Last year a traveling gourmet named Sherry Browning, of St. Louis, wrote to introduce us to a place she described as "an incredible find in a physically beautiful but palate-starved place." It was the Capitol Reef Inn and Cafe near the Capitol Reef National Park and the Dixie and Fishlake National Forests in southern Utah. Browning hit a sensitive spot: We've always felt bad about being unable to find much good food in the Beehive State, although we relish motoring through whenever we travel west because it is such a gorgeous place. Now we know we can eat well in addition to enjoying the scenery.
On Main Street (a barely paved road, Route 24) on the west end of the buildings that make up the town of Torrey, the inn is not by any means a grand or elaborate hostelry. That's fine; you would not expect or want anything too fancy in this territory. There is no way a mere hotel, however swell, could compete with the splendor of the red sandstone cliffs whose gray-domed tops reminded pioneers of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. There are seven inexpensive rooms for rent, with TV but without telephones; and there is the humble but immensely satifying Capitol Reef Cafe.Could it be? Are the broccoli and carrots fresh? Yes, indeed. And the corn on the cob, served in season only, tastes only recently picked. The inn boasts that it gets its vegetables from local farmers whenever possible, and delivered from Salt Lake City when the locals have nothing good to offer. It does not serve canned or frozen things. One house specialty of which the inn is especially proud is the 10-vegetable salad, which is served as part of an all-vegetable dinner along with a wild rice and brown rice medley and a whole-wheat roll. Healthy eating like that is rare anywhere, extraordinary in this rugged part of the world.
The Capitol Reef Inn bakes its own bread, including onion buns, rye bread, scones and whole-wheat rolls, and white bread for sandwiches. Even the junk food you can eat here doesn't taste junky: The brittle-crisp onion rings are exemplary; we recommend them alongside a roast turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and real, not-from-a-can turkey gravy.
One thing you will find throughout Utah is marvelous dessert, and this place is no exception. Choose a mountainous wedge of chocolate mousse pie or banana sour cream pie, or have a breakfast breadstuff for dessert, such as the inn's giant yeast-leavened cinnamon roll or orange-almond scone with butter and jam.
The piece de resistance at the Capitol Reef Inn, and the dish for which Utah is best-known, at least among outdoorspeople who catch and prepare their own, is rainbow trout. It is local, from springwater streams, served smoked as an appetizer or as a side dish, fileted in a sandwich with salad, soup and onion rings, or whole, broiled with butter and lemon - a memorable dinner. We've never found a restaurant where it tasted as straight-from-the-stream as it does here. If you've caught some rainbow trout, or know a good fish market that can get you some, try this time-honored recipe and savor one of the American West's most famous delicacies.
Now available! Nearly 200 of the most-requested recipes from this column, all in one book, "A Taste of America." It includes Jane and Michael Stern's favorite restaurants, as well as photos from their coast-to-coast eating adventures. Available in paperback, it can be ordered by sending $9.95 plus $1 for postage and handling to Taste of America, in care of the Deseret News, P.O. Box 419150, Kansas City, MO 64141.
Butter-Broiled Rainbow Trout
4 whole rainbow trout, cleaned but with head and tail on
Salt and pepper
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 cup melted butter
1 lemon, juiced; 1 lemon, quartered
Preheat broiler and lightly oil a rack that can be placed about 5 inches below the flame.
Sprinkle the inside of each fish with salt and pepper and place one sprig of rosemary inside each.
Combine the melted butter and juice from one lemon. Place the fish on the oiled rack and generously baste them with the butter-lemon mixture, reserving enough for one more basting. Place under flame and broil for 5 minutes on one side. Turn, baste and broil 5 minutes more until skin just begins to char. Serves 4.