Finding good grub in Mormon redrock country

by Michelle Nijhuis

The small towns that border the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah have long steamed with political and cultural conflict. But on the northern edge of the monument, in the tiny town of Boulder, a determined peacemaking effort is under way.

Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle, two young chefs from Flagstaff, Ariz., moved to Boulder in the spring of 2000 to open the Hell’s Backbone Grill, a restaurant supported largely by visitors to the monument. The two friends weren’t sure how they would fit into the conservative, mostly Mormon town, population 180. After all, as they write in their book With a Measure of Grace, "We were women who used bad language in private, were raised in unorthodox families, and had treated ourselves to myriad world experiences."

But Spalding and Castle met their neighbors with friendly tolerance, and in time, found tolerance extended back to them. In 2002, with support from the community, the Hell’s Backbone Grill became the first restaurant in the history of Boulder to receive a liquor license. The restaurant now serves wine and beer but, in deference to the wishes of the town council, no hard liquor.

While Castle and Spalding would, of course, certainly like for you to visit their restaurant, their beautifully produced book is too full of genuine gratitude — for their friends, neighbors, employees, and even their dogs — to feel self-promotional. They celebrate Boulder in all its under-appreciated diversity, and don’t mind confessing to the many unlovely crises that come with running a restaurant. Oh, and the recipes? Chatty and unintimidating, with an emphasis on local and organic and only a few hard-to-find specialty ingredients. Check out the snazzified version of fry sauce (that distinctive ketchup-and-mayonnaise condiment favored by Utahns), and the several tasty variations on cornbread. So good, they just might make you believe in peace in Escalante country.

 

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