Brigham City, Utah: The Idle Isle Café
"It seemed wrong not to order a malted milkshake but, according to Jane and Michael Stern, the thing to get is their Idleberry pie."
One man. One cat. One one-way Jeep Commander rental.
A couple of weeks ago I was on the road with my cat, Louis, driving from Seattle to Brooklyn in a cross-country trek that afforded us stops in Boise, Idaho; Brigham City, Utah; Rawlins, Wyoming; Lincoln, Nebraska; Kansas City, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; Columbus, Ohio; and my hometown of Oneida, New York.
How Louis would handle the trip was a big concern and after a couple miles of nonstop meowing he quickly settled into a routine of pretty much sleeping the entire drive. At the end of each day we'd pull into the parking lot of a pet-friendly hotel where I'd wheel him through the lobby on a luggage cart (at each stop, he attracted a George Clooney-like crowd of admirers who wanted to pay their respects) up to the room where he'd proceed to hide behind or underneath the most difficult to move piece of furniture (hello, mini-fridge).
But another big concern would be where would I eat? I was looking forward to experiencing some regional eateries, but in the rush of packing up and moving I didn't have a whole lot of time to research a day-by-day itinerary.
I left Seattle with a cooler filled with Salumi mole salami from my friend Alex and his girl Britt, Beecher's cheese curds, ham-and-butter sandwiches from Le Panier, and a big box of cookies from the Dahlia Bakery. Those nibbles were a godsend as I quickly discovered that the interstates' food options were limited to fast food (one night, after passing endless golden arches, eating at a Subway felt like a farm-to-table experience).
I dipped into Jane and Michael Stern's Roadfood.com for an assist and that's how I found out about the Idle Isle Café, just a short detour off Interstate 84, which proved to be one of the highlights of my trip. (Their website, unfortunately—but in the spirit of things, probably appropriately—is from the very Early Days of the Web and doesn't feature an actual menu.)
Located in Brigham City, Utah (motto: "Your Future Is Here") in Box Elder County (the closest geographical location Pavement fans looking to take the "next bus outta here" might come to making a pilgrimage to the not-found-on-a-map Box Elder, MO), the Idle Isle got its start in 1921 as a candy and ice cream shop. They still sell homemade candy in a new shop right across the street and their deservedly famous almond cream toffee (street name: "nut balls") are sold by the piece or by the the box behind the counter at the café.
Pulling onto the town's main street I was immediately won over with the picturesque landscape and storefronts—I could tell this was going to be a detour worth remembering.
I parked the car, cracked the windows for Louis, and took a seat at the Idle Isle counter. Filled with antiques, a vintage ice cream fountain, and a display of old-time candy-making tools, the restaurant was coated with the patina of nostalgia, and the menu, packed with comfort food classics like meatloaf, pot roast, and hot-covered sandwiches was a little slice of heaven.
I was there on a Friday and in their write-up the Sterns had recommended the Friday special of mountain trout. The waitress was quite friendly, giving me a quick history of the restaurant and Brigham City (home to ATK Thiokol, the aerospace and defense company) while proudly ticking off her favorite dishes.
The mountain trout came with a simple and straightforward garden salad with homemade dressing. The trout was spectacular, perfectly seared to a crisp and unlike anything I would've found at an interstate rest stop. It came with vegetable medley and a thick cloud of creamy mashed potatoes along with a basket of warm dinner rolls and apricot jam (all made in-house).
It seemed wrong not to order a malted milkshake but, according to the Sterns, the thing to get is their Idleberry pie: "a sultry, dark extravaganza that resonates with the profound fruitiness of blueberries, blackberries, and boysenberries, all packed into a crust that complements the berries with savory luxury." This received a "Worth Planning a Day Around" rating and made the shortlist in their book 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late..
Let me say, they weren't mistaken. Served warm, per the waitress' recommendation, it was a rich, tart delight that disappeared in approximately four forkfuls. While the thought occurred to me, there's no need for any à la mode action with this guy.
And I couldn't leave town without some nut balls. I snapped a pic of the box, but honestly, it was empty, because none of those divine confections made it to Wyoming. I devoured them all before sundown.
Idle Isle Cafe
About the author: Brad Thomas Parsons is a Brooklyn-based writer who has interviewed many of the food world's biggest names, including David Chang, Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Danny Meyer, Ina Garten, Jamie Oliver, Paula Deen, and Giada De Laurentiis, among others. He is currently at work on his first book, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails and Recipes.