Gordo (“Never trust a skinny cook”). Behind some non-operating gas pumps, El Gordo retains a faded convenience-store feel, with fridges full of sodas and packaged snacks for sale. Soon after placing my order at a little window, two tacos (pollo/chicken and carnita/pork) arrive—hot, crispy, a little greasy and flavourful, with a little bottled hot sauce added from the drink fridge. It’s a good, light lunch in an unpolished eatery for $4, a few bucks more if I’d gone for a burrito or quesadilla.

Cheap., fresh food at Tacos El Gordo in Vernal, Utah

Cheap, fresh food at Tacos El Gordo in Vernal, Utah

Tacos El Gordo
395 East Main Street, Vernal, Utah
Monday to Saturday opens at 8 am. Closed Sunday
Tacos El Gordo on Urbanspoon

I guess you could say I hit a double bagel in Park City. The place I want to go to, Nature’s Wraps, is closed, so I head next door to Wasatch Bagel & Grill (1300 Snow Creek Drive), where I have a chicken parmigiano sandwich on a fresh, toasted bagel. It’s decent, but the service is distracted, despite the place being mostly empty. The next morning, I drive a fairly long way to reach a different part of Park City, where I have a pretty good egg bagel sandwich (something I rarely order) at Park City Bread & Bagel (3126 Kilby Road), though the pounding soundtrack is annoying at 7:30. I then navigate through construction in a new mall nearby to have a nice coffee at Park City Roaster (1680 Ute Boulevard), though by this point I just want out of town. I know Park City is a big ski resort town (it has a much bigger tourist than resident population), is the principal location for the Sundance Film Festival and hosted some 2002 Winter Olympic events. But I don’t know if Park City has a historic centre. It doesn’t seem to have any centre, just a bunch of new, disparate developments with little character. It certainly helps to have a GPS to find my way around.

Once you’re safely past the hour-long stress of driving the chock-a-block I-15 past Salt Lake City (it helps to tackle it on a Sunday morning), it’s worth slowing down and getting onto a quieter parallel highway. One such road, Highway 89 to the near east, leads into Brigham City, featuring a large, white Mormon temple, stately and well-tended historic buildings and a wide Main Street flanked by enormous overarching sycamores, their leaves still green in late October.

When you see a sign saying, “Gone fishing,” you just figure you’ll come back another time. But Kathie and Bert, owners of Bert’s Cafe in downtown Brigham City want to go fishing full time… in Oregon. After 30-plus years of running a diner Bert’s parents started in 1929, they’re ready to retire and have put the place up for sale. Their own kids don’t want to run it, and Kathie doesn’t blame them, saying it’s a 24/7 business. Here’s hoping the new owners can somehow carry on the tradition, because this is a real old-fashioned diner, where the cutlery comes in a little paper bag, the waitresses chat leisurely with the customers and the food comes out hot and fast. My omelette special has nice chunks of avocado, the home fries are crispy and the butter melts into the steaming pancake. Lunch items include a sirloin sandwich and an open-face pot roast sandwich with gravy. It’s good, old-fashioned comfort food.

Hey, if anybody knows what’s happened to Bert’s since I passed through last fall, let me know.

The good news: Great homestyle breakfast at Bert's  Cafe in Brigham City

The good news: Great homestyle breakfast at Bert’s Cafe in Brigham City

The bad news: the owners want to sell.

The bad news: the owners want to sell.

Bert’s Café
89 South Main Street, Brigham City, Utah
Monday to Saturday 7 am-7 pm, Sunday 7 am-2 pm
Bert's Family Cafe on Urbanspoon

It’s hardly a news flash to say interstate highways have helped shut down many restaurants in the small towns they’ve bypassed. But some manage to persist, such as Mollie’s Cafe in tiny Snowville, just off I-84 near the Utah-Idaho border. Located in a century-old building and owned by Mollie for more than 30 years, it’s the kind of run-down-looking place many travellers might hesitate to enter. But once you walk past walls of old ranching photos, sink into a red-cushioned booth and watch heaping plates of eggs and cheese burgers go past, you know you’re in good hands. Indeed, the cook looks over the counter and asks me if I want the onions atop my little bowl of chili grilled (all of $2.15, including tax). After I’ve licked my bowl clean, she wishes me safe travels. It’s not the kind of treatment you normally get in places on the beaten path.

A true, old-fashioned diner, off the interstate in Snowville, Utah

A true, old-fashioned diner, off the interstate in Snowville, Utah

Mollie’s Cafe
15 East Main Street, Snowville, Utah
Daily 6 am-10 pm
Mollie's Cafe on Urbanspoon


Build it in the Sandstone Desert and They Will Come


So, you’re headed north on Highway 89 from Zion National Park or Kanab in southern Utah. You look at the map and wonder why anyone would bother making a long, looping detour east on Highway 12. Trust me, just do it. For the journey and for the food. Oh, my yes, the food, produced with the passion you need to make a go of it in this harsh, lightly-populated environment.

First the journey. It’s easy enough to be lured a little ways east to Bryce Canyon National Park, justly famous for its intricately eroded rock spires, which can be explored via short trails into the canyon. But persevere beyond Escalante and suddenly you’re on one of the truly great drives in America. The road twists and dips through spectacular sandstone valleys and then climbs to panoramic viewpoints, culminating in the Hogsback, a ribbon of asphalt that drops off precipitously on both sides.

Just beyond is Boulder, home to less than 200 souls… and one of the finest eateries you’ll find in the middle of desert nowhere, let alone a big city. Indeed, the wonderfully named *Hell’s Backbone Grill is a destination restaurant, with its own cookbook to boot. Dinner reservations are recommended, but it’s quieter at breakfast and lunch, when I arrive.


Hell’s Backbone Grill

Hell’s Backbone is the culinary inspiration of co-owners and chefs Jen Castle and Blake Spalding and features a menu devoted to local, organic ingredients. “Everything in the kitchen is done with love. There are all these nice little touches,” says my waiter, Breck, as he carries past a bowl of soup topped with a foamy heart. I savour a succulent piece of Spicy Cowgirl Meatloaf, with backbone sauce, organic greens and a biscuit. Breakfast choices (ranging from $8 to $12) are refreshingly different, including blue corn pancakes and poached eggs on brown rice with sautéed greens.

Hell's Backbone co-owner Jen Castle

Hell’s Backbone co-owner Jen Castle


Breck with my meatloaf lunch

Hell’s Backbone Grill
20 Highway 12, Boulder
Daily 7:30 am-2:30 pm breakfast and lunch and 5 pm-9 pm for dinner from mid-March to end of November

Continuing north of Boulder, Highway 12 is merely superb, ascending to more than 9,200 feet, with views east to the Henry Mountains. At Torrey, it’s again highly worth your while to go right on Highway 24; think of it not as a one-hour detour but a side trip into heaven. The road winds tightly alongside the Fremont River, with red rock walls towering above, as it passes through Capitol Reef National Park. The canyon suddenly gives way to a more lunar landscape just before reaching tiny Caineville, where you’ll find Mesa Farm Market.


Mesa Farm Market in speck on the desert landscape Caineville, Utah

When he first saw the place for sale nearly 20 years ago, Randy Ramsley figured nothing would grow in this austere place, but a local couple with a sizeable garden convinced him otherwise. Soon, he was growing lettuce for customers’ salads and baking round loaves of chewy white and whole-wheat/rye breads in an outdoor, wood-fired brick oven. More recently, he’s added a herd of goats and is producing excellent cheeses like creme fraiche and feta. I buy enough bread and cheese to make a fine picnic supper, chased by an Evolution Amber ale, while watching the setting sun turn a wall of sandstone orange.


Meagan with goat cheese and fresh bread from Mesa Farm Market

Mesa Farm Market
Marker 102 (gotta love that), Highway 24, Caineville
Daily 7 am-7 pm from late March to late October


Early greens at Mesa Farm Market

Note: There is no entrance fee required for passing through Capitol Reef National Park if you stay on Highway 24. There’s a nice park campground ($10 per vehicle) just off the highway or free camping, on the north side of the road, at mile marker 73, just west of the park boundary.