Saturday, April 12, 2008

Get Out Guide To Rathdrum/Burger Heaven

Quest for Rathdrum Inspiration Ends with Discovery of Burger Shangri-La

Burger Heaven
13735 Highway 53

Rathdrum, Idaho is the sort of town perhaps best enjoyed under rainy grey skies. There’s a pleasingly complimentary sort of doom and gloom that hangs in the air there that vanishes like a vampire in direct sun. Founded in 1881 and named after a village in Ireland, Rathdrum never did fully recover from several giant fires that leveled nearly the entire town many decades ago. From having its status as the booming seat of Kootenai County snatched away by Coeur d’Alene in 1908, to the persistent and bizarre Rathdrum Satanic Death Cult rumors, this town seems to suffer from a touch of low self esteem.

Cosmetic changes and modern improvements are slow or non-existent here and a large lot of the homes and businesses are in various states of decay. Porches lean precariously over front yards scattered with rusting automobiles and dysfunctional appliances. Oddly, many of old Rathdrum’s shantytown driveways and trailer park lanes are decorated with shiny new late-model vehicles, creating a dramatic and slightly bewildering incongruity, like catching Paris Hilton shopping for shoes at a Kmart clearance sale.

The local chamber of commerce doesn’t seem to worry itself much with the idea of promoting tourism; there’s not even a single hotel in town so unless you manage to finagle a room in some granny’s double-wide, you’re out of luck when it comes to accommodations. Let’s face it, Rathdrum isn’t really the kind of charming hamlet that anybody might visit just for the thrill of it; you’ve either got to know a resident or have some other practical explanation for going. I was raised in Coeur d’Alene, but I’d never actually had a reason to make that northern trek until I was well into my twenties and discovered an affordable animal clinic there. A friend of mine only ever makes it up for the services of a specialty car mechanic. These are the kinds of mundane things that draw outsiders into the town, and people get in and get out as fast as possible.

I decided to attempt to uncover one or two neat and notable things about Rathdrum that might justify occasionally rolling into town on an afternoon drive. So I did just that recently, heading north on US95 on a drizzly spring day with an open mind and a hungry tummy. I pulled into a spot in the tiny downtown district to snap a few pictures and jot down some notes. Looking up, I noticed four mustachioed faces suspiciously glaring back at me from inside the window of One Eye’s Tavern. I realized that maybe this not-so-welcoming committee had me pegged as an undercover agent of some type, the type Rathdrum folks might not really be so keen on. Cheese Rock cover band Nova was to be the featured act that night, and I thought about sneaking in to request “Smoke on the Water,” but I’d already blown any chance to blend in unnoticed.

Moving on, I slowly drove past mostly empty old buildings with a scant few shops including a thrift store, which might have been a reason to actually get out of the car, but sadly it was closed. One large historic building had been given a noticeable renovation, reborn as an architect’s office, its exterior heights cleverly topped with bronco-riding cowboy statuettes in lieu of gargoyles. Massive Dodge trucks clogged all available parking spots in front of the Wildwood Saloon, a rowdy beer hall that survived the great fires of 1890 and 1924, as well as the great Mullet Wars of 1988 and 2006. Conveniently, both downtown bars are located across the street from junk-cluttered daycare centers, in case you have that urge to ditch the wee ones and pop in for some Jack Daniels shots.

Hunger was beginning to harsh my mini-tour of Rathdrum so I decided to check out “the other side of the tracks” and seek sustenance on Highway 53. I was first drawn in by the prospect of Mexican food at El Molino, which with its dusty orange and green exterior, looked like it popped directly out of 1975. I chickened out after spying not a single car in the lot, just a skeletal old cowboy doddering dolefully around by the door. Up the road, Granny’s Pantry looked like a decent prospect, but the little log cabin was too hopping with action. Surely not a bad thing for them, and either they must serve good food or they serve free beer, but I needed instant gratification with minimal fuss.

A cow-shaped mailbox caught my peripheral vision and an unseen magical force made me veer suddenly left and into the parking lot of Burger Heaven. Never before was an establishment so meaningfully, perfectly named. Burger Heaven is the big crossing over, the Burger nirvana, the divine ecstasy of the Holy Burger Mother. Burger lovers spend their lives praying to the Burger Gods trying to attain this final reward when they shuffle off this mortal bun. The point is, it’s a damn good burger. I’d even put out there the possibility of it being the best burger in North Idaho. And by the miracle graces of thousands of blessed bovine angels, its here on Earth in a non-descript building up in dowdy old Rathdrum.

The drive-in style menu lists dozens of burger varieties in single, double or triple patty formats, chicken and shrimp baskets, sandwiches, shakes and malts, even some monumental breakfast burritos. I was delighted to discover my all-time favorite burger featured as “Mark’s Special” and I ordered it complete with the obligatory fries-and-a-Dr.-Pepper upgrade. It’s a thick patty topped with bacon, bleu cheese crumbles, and grilled onions, and the way Burger Heaven does it works a new kind of magic on this delectable combo. Burger Heaven’s bacon is thick cut and super crisp, not the dreaded limp and chewy stuff. The rich onions and the sharp twang of the bleu cheese detonated the flavor of the juicy ground beef in an overload of umami bliss. The fries were golden perfect fantasies and even my Dr. Pepper seemed somehow enlightened by all the glorious burger beatitude.

Burger Heaven was clean and welcoming, an Eden teeming with lush green, oxygen-producing plants, retro booths in lurid shades of orange and blue, oldies on the radio dial, and a huge mess of old-school video games bleeping in from in the arcade. You don’t necessarily expect flawless service in fast food places like this, but my rocker-girl server was hospitable and right on top of things, her black attire and endearingly mopey demeanor a perfect compliment to the comfortably somber skies. Burger Heaven is the choice fulfillment of my quest to name a reason to visit Rathdrum voluntarily, and for those seeking a transcendently tasty burger experience, it’s a pilgrimage worth making repeatedly.


Dogwalkmusings said...

I read your SR review and laughed until I cried. Hub said, "He's gonna get letters!" I guess he was right!

When we first moved here I saw a ton of potential in that town but it has been slow in coming. Having become acquainted with the then mayor I attended a lot of city council meetings which were akin to a weekly social and soon found out why.

The old timers, to this day, resist change. It's like pulling teeth or tooth as in brush that was invented there. As I was told by a native it would have been called a teeth brush had anyone had the need. That pretty much sums up the town and you hit it fairly and squarely!

The only claim to fame you missed was Taco Chic's salsa factory!

Kendra said...

Yep, I can see why you caught some flack on this one... but the shoe certainly fits. At least you never referred to it as "Rat-dump", which is the moniker I've always heard the town referred to as.

OrangeTV said...


OrangeTV's Review Angers Rathdrum

Wow. Guess my review of Burger Heaven has the town of Rathrdum in an uproar. My poor editor said it was "ravaging" toward the town and clipped about half of what I wrote from the print version and gave me quite an earful. Still, he's had nasty phone calls etc. from perturbed Rathdrumites. I stand by it - I really don't think I was THAT mean to Rathdrum and I think my descriptions of the town are maybe too close for comfort. Loosen up, folks! As usual, the uncensored version can be read here on my blog/OrangeTV, Get Out! North Idaho.

Question: Do you think OrangeTV was too touch on the Rathdrum burger joint?
Posted by DFO | 14 Apr 5:38 PM

There are 38 comments on this post. (XML Subscribe to comments on this post)

"Massive Dodge trucks clogged all available parking spots in front of the Wildwood Saloon, a rowdy beer hall that survived the great fires of 1890 and 1924, as well as the great Mullet Wars of 1988 and 2006."
Laugh Out Loud best line of 2008, Orange. Slight correction, though. It's the Westwood Saloon and I'm sorry you missed the Westwood Inn next door by a few years. They had the best homemade dinner rolls and a $6.95 sirloin that made the drive worth it for us a couple times a month. Sigh. *Historical note: when Rathdrum was the county seat, it was actually called Westwood. Seems some other Idaho town already had that name so the US Postal Service made them change it. Hence Rathdrum.

Posted by Jane Q. Citizen | 14 Apr 6:08 PM

TUBOB has said it was a great place, tho for all I know, that could have been tongue-in-cheek.
Posted by green libertarian | 14 Apr 6:18 PM

Mr. OTV you hit the nail on the head. I love your reviews you see things the way they are, not flowered up with political correctness and a twisted marketing BS. I have lived outside of Rathdrum for 22+ years. You saw it for what it is, I've always wonder what went wrong. The editor is wrong, keep on telling it like it is.
A review is worthless if its not truthful.

Note: we do have a great school district based here, thats the upside.
Posted by Wes | 14 Apr 6:18 PM

Actually, I thought his review was rather positive, did I miss something? (wouldn't be the first time)
Posted by green libertarian | 14 Apr 6:24 PM

Yeah Burger Heaven rocks, me and the kids usually snag some big meaty old sloppers and take em down to the park and eat them after a day at the lake.

I think OTV's cheap and predictable shot at a little North Idaho town, generalizing the residents to be some sort of Kentuckian nightmare of mulleted devil worshipping rubes living in crap strewn trailer parks is what has upset the fine people of Rathdrum. And coming so close on the heels of the big fake Johnny Depp Shoveled My Roof scandal last winter ... well, those poor Rathdrummers are down to their last nerves and OTV's strummed them like banjo strings.

But Burger Heaven ... mmmmm. Definitely worth the wait.
Posted by Bob | 14 Apr 6:31 PM

Well, it wasn't Burger Heaven I was tough on (quite the opposite actually). It was the rest of the town, supposedly. Thanks for the nice comments btw. Who shall be my next "victim"? Look out, Smelterville!
Posted by OrangeTV | 14 Apr 6:49 PM

Regarding your trashing Rathdrum: I suppose you think it's quite funny to trash our town. You are rude and obnoxious sir. I'd like to point out that Main Street is in the midst of a rebirth and most of the residents probably make quite a bit more a month than you do. Our town is a mix of many socioeconomic levels and we have flush toilets these days. I'd like to know what kind of a restaurant "critic" reviews fast food places. Can't the Spokesman afford to send you to more upscale restaurants? I love Burger Heaven, but why don't you go to a real restaurant. Don't you have shoes? It's easy to put us down, when you obviously don't know much about us. Quite soon there will be many reasons to visit our town - read your paper.
Posted by RathdrumBizWoman | 14 Apr 7:13 PM

RathdrumBiz makes a good point OTV, don't you ever review actual fine dining establishments? This slumming for nachos style of yours is getting kinda stale. Is it you don't know how to order in French? Is that it? Dude, surf the internet. Teach yourself. Au revoir.
Posted by Bob | 14 Apr 7:23 PM

Me, I'm partial to the Subway/A&W place in the Rathrum IGA. Have never seen those two places combined anywhere else.
Posted by green libertarian | 14 Apr 7:29 PM

Alas. I have never been to Rathdrum, and I have to say I'm more of a fine dining kinda gal.
That said, I read both of O.TV's reviews. I liked his uncensored version best. C'mon who doesn't recall the devil worshipper lore of old?
Sorry, your original didn't survive the editor's scalpel, Patrick.
But hey, you get paid either way!
Posted by Cindy H. | 14 Apr 7:49 PM

How much does the S-R pay its hired wordslingers for columns?
Posted by Bob | 14 Apr 7:57 PM

Orange: I posted something about this on the Wild Card. Keep up the good work, and as I said, it's an opinion which I thought pretty accurate.
Posted by The Stickman | 14 Apr 8:05 PM

Bob; I'm taking a guess here. But I'd say it's in the $75 to $100 range per column.
Posted by DFO | 14 Apr 8:13 PM


1. The SR does not pay for me to eat at all. I am not reimbursed one dime for my meals. I get paid the standard correspondent rate by the SR, look it up, can't be too hard to find. It's not a lot, but a nice bit of extra cash.

2. People tell me constantly that they LIKE the fact that my reviews cover less ritzy places that the average person can afford. I have done all kinds of places, upscale and down. Simply look at the list of past reviews on my blog. Thai Bamboo is next week, that's a nice place eh? Are there really very many Fine Gourmet dining spots in North Idaho? No. I have to just drop them in occasionally or I'll run out of nice places too soon.

3. I looked back through my archives, and I've never "reviewed nachos". I might do it though, why not. I'm planning on "reviewing" the vending machines at work soon.

4. Writing ain't my livelihood or even my career. I have a real job, doing what I went to college to do, making a decent middle-class wage. The column is just a sidetrack, a hobby. I'm not trying to ever get hired by Gourmet Magazine or whatever. I landed the gig completely by random accident and thanks to DFO.

4. RathdrumBizWoman: I do have shoes and I love how you threw that in your rant for no apparent reason.

5. I took six years of French. Va t'faire foutre, Bob. Tu es un chevre avec un coif.
Posted by OrangeTV | 14 Apr 8:17 PM

OTV; as a opinion writer -- and indeed food reviews are opinion -- you should read criticism for what it is: someone else's opinion. You can learn from constructive criticism -- and grow as a critic. You also shouldn't be discouraged by invalid criticism. You have developed a good following with your column. Therefore, you're doing something right. Trust your gut -- and keep on keeping on. You listen to too many people, and you'll drive yourself crazy.
Posted by DFO | 14 Apr 8:24 PM

DFO, could you delete that attack by OTV? I translated what he wrote in French and it's way over the line.

OTV is a big whiny ass. Zip it, chump.
Posted by Bob | 14 Apr 8:27 PM

You make a good point DFO about OTV learning from criticism. I've given him some constructive criticism over the years and he's actually toned down some of his more hackneyed and mannered stuff. He's also paid attention to my style and rips me off whenever he can :)

I don't mind, it's like little me's being born all over the internet. ;)
Posted by Bob | 14 Apr 8:29 PM

Way not fair for those of us who took Spanish in high school!

/Busily finding online translator before post is zapped/

Posted by Cindy H. | 14 Apr 8:31 PM

Most negative critics are very easy to ignore. The ones who get under my skin are the few whose opinions might actually mean something and maybe I'd even say admit I admire their own wild creative writing style and yet they always nitpick me and never have anything nice to say about my columns even when I stay away from the freakylicious adjectives and Tyler Wilson-isms and write about really fancy places like Carls Jr. Boo hoo! Just kidding.
Posted by OrangeTV | 14 Apr 8:36 PM

I'll translate. "You're a goat with a hairdo." It's a bit more creative than "big whiny ass" but maybe not as pointed.
Posted by OrangeTV | 14 Apr 8:39 PM

Posted by Sweet & Sour Herb | 14 Apr 8:41 PM

What else did you say up there, tough guy? Translate that for DFO.
Posted by Bob | 14 Apr 8:41 PM

Y'know, I don't care how bad the town is (and I don't think it's nearly as bad as OTV says); it's worth it if the burgers are truly that good. Wow, now I've got to try one next time I'm home, I'm bookmarking that review.
Posted by Transplanted Texan | 14 Apr 8:41 PM

Anyway, I don't have a hairdo really.
Posted by Bob | 14 Apr 8:43 PM

Bah. It's the French equivalent to the British colloquialism "Sod Off!" Use is common and fairly mild in France, despite the shock value an American English translation might impart.
Posted by OrangeTV | 14 Apr 8:47 PM

Lets do a little SAT word association to help people understand what all the hubub is about:

Rathdrum : Coeur d' Alene
Emida : St. Maries
Clark Fork : Sandpoint
Deary, Potlatch, Bovill: Moscow
Worley : Plummer

So OTV got a little carried away with his description of Rathrdum. Who cares? The same could be said for any of the associated towns above! Get over it!

Hey, OTV, if you really want a fun place to review, come down and visit the Spazz and I and we'll take you to one of Moscow's many fun and fab dining venues!
Posted by Digger | 14 Apr 8:49 PM

For those who don't know what SAT word assocation is...

Rathrdum is to Coeur d' Alene
Emida is to St. Maries

etc... I kinda messed it up, but you get the drift.

And OTV, if you head this way to do a review, you can mention all the long haired pinko commie college professors who wear Birkenstocks. We won't get mad - in fact some will wear that as a badge of honor.
Posted by Digger | 14 Apr 8:50 PM

OTV's column was very good. The fact he's got some in Rathdrum up in arms is a testament to his word slinging skillage. Granted, he'll get his ass kicked by local cowboys and loggers and railroad workers if he ever ends up at the Lightning Bar and Grill but overall, he did a nice job.

And yes, your writing is improving quite a bit, you're gaining a mature style.

Now get out and hit some nice places, dammit.
Posted by Bob | 14 Apr 8:54 PM

I just love it when Bob throws it down with the rest of the HBO Nation. Entertainment of the highest order. DFO should be eternally grateful that Bob shares the love here as often as he does.
Posted by Wally | 14 Apr 9:18 PM

Bob I must be the only person in this thread who detected your complete and utter sarcasm (translate THAT into French, sucka!)

OTV, great review, sir. Having covered the prairie for the Spokesman I can attest to your description of Rathdrum. They're most definitely growing but they still are tiny and there isn't much there - that is unless you want go check out the Radiant Lake subdivision's man-made pond and 15-foot-high fountains. ;)

Still, the place is neat. Just not much there. But I think that's why people live there. To be away from the "big city" of Spokane or Coeur d'Alene (OK, not so big city, but perhaps a tidbit more affordable and quieter).
Posted by Sam | 14 Apr 9:36 PM

Wally; I learned long ago that Bob is a definite plus to this blog. My challenge is to separate the best of Bob from the boogey-man Bob who scares away finicky commenters. It's not an easy task. He drove off a whole gaggle of Far Right commenters last spring before I figured out how to tap the brake on him to keep everyone in play. Then, he prolly did me a favor by chasing off the ones he did.
Posted by DFO | 14 Apr 10:09 PM

I love Rathdrum, I love the people and the place. Frankly, Orange gave a credible and honest description of the town and he was even a little nicer to Burger Haven then I would have first thought. Great Job Orangeman. Does Bob eat the bluecheese crumbles too?
Posted by ITK | 15 Apr 7:57 AM

Next victem...snake pit or that place in Murray.... Sprag pole?
Posted by ITK | 15 Apr 7:59 AM

Was the point of the piece a review of Rathdrum or a review of the burger joint (as the writer alluded), because if it's the latter his editor was probably too kind in his cutting. Honestly, just about every town in North Idaho could take the beating he gave Rathdrum, and all would be funny in that way one can amuse themselves at the expense of just about anyone, place or thing. Seriously, name a town and let a writer loose and a piece like this can be written about nearly all of them.

Was OTV really put off by the comment about him not wearing shoes? Surely, after writing a column like this -- can one suffer from an overdose of snark? -- that mild invective would not offend his obviously well developed sense of humor.
Posted by On the Palouse | 15 Apr 8:24 AM

I'm sure OTV can handle whats tossed at him. And don't call him Shirley.

(Sorry, can't pass up a good Airplane! reference)
Posted by Digger | 15 Apr 8:39 AM

Most reviews like advice are worth what you pay for them.
Posted by Eric Seaman | 15 Apr 9:42 AM

and indeed food reviews are opinion

I tend to think of them more as analysis than opinion. Anyone can walk into a restaurant and tell you whether they like the food or not. To be a good restaurant critic requires the knowledge and experience to explain why the food is or isn't worth the price. It's harder than it looks.
Posted by Ken Paulman | 15 Apr 10:00 AM

I love this from OTV: "Burger Heaven's bacon is thick cut and super crisp, not the dreaded limp and chewy stuff. The rich onions and the sharp twang of the bleu cheese detonated the flavor of the juicy ground beef in an overload of umami bliss."

Wow, I could actually HEAR his arteries clogging ;)

Keep up the good work, OTV. Can't wait to read about Smelterville.
Posted by John Austin | 15 Apr 12:03 PM

Gwen Renninger said...

Funny, funny stuff! I was searching for "cruelty free beef in North Idaho" and this came up. Although I meant cruelty free for the animals, not the people eating them, those Burger Heaven proprietors are friends of mine (love you guys!)so I was forced by rule of friendship to read this review. They work really hard at their business, so it was nice to see a good review for them-too bad the town didn't fare as well.You should plan another visit during "huntin' season" when all those fancy new pickups sitting outside The Westwood and One Eyes are accessorized by rifles in the back windows. Oh relax...I'm sure the only thing that's loaded are the drivers; the police station is right down the street you know. Rathdrum is a town where dreams are realized... but you missed that. You you said absolutely nothing about the donut lake on the Prairie. I definitely think you need to visit our little berg again and stay a while at a nice bed and breakfast or a condo rental at Twin Lakes. Soon, you won't even hear that train anymore, but you will find really nice folks, a perfect little park, and all the modern conveniences that make us all like to live here. I'll even buy you a burger!

Anonymous said...

Z and Maria are back better than ever at Burger Heaven. You will not meet nicer folks wanting to serve quality well priced Drive In food.

Michelle said...

OMG, I love it!

We moved to Rathdrum four years ago and even after all this time, we still drive through town and shake our heads, we just wish there was one cool place to hang out...

Thanks for the fun post, I totally enjoyed it.

viagra online said...

They're most definitely growing but they still are tiny and there isn't much there that is unless, but anyone can check that's nor problem it's just that they are not gonna see to much.

viagra online said...

They're most definitely growing but they still are tiny and there isn't much there - that is unless you want go check out the Radiant Lake subdivision's man-made pond and 15-foot-high fountains.

Anonymous said...

Just to update this,
Burger Heaven is now Paul Bunyan.