Culinary adventure couple Cheryl and Bill Jamison share their tasty experience at Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah.
Coming from the northwest, as we did, to reach Boulder, Utah, you take a right turn at Capitol Reef National Park and head south toward the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, just a few miles beyond the town, and then the nearby Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.
Highway 12 to Boulder slowly climbs a mountain pass that peaks in elevation at 9,600 feet before dropping down to a high valley inhabited by one hundred or so Mormon farming and ranching families as well as two talented, bold Buddhist cooks.
Despite being right in the center of the country’s most majestic natural glory, Boulder is as remote as any spot in the nation. Just ask the United States Postal Service, which kept using mules to bring in the mail later than in any other area.
Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle came to this wilderness wonderland 10 years ago to open a restaurant, the Hell’s Backbone Grill, named after a prominent local landscape feature. They chose the town because it offered ample space for a kitchen garden—now supplemented by a full farm—plus locally raised meat, considerations most chefs ignored at the time.
Blake and Jen thrilled the residents so thoroughly with their food and their respectful character that the town council actually awarded them a liquor license to sell wine with meals, an incredible accomplishment in a small Mormon community. The Mormon servers don’t drink wine themselves, of course, but Blake and Jen give them samples to sniff so they can describe a wine’s aroma to customers.
We made a long detour to enjoy the cooking again, having visited once before five years ago. Our dinner was simply splendid in all respects.
On a cool spring evening we started with two warming appetizers, a cup of lamb posole (like a southwestern hominy stew) and a Utah goat-cheese fondue with house-baked crackers and dried local fruit.
For one of our main dishes we decided to try the daily special of shredded-beef enchiladas topped with Monterey Jack cheese and a generous ladling of green chile cream sauce. For the second entrée we debated between several options on the regular menu, including grilled trout and an arugula-pesto pasta, but ultimately chose the chipotle meatloaf. It arrived with a mound of fluffy mashed potatoes, flavored intensely with bits of lemon, the perfect counterpoint to the spicy meat mixture.
Even though we were stuffed already, we ordered two desserts. The dark chocolate pot de crème, enlivened with a dash of New Mexico red chile, we ate at the table.
The second selection, a pear bread pudding with butterscotch sauce, we wrapped up to take to our motel room. We finished it off on the last morning of our trip, just before leaving heavenly Boulder to return to Santa Fe. With it, we relived our wonderful dinner with Blake and Jen and celebrated other cheery memories of our grand tour of the American West.
Cheryl and Bill Jamison write about food and travel, always with mouthwatering results. Among their best-selling books are Smoke & Spice, American Home Cooking and The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking & Entertaining. They are also frequent contributors to Cooking Light and Bon Appétit. Married 22 years, they live just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The Jamisons’ newest book, Around the World in 80 Dinners: The Ultimate Culinary Adventure, regales readers with a tasty account of their global travels in search of great local fare—from Bali to Brazil.
Learn more about Cheryl and Bill at cookingwiththejamisons.com. You can sign up to join them on a future trip by clicking on “culinary adventures.”