Thursday, August 11, 2022

Dining in the Silver Valley: Backcountry Cafe, Kellogg

(Part of an ongoing series.)

Variety is the name of the game at Backcountry Cafe. This little place in downtown Kellogg, which feels a bit more like deli-meets-diner than an actual cafe, sports a big blackboard full of drink and ice cream flavors and mixes, and that's before you get to the eight-page menu jam-packed full of sandwich, salad, and basket options.

The number of options can border on information overload. Today, for example, I decided I had a taste for tuna -- but your choices include Tuna Salad, Tuna Salad and Black Beans, Avocado Tuna Salad, Tuna Salad Melt, Avocado Tuna Salad Melt, Tuna Salad Shredder, and Avocado Tuna Salad Shredder. And that's just part of one column on a three-column page. 

This approach is certainly one way of trying to create a have-it-your-way kind of dining experience, but if you haven't been to Backcountry before, it might take you a while to get your bearings as you're looking over your many, many options for food and drink.

No complaints about the food, though. We've been here many times, for breakfast and lunch alike, and the portions are always decent and the food fresh and tasty. I think most of what you get here, even including the potato chips that come as a side with most lunch options, is made to order rather than stored in a freezer. 

The drink options are especially generous, with a lot of the beverages served up in big old Mason jars. Here's my wife's iced tea. (Playing card shown for size reference. Luckily, we almost always have cards with us. Partaking in card games before our meals show up at restaurants is a cherished family tradition.)

As drinks go, I usually settle for a Green River, whose flavor takes me back to my younger years. There was an eatery somewhere near where I grew up -- I can, alas, no longer remember exactly where -- that served Green Rivers made in-house. I always enjoyed them then, and I'd never seen them offered anywhere since, until we came to Backcountry. Even looking around online, I can't find anything approximating the handmade lemon-lime-based drink I enjoyed growing up; the things that turn up are either Chicago-based prepackaged bottles of soda, or alcoholic beverages. Now I feel practically compelled to order a Green River when we come to Backcountry.

When it came to ordering our meals, I settled on the Avocado Tuna Salad Melt, with Swiss cheese, and chips and a pickle spear on the side. My wife got the peculiarly named Honeycrisp Apple Wienerwurst, served on a toasted roll. And the kiddo got deep-fried Mac and Cheese Bites, one of her favorites.

The restaurant itself throws off a delightfully eclectic vibe that mixes classical American diner (I love the old black and white-tiled floor) with rustic accents (rusty metal roof panels as wall coverings) and a touch of the endless North Idaho winters (skis and snowshoes) that I'm sure the winter-wonderland tourists find charming. The rest of us just get out the snowblowers and try to plow ourselves a path before the sun sets at 4 p.m.

We've come here often enough that we've settled into sitting in the same place, at a table right next to the front window. Great place to warm up when it's cold outside, though it can get uncomfortably warm on a summer day. 

The cost for three meals and three drinks came to about $52, inclusive of tip.     

The place just recently reopened after a temporary closure brought about by lack of adequate staffing. Seems no one can get help these days. But as long as it can manage to stay open, it's a great place to stop if you're looking for a lot of food options and a relaxed atmosphere. 

Maybe you'll even find a surprise on the menu that takes you back to simpler times.

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