On our road trip to Montana, which has proven uninteresting foodwise but otherwise full of family fun, we stopped for dinner in the small mining town of Wallace, Idaho. I knew I’d like the place when I saw a big banner advertising their annual huckleberry festival in August, but there’s so much more to like, including the downtown.
We were seduced off the freeway by the Smoke House, a barbecue joint downtown that advertised on one of those signs that usually tout fast food places. But when we moseyed down the main drag, we were overjoyed to see not only the perfectly preserved facades of a late-nineteenth-century small town, but the squatting black smoke-belching monster. The Smoke House smokes its own barbecue pork and beef on the sidewalk in a big ol’ smoker:
The “French Dip” was brilliantly improved by smoked brisket and house-made BBQ sauce added immediately prior to dippin’. A fresh but lackluster coleslaw and oddly mushy beans didn’t make me jump for joy, but the meat was good enough to ignore the sides.
And the huckleberry margarita tasted like neither huckleberry nor a margarita, but I knew they were out of season and the waiter warned me, so I forgave them.
Plus, a pint of margarita is always a good idea. My fellow traveler’s mac-n-cheese was pretty darn good, and he enjoyed his ribs. Plus, it was a lovely evening, the American flags and bunting were out, and there weren’t too many people out and about on the street, so we were pretty satisfied. We were to find out later that Wallace’s downtown buildings are all on the National Register of Historic Places — yes, every single one of them. It was a move made by the town to force the Feds to reroute I-90 (the alternative would have been to destroy the town, mofos). The town has a history of taking on the big guns — there were plenty of skirmishes between the miners and the mine bosses in the old days, and they somehow managed to turn the old railroad tracks into miles of gorgeous hiking paths.
Even though the Smoke House on the main drag is good, the real dining pleasure is just off the highway, a place at which we decided to stop when we saw a sign advertising espresso next to a Sputnik-inspired satellite and a googie sign for the Stardust Motel.
Both the satellite and the sign belong to the Red Light Garage, a restaurant, curio shop and café that boasts fresh huckleberry ice cream. Better yet, they have *stuff* — all kinds of memorabilia and thrift store finds, carefully cultivated and fixed up and arranged all over the old, renovated garage. The owner, a genial man who came out and asked me about the photos I was taking of my stuffed hippo traveling companion (don’t ask), is pictured below, sitting on what used to be the car jack in the garage.
He’s a mechanical whiz; I was astounded by all the old, renovated chandeliers in the shop, his vintage three-head shake machine (“I make 150 shakes a day in the high season with it!”) and the coin-operated pianola that was allegedly rescued from a brothel in Wisconsin.
Sadly, I missed the brothel museum and the town’s antique stores, both of which were closed by the time we got there in the evening. But gosh, who knew a town with a population of 1000 in the middle of nowhere, Idaho, could be such fun? We’ll be back.