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Craving a fresh perspective on breakfast, Don and I embarked on a mini road trip on the last day of 2011. The sky was brilliant blue. The sun danced with myriad ice crystals—leftovers from the previous day’s torrential rain and hail storm that had scoured the valley air. We headed west toward Caldwell to dine at the Orchard House where we’d enjoyed a lovely brunch during our Sideways by Bike tour in 2009.

Wise ones that we are, we checked the website to verify the restaurant’s Saturday hours. Our stomachs were rumbling as we pulled into a miraculously empty parking lot. Yup. Closed for the holiday season. Thirty four miles from home and deep into rural Idaho, notable breakfast spots are as sparse as hair on Bruce Willis’s head. In Homedale, a bucolic farming community, it looked like the only game in town would be the quick mart gas station, not quite the way we had envisioned closing out the year.

“Where the heck do the farmers eat?” Don pondered.

Good question. Every little town has its gathering spots: the Post Office, the feed store, and the diner. My smart phone listed Owyhee Lanes as a restaurant.  Hmm. A bright little neon sign chirped “open” in the window and pickups parked nearby looked promising.

We’d stepped right into the middle of Homedale’s Saturday morning focal point. We threaded our way through tightly packed tables to the one vacancy in the far corner. An alert waitress followed with menus, glasses of water, and coffee at the ready.

“Chicken Fried Steak is our Saturday special,” she informed us cheerfully.

The cafe was clean and inviting. Blue oilcloth covered the tables and home town kitch hung from the walls. Glancing around, it was easy to see that everyone knew everyone else—and their business. There is no room for pretense here. People come as they are, often having just finished morning chores. Employees and patrons address each other by first name. Our clean Ford Escape and tidy city clothes marked us as  foreigners. The single fellow holding court at the four-seat table beside us proclaimed that we had come to the best place in the state for breakfast. He eagerly jumped up to guide Don to the rest room—assuming, I suppose, that a foreigner might be incapable of navigating. You gotta love home town pride.

The menu is larger than the restaurant. Daily breakfast specials range from Triple Porky Platter (1 pork chop, 2 slices bacon, 2 sausage links, plus 2 eggs, toast and hash browns for $7.99) to Biscuits and Gravy for $4.99. My side of ham was a third of an inch thick. The biscuits are hefty enough to double for baseballs in a pinch.

The daily dinner specials include Ginger Lime Pork Chop, on one day, Salisbury Steak and Shrimp on another day and Mandarin Shrimp on yet another day. And those are just the “daily specials.” Standard beef, chicken, and pasta dinner items wrestle for space on the menu along with Prime Rib on Friday and Saturday nights.

Lunch options are typical diner fare plus a list of sandwiches longer than my arm. The pie case, clearly visible behind the cash register was impossible to ignore. At the Owyhee Lanes Restaurant, your food won’t arrive stacked into a skyscraper atop a fancy-shaped plate, but the food is the real deal: no fillers, no shortcuts, and no prepackaged sauces or soups. The audible chortle from our neighbor as I positioned my camera over my plate attested that these folks don’t consider food a work of art. Meals are hearty, plentiful, and designed to fuel working bodies. . We spent under twenty dollars and waddled out with bellies sagging.

We digested on the scenic route home. Driving west of Homedale, state highway 201 dips across the Oregon border. We turned south onto the dirt Succor Creek Road and meandered through private ranch and BLM land, stopping frequently to gaze at intriguing rock formations, and coming out ten miles east of Leslie Gulch before heading back to pavement on U.S 95 which returned us to civilization. The 35 miles of dirt road is loaded with potential desert hikes. Rather than bore you with more jabber, I’ll post the photos I took before my battery died.

How did you spend the last day of 2011? And was it a good year for you?