One of our favorite places to escape the urban blahs is Heber Valley. Regardless of the season, Heber has a certain humble, unpretentious allure. There is hardly any of the ski and resort glitziness that one finds in Park City or other canyon areas. Heber is still a farming community with a downhome feeling to it, with more dirty pickup trucks than spiffy Cherokee wagons rumbling up and down Main Street.
We have always enjoyed the Homestead in neighboring Midway for an occasional overnight. But before the Homestead's newest owners began serving wonderful meals in the dining room, the experience was always incomplete. As a result, our escape to the Heber Valley included another escape. After paddling around in the steaming mineral pools at the Homestead, we would sneak off, like high school kids ducking out without the chaperones, and go to Chick's Cafe.Chick's easily qualifies as a perfect example of small-town American dining. Local high school girls are the waitresses and teenage boys seem to be popping out of the kitchen periodically to grab a Coke from behind the counter and return to their chores.
Customers all seem to know each other. On our recent visit, we watched two farmers, one at each end of the counter, tip their weathered hats to each other with nary a word as they sipped coffee and ate their homemade pie. In another part of the restaurant, a family enjoying a night out on the town caught up on the latest gossip with one of the waitresses as she bustled about.
Both the ordinary exterior and plain interior show signs of wear. But the place is clean; the juke box, which features an eclectic blend of country and hard rock, is constantly playing, pleasing the different generations that frequent Chick's.
The bill of fare is strictly stick-to-your-ribs cooking. I have friends with discerning and even delicate palates who say that the chicken fried steak ($6 for a complete dinner) is the best around, though this last time it wasn't quite as good as I remember - it was just a bit dry. Others swear by Chick's homemade pies. Still other fans rave about the scones.
Chick's is one place that lets us city slickers shed all our trendy tastes and go native - without baby vegetables, sushi, edible flowers or stir fry. Dinners are served with choice of homemade soup or tomato juice, salad bar, scones, and mashed potatoes and brown gravy. Prices are moderate, ranging from $6.50 for breaded veal, two pork chops, fried chicken, roast leg of pork, ground round, top sirloin dinner steak, or liver and onions, to around $10 for halibut and cuts of steak.
The salad bar is modest, but adds to the other substantial portions. It features homemade potato salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw, fruit junket, ambrosia, chunks of fresh cauliflower and broccoli, baby pickled beets, olives, fresh mushrooms and mixed greens. The three dressings, also homemade, are bleu cheese, Thousand Island and creamy French. There is not even a hint of vinaigrette, let alone extra virgin olive oil.
In addition to the chicken fried steak, we tried the 1/2-pound boned trout, which was also on the dry side. This is somewhat ironic considering the proximity to the Midway hatchery. A more successful entree was the gigantic Porterhouse steak ($12.50), weighing at least 20 ounces. It was cooked to order and provided enough leftovers for lunch the next day for the whole family. Its high quality reflected the menu's claim that Chick's ages its own beef.
We somehow managed to polish off a cherry pie a la mode and a light, almost fluffy chocolate cream pie. This was quite a feat considering the amount of food served. But we rationalized the extra portions, knowing that within an hour we would be back in the city, surrounded not by fertile farmland but a more crowded and calorie-conscious cityscape.
Chick's Cafe, 154 Main St., Heber City. 654-1771. Open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; till 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Open till 8 p.m. on Sunday. Accepts checks with guarantee card and major credit cards.