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Archive for the ‘Shops & Eateries’ Category

It’s no secret by now that I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania — I spent the first 26 years of my life there — and one thing there is a lot of in east PA is diners. During my high school years I spent the majority of my budding social life hanging out all hours of the night in a wide variety of diners and coffee shops. Heck, I even got my first serving job as a waiter in a diner!

When I was 17, I was even an extra in an independent film called “The Florentine,” starring Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore and Luke Perry, that had a scene shot in a classic hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon called Dina’s Diner. I spent more than eight hours that night sitting in a booth, pretending to drink coffee and talk to a perfect stranger — as if he was my best friend, of course. To me, sitting in a coffee shop talking to my fellow freaks, geeks and diner rats was just a harmless way to pass the time and feel like I had a life. I can think of at least 20 such haunts, right now, off the top of my head; I’ll assume you believe me, though, and spare you the time.

Nowadays, I don’t drink coffee anymore, and I spend 97 percent of my nights doing homework and updating my blog posts. Every now and then I get bit by the nostalgia bug and venture out to a diner to see how it might compare to those I fondly remember from back home. Twice a year I fly back East to see my family and usually go out for a good, old-fashioned helping of greasy-spoon bacon and eggs — for old times’ sake.

Since coming to Cache Valley, I’ve passed Angie’s diner with its brightly lit sign and the slogan, “Where the locals eat,” dozens of times. Any time I drive through Logan, I always see several bumper stickers making the proud assertion: “I cleaned the kitchen sink at Angie’s.” I’ve always figured the “kitchen sink” has to be some kind of food challenge worthy of TV coverage. The other night, I finally decided to eat where the locals eat and perhaps discover what this Kitchen Sink is all about. After all, I thought, maybe they make you clean the kitchen if you’re unable to pay your bill.

I usually only review Cache Valley eateries on this blog when they have some kind of local salience or special presence. I figured Angie’s deserved a shout out since it seems to be a Cache fixture. If the owners are confident enough to claim that their restaurant is the place where the locals eat, then I think it belongs on the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau blog’s radar. It turns out that it came up as more than just a blip on my radar.

After I asked my server what the locals eat when they eat where the locals eat, I wasn’t particularly intrigued by any of her suggestions. Then again, this is kind of what I expected — after all, it is a diner. Instead of the local “usual,” I decided to go with a California burger. It was good. The patty was definitely well done, which is how they eat their beef here in northern Utah — as opposed to the medium-rare bloody goodness we like back East — but it still had flavor.

In between bites of cheeseburger I was lucky enough to notice, from across the restaurant, a group of young ladies who had just been served the famous “Kitchen Sink” — at least when I saw a server walk past me with a giant metal tub of bananas, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, ice cream and cold, sticky, messy awesomeness, my intuition told me that it had to be the sink! The Angie’s menu includes a picture of this unique dessert that really does it no true justice. At a whopping $11.99, I actually think the Kitchen Sink would be worth every penny, as long as you have several friends to help eat it. Otherwise, if you’re on your own, you’re liable to end up with an expensive headache, stomachache and brainfreeze.

Being the adventurous reporter that I am, I wandered down to the table where these ladies were enjoying their dessert and asked if I could take a picture of them — kind of as a last will and testament sort of thing. They willingly obliged, which is how I met USU student Liberti Summers and her sisters Harli, Starr and Dakota. All four ladies valiantly ate every last bite of the ginormous banana split on steroids and were awarded their complementary bumper sticker.

For those who look for a tamer, single serving kind of dessert, Angie’s also offers a variety of individual-sized, homemade delectables that I’d certainly recommend. So far I’ve had the cheesecake and the chocolate cream pie — no complaints here.

A few nights after my first visit, I went back to Angie’s with some friends to give the food another go, just for good measure. This time I had the ever-satisfying, late-night omelet. Now, that’s good stuff. I can certainly stand behind the fact that the food at Angie’s is your standard, run-of-the-mill diner fare — just the way it should be — and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Only it’s obvious the food is served with a little added TLC.

To any of you readers who are planning that dream trip to Cache Valley in the near future: If you get into town and it’s late, you’re tired and you’re not sure where to eat, stop by Angie’s and give it a try. Or if you’re well rested, it’s early, and you’re looking for a good place to start your day, come say “Hi” to the locals. I haven’t gone there often enough — yet — to have my own booth set aside, but you may just see me there flirting with the waitresses or reading an issue of The Utah Statesman. That’s right, Angie’s carries copies of our very own college newspaper, the one I happen to work for. So, until next time, I’ll see you at Angie’s, “Where the locals eat.”

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I’ve lived in Cache Valley for a little more than two years, now. Last summer, I went with a group of friends to the south end of the valley to sit atop a hill in the middle of nowhere, late at night, to witness a Perseid meteor shower. I was out there for about two hours looking at shooting stars. When I took breaks to keep my neck from getting stiff, I would look around to try to figure out where I was in relation to the rest of the valley. To the south of the cow pasture we were standing in, I could see a few orange street lights twinkling in the distance. When I asked one of my friends where the lights were coming from, he said, “Paradise.”

I chuckled, because I figured he just messing with me. Then I asked again, “No, seriously, what’s over there?”

“Paradise,” my friend repeated.

Then it struck me, he was talking about a town called Paradise. For those not familiar with the
nature of Utah town and city nomenclature, the pioneers who settled this and other parts of Utah were quite creative — or, rather, I should say they looked to books of scripture for ideas on what to name their settlements. Paradise of course is another name for Heaven.

Now that I’ve explained to you how it came to be that I discovered this tiny town called Paradise, I will tell you about my first experiences mingling with the friendly citizens of this Cache Valley town with a Utopian name.

Christy Holmes holds a carton of farm-fresh eggs laid by her husband Dave's chickens. The Holmeses have been vending at The Paradise Market since it began three years ago.

Several towns and cities here in our beautiful Cache Valley host a variety of farmer’s and gardener’s markets. Why not? The area is, after all, an agricultural hub. Of the long list of reasons I could give you for coming to visit and/or eventually live in Cache Valley, at the top of that list would be the expression of rich heritage that thrives throughout the area. It’s no secret Cache Valley has always been a flourishing farming and agricultural center — among a whole bunch of other cool things. This place just has a slightly slower-paced way of life, especially during fair-weather months; on my list of places that embody qualities like genuine, old-fashioned, small town goodness, The Paradise Market is up at the top.

The Paradise Market is three years old and starts in June and last until the weather begins to turn cold. The weekly meet is organized by a town committee, which was developed specifically to facilitate the market. I was told this year it has been tough to adapt to the record-high rainfall that affected typical growth in garden produce, but even with the adversity, growers gather every Wednesday, from 6 p.m. to sunset, to peddle the fruits of their labor.

Of course Logan has the well-renowned Cache Valley Gardeners’ Market, which is lauded for traditional crafts, novelties, artisan demonstrations and homegrown produce — I can’t name everything, there’s just too many great things there. One thing, though, that sets Paradise apart is that it’s so much quieter there. The feeling I get from The Paradise Market is that it’s a grassroots, community gathering. This is the kind of place where relationships between friends and neighbors are not only fostered but strengthened and promoted. As a visitor to the town, I didn’t feel unwelcome or alienated; and I was able to watch people who see each other every day interact with one another in a genuinely friendly way.

It should probably go without saying, but the produce I went home with last week was spectacular. The price was rock bottom, and the freshness and quality were great — so much so that I’m going back again tonight. The Paradise Farmer’s Market will be recurring weekly until a couple of weeks after the first frost of the fall. After the frost comes, according to a couple of the vendors, they will   meet until they run out of goods to sell.

Utah-made honey wine vinegar is on display at the table of a local Cache Valley vendor. Tables at The Paradise Market are available to anyone willing to pay a small fee. Only items grown or produced in Utah are allowed to be sold.

Among the fresh kohlrabi, rainbow chard and fresh apricots and peaches, there were also coolers filled with ice-cold sodas, a table with hand-knitted wool winter hats, hand-crafted plates and a table with honey wine vinegar for sale. I bought the vinegar — it was a great addition to the collection of local cooking ingredients I have in my kitchen.

I was told there is usually live music performed by various local musicians, too. So, anybody who’d like to join me for a nice evening in the park. Head south, down Highway 165 until you see the sign that says “Paradise.” Travel about one more mile and look for some tables surrounded by people in the town park. That’s where we’ll be, talking about honey wine vinegar recipes and enjoying one another’s company.

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The Best Bean in Town

Ever since age 15 one of my favorite places to go is the local coffee shop. As a poet I have written many times about the solace and respite found in such a place as an espresso joint. Even if you don’t drink coffee, a good coffee shop has so much (more) to offer. The essence, the ambiance, great food, a wide variety of hot and cold beverages – these are all, among other things, excellent reasons to visit your local beanery.

Whether you go to write, converse, read the paper, do the puzzles, meditate or just plain be around people, the sweet smell of fresh ground, fresh brewed coffee will delight you. I even spent time working in a coffee shop in Moab as a barista and manager. While I had these jobs, I learned many tricks of the trade, including what the difference is between a breve, a latte and a macchiato.

No matter where I go, I stick my nose out in search of the best place to sit down, grab a drink and open my notebook and write. Now that I live in Cache Valley, the obvious local destination is evidently Caffe Ibis (usually referred to as just “Ibis”). Ibis does not only sell coffee drinks, it also roasts its own beans. The roasting/brewing company touts a wide selection of roasts, including several that are triple certified – organic, fair trade, shade grown/ bird friendly. To the conscious coffee drinker, these are excellent qualities for a bean to have.

Caffe Ibis is also a bustling deli that prepares some wonderful breakfast items for people of all tastes. The walls in the shop are adorned with artwork produced by local painters, photographers and multimedia artists. In every  corner of the store, you can find gourmet chocolates, locally grown produce like apples and garlic, trinkets and other exotic treats. Ibis is just an all-around great place to explore. As I said, you don’t have to be a coffee drinker to find a reason to be there. Several afternoons and nights, the shop is home to musical performances by local singer/songwriters.

If you want the true coffee shop experience, take it from me, Caffe Ibis is the place to be. Devoted fans come from all over to purchase the unrivaled, triple-certified roasts that are offered. Ibis also ships their beans to Moab – a place where I lived for a few years – to supply some of the local coffee dispensaries there. If you are interested in finding out more about Caffe Ibis, you can go online and check out their frequently updated and beautifully designed Web page at: http://caffeibis.com/.  Ibis is also part of the Cache Valley Food Tour so those who are interested can see the magic as it happens behind the scenes. If you stop by, make sure you say ,”Hi.” I’ll be there.

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In the heart of downtown Logan is nestled maybe the oldest restaurant in the area still in business. I’m talking, of course, about the Bluebird Restaurant. The Bluebird originally opened in 1914 as a soda shop and candy store. Apparently it moved to where it currently resides, at 19 North Main St., in 1921. Since then, from what I learned today, the Bluebird has been serving food to residents and visitors of Cache Valley.

Today was the first time I actually went into the restaurant to eat. It was almost 2 p.m. and I hadn’t had lunch yet. Not being familiar with the menu, I asked the waiter who greeted me what he would suggest. I was told that some of the house favorites include the Bluebird Chicken, Steak Oscar and the Clubhouse Sandwich. At lunchtime, I’m always a fan of a good club.

I was very impressed by the Iron Port soda that I ordered. It was made the way I imagine sodas were traditionally made – start with club soda and add the good stuff. The flavor of the drink was unique and refreshing.

I decided to go with the Clubhouse Sandwich, on rye bread, and because English chips were available, I opted for them as my side. The sandwich was great and the chips lived up to what I expected. To me, this is comfort food.

I enjoyed my meal from a seat at the counter, which faces a large mirror mounted above what I was told is the original marble from when the establishment was built. The atmosphere was certainly quaint. I almost felt like I was back East in a New York diner about 60 years ago – I’m speculating, of course. As I sniffed the air, I could smell the wonderful, splendrous smell of chocolate. This is because I was practically surrounded by it. Behind me were numerous cases filled with chocolate creations of all shapes and sizes. There was milk chocolate, white chocolate and dark chocolate in endless supply. There were macaroons and candy bars and chocolate covered everything. I learned the decadent treats were chocolatiered by Alvey’s, from Richmond, Utah.

If I would have had more money, I probably would have left with a bag full of chocolate goodies. Unfortunately, I was not financially prepared to feed into my weakness. I was, however, happy to find that most of the menu items on the Bluebird menu were very affordable, including my sandwich.

On my way out, I was able to look around at the restaurant, and see the multiple stories available for fine dining and banquet seating. The ceilings were high and the walls were adorned with ornate, restored moldings and paint. There were also several pictures of historic Logan landmarks. The Bluebird Restaurant was certainly a step back in time. I was treated with the same level of hospitality I’d imagine existed when the place first opened its doors to patrons in the early 1900s. For anyone looking for a warm atmosphere, a free look into local history and a delicious, affordable bite to eat, join me at the Bluebird…see you there soon!

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I was told the other day that if I live in Cache Valley, I have to go to Aggie Ice Cream. I’ve been

Aggie Blue Mint is all the rave in Cache Valley. The frozen blue mixture consists of mint blue ice cream with chunks of Oreo Cookie and white chocolate.

living here for 14 months, and I just went for the first time, two nights ago.

Aggie Ice Cream is located on 1200 East, just north of 700 North, in Logan. The facility is on the campus of Utah State University, and it is connected to the Nutrition and Food Science building.

I went to the shop, with a date, around eight in the evening, and I was pleased to find ample parking spaces outside. Usually, it is very hard during the day to find a place to park anywhere on campus. Campus parking lots are permit-only, but Aggie Ice Cream provides about a dozen free parking spaces marked by free parking meters. I’ve never seen a free parking meter before. All you have to do is push the button and you get up to 30 minutes. Wouldn’t it be nice if all meters were like this?

As soon as my date and I walked through the front door, we were greeted with smiles from the ladies behind the counter. Above them was a giant menu board that touted at least 20 different flavors of ice cream. I noticed too, on my way in, that there was a rack of postcards with pictures of local scenery. The store manager must have known I was coming.

I asked the smiling scoopologists  behind the counter what the most popular flavor of ice cream was.

Logan, Utah, native Muriel McGregor smiles as she presents a fresh-scooped helping of Midnight Munchies ice cream in a waffle cone. McGregor said she's loved Aggie Ice Cream since she was a child.

I anticipated their answer would be Aggie Blue Mint, and I was right. Aggie Blue Mint is exactly what it sounds like, it’s blue and it’s minty; but it has chunks of chocolate in it. One of the ladies told me the great thing about this mint is “it’s not like other mint ice creams.” It’s obvious why this would be the favorite among customers…because everybody loves Aggie blue. I’ve personally never been a fan of mint ice cream. I know, say what you will, but I did try the blue stuff…I had to. After all, I am an Aggie too. They were right, it’s not quite as overpowering as other mint ice cream.

Ultimately, I was drawn to Strawberry Cheesecake and Midnight Munchies. I opted for the former and my date tried the latter. There’s something about ice cream that is made on site, it just tastes better. It was creamy, yummy, flavorful, and of course, cold. My date said Midnight Munchies was filled with chunks of chocolate goodness. I was so captivated by my own, that by the time I thought to ask for a bite of hers, it was all gone.

Aggie Ice Cream was a great place to take a date. The facility is actually a part of the Cache Valley Food Tour, which includes other locations such as: Bluebird Candy Factory, Caffe Ibis and other great local businesses. I’ve included the link for more information at the bottom of this post. Aggie Ice Cream does tours at 1:30p.m. on weekdays. I’ll see you there!

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