Valley County offers cuisine seekers a gamut of dining options

Alx Stevens//July 5, 2021

Valley County offers cuisine seekers a gamut of dining options

Alx Stevens//July 5, 2021

photo of fogglifter menu
The menu at the Fogglifter Cafe. Photo courtesy of McCall Area Chamber of Commerce

The picturesque views of colorful mountains, pristine lakes and wildlife sightings are alone worth the two (plus)-hour drive out of the Boise metro area into Valley County, but a collection of seven smallish cities will attract more than outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Whether or not your visit includes an outdoor recreation element, Blue Moon Outfitters, Brundage Mountain Resort, Jug Mountain Ranch and Tamarack Resort all offer a unique culinary adventure as well, according to the McCall Chamber of Commerce, from fine dining to a several-course meal experience in a yurt.

If your sense of an Idaho adventure is exploring mom-and-pop recipes, treating yourself to resort-like fine dining or tasting your way through a craft beer sample flight, then Cascade, McCall and the greater area offer numerous opportunities, no matter how long you stay.

Take time to stop and stay in Cascade and Donnelly

Cascade is known for its family-friendly lake recreation opportunities — swimming, boating, jet skiing — and camping opportunities, sometimes serving as a getaway or vacation home for Idahoans and frequent return visitors. But the 745 population town also hosts a variety of culinary exploration opportunities, from a low-key breakfast to a hearty lunch to a fine-dining meal.

While many travelers simply pass through on their way to the intended destination city of McCall, the Cascade Chamber of Commerce suggests you could spend your entire day trip in the Cascade area without ever reaching McCall.

“We dub ourselves as a family-friendly location,” said Julie Crosby, Cascade Chamber of Commerce assistant. “Just a resilient community that wants people to come here and enjoy (and respect) what we have to offer.”

For breakfast options, travelers might grab something from North Fork Cafe or visit one of Cascade’s longtime establishments, like Gramma’s Family Restaurant or Whistle Stop Cafe. Both tout hearty meals and homemade treats; Gramma’s is known for its pies and ice cream while Whistle Stop Cafe serves bread and cinnamon rolls.

Your day could include low-key family time at a campsite, cabin or hotel, or less-strenuous outdoor trekking like bird-watching, which the area is known for, or a leisurely hike.

Then, it’s time for lunch, either revisiting your breakfast location or trying a different destination, such as Thunder Mountain Burgers, or Remington’s for fine dining.

“Everything up here is relaxed,” Crosby said. “You can get dressed up in your clean blue jeans, then go dine at the Lakefront (Bar & Grill), which provides a beautiful view.”

If Tamarack Resort (just outside of neighboring Donnelly) is on your travel itinerary, Crosby said Cascade is close enough for travelers to recreate in Donnelly, then come back for a meal before hitting the road home or staying the night.

Those familiar with the area and returning for the first time since March 2020’s stay-at-home order will not feel too much of a difference, as Crosby said that there were no restaurants or other business closures as a result of the pandemic.

“Take the time to stop,” Crosby said. “One of the things we hear in the Cascade area (from people) is they have been driving through Cascade for years and finally stopped and had no idea (what it offers).”

Beyond Cascade is Donnelly, a smaller town often serving as a refueling stop for travelers. Treasure Valley residents and frequent visitors alike highly recommend stopping a little longer to try Flight of Fancy, a small bakeshop that recently expanded. You will find cream cheese brownies, huckleberry coconut bars, lemon bars, traditional cookies and more, including breakfast and lunch options, all made from scratch.

Donnelly also offers fine dining — the Ragazza Di Bufalo — and a highly recommended western-style family friendly eatery called Cougar Dave’s Food & Spirits, featuring fun wildlife art, country music and entrees from burgers to spaghetti.

“We’ll drive to get a Cougar Dave’s burger,” said McKenzie Kraemer, marketing director for McCall’s Chamber of Commerce.

A destination for craft beer lovers and unique meat dishes

If your destination is McCall, Kraemer, promises you will find some unique, and possibly surprising, beverages and foods.

McCall is a destination opportunity for craft beer lovers, touting three breweries — Broken Horn Brewing Company, which opened in 2013, McCall Brewing Company (which Kraemer describes as a staple in McCall) and the award-winning Salmon River Brewery.

Every year, the breweries — in partnership with local restaurants — participate in the city’s Ale Trail, which encourages craft beer patrons to sample beverages from each of the breweries. Patrons can pick up a “passport” at one of the breweries or the chamber of commerce and receive a stamp when they buy a pint.

“That’s kind of a fun thing if you’re going to drink local and support the breweries,” Kraemer said.

Usually about 25 establishments participate annually in the McCall Ale Trail, according to Kraemer. Once 10 stamps are received, commemorative swag is given; this year is a pint glass. Passports are also entered into a drawing for an additional prize, which occurs two times a year — once in the summer and once in the winter. Kraemer suggested checking out Salmon River Brewery’s igloo-like structures set up in the garden if you are traveling in winter, such as for the ice sculpture festival. This past year, due to COVID-19 recommendations, the heated igloos, complete with twinkle lights, could be reserved for private gatherings.

Salmon River Brewery is located in downtown McCall’s historic train depot and just expanded early last summer, Kraemer said, including outdoor space, complete with a rooftop deck. Traditional pub fare —  flatbread, sandwiches, burgers, etc. — is also offered at lunch and dinner.

You will find similar offerings at McCall Brewing Company, which is known for its bar and attractive views of the lake. Broken Horn Brewing Co. exclusively offers tastings, though does bring in food trucks and schedules live music often on the weekends, Kraemer said, and it premiers a free screening of ski film each year, another winter activity McCall is well known for.

Today, each of the breweries offers to-go beer as well, whether in growlers, bottles or cans; Broken Horn Brewing Company and Salmon River Brewery also can beer on site per request.

When it comes to McCall’s dining scene, “Everything is sort of tucked away,” Kraemer said. “You don’t see all this stuff directly on the highway. I think sometimes people don’t know the breadth of the diversity of food you can get in the area.”

Frenchies on Third comes to Kraemer’s mind, which opened a couple of years ago featuring traditional Cajun and French Quarter cuisine, like po’ boys and “a great gumbo.” To change things up, Frenchies also does “throw-out-the-window specials.”

“So many (local restaurants) will do something like that,” Kraemer said. “You can get some really unexpected food from the places you know.”

Along McCall’s main street are local and tourist favorites alike from Ice Cream Alley to the Fogglifter Cafe and My Father’s Place, argued as having the best burger meals in McCall.

If it’s fine dining you seek, “Rupert’s Restaurant is definitely high on the list,” Kraemer said, and it just redid its bar, opening from 1-4 p.m. for espresso and other beverages. Dinner begins around 5 p.m.

Steamers Steak & Seafood also makes the fine dining list, but The Narrows Steakhouse is “the fine fine dining,” according to Kraemer, offering an intimate experience from fine cocktails and conversation to evening cuisine.

Nearby is The Cutwater on Payette Lake, which Kraemer describes as being more casual, but more upscale than a burger joint, “and the patio in the summer is to die for.” Wherever you go, Kraemer recommends seeing if the establishment takes reservations; for some, that’s new since the pandemic.

And while McCall is not famous for its local produce due to its short growing season, it is known for its locally sourced meat, from beef to yak and buffalo.

“Yak is really big in McCall,” Kraemer said, especially in the fine dining establishments, which also try to offer venison and elk whenever possible.

Yak tastes pretty similar to beef, Kraemer describes, having recently tasted yak short ribs from Rupert’s. Yak is described as having a stronger flavor than beef but still being mild.

“I think a lot of it is how you prepare it, and that’s where I give the chefs a lot of credit,” Kraemer said. “They know what they’re doing.”

Just beyond McCall

If you are going beyond McCall, you will continue to find locally owned establishments unique to each city featuring made-from-scratch meals in Council, Cambridge, New Meadows and Riggins.

A longtime McCall area resident, Kraemer has sampled many culinary offerings beyond McCall, and she recommends a stop at Granite Mtn Cafe and/or The Intersection BBQ, Bar & Grill in New Meadows, which also makes and cures its own pastrami that can be bought by the pound and taken to go.

Kraemer also advises keeping an eye out for a new eatery and part bike shop coming to the Cambridge area.

Another aspect of New Meadows Kraemer enjoys is, sincerely, the gas station food at Brown’s Mountain Market, which offers to-go pizza, and “it is some of the best you’ll ever eat.”

Riggins gives McCall a run for its money as a destination visit, touting outdoor activities from fishing to kayaking in or near the canyon. And of course, there’s the food. You will find grab-and-go options like River Eats to sit-down dining at Seven Devil’s Steakhouse and Saloon.

“Riggins is known for its fresh, home cooked, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meals,” Riggins Chamber of Commerce states on its website. “Don’t worry about dressing in your Sunday best; we are laid back and comfortable in Riggins. Enjoy our many restaurant options where the owners are there to greet you and locals will entertain!”

This piece originally appeared in Heartland Living.