9627 N. Highway 95, Hayden.
Seventeen years worth of dust seems to powder much of the Old West themed bric-a-brac that decorates the lofty wooden crannies and clutter corners of the Rustler’s Roost. The exterior’s once-bright red paint job is washed out and the building itself seems slightly gimpy, causing the place to take on the appearance of a well-weathered barn rather than that of one of North Idaho’s proudest, most famous eateries. Bulldozers have recently begun pushing around dirt in the lot adjacent to the current location, the first evidence of the future direction of the Roost, a place that will be their first brand-new, built-from-scratch location ever and their fourth overall. It’s the latest segment in a long history which, despite the relocations, has actually seen very few overall changes food-wise and aesthetically. Given the similarly down-home vibes of past locations, I have high hopes they’ll find a way to carry the Roost’s comfortingly dingy ambience over into the new building.
Perhaps it is getting a bit frazzled, but the Hayden location has served the Roost well since 1991. I remember vividly the shock and horror when owners Woody and Daren McEvers announced they were abandoning downtown Coeur d’Alene location and moving north for cheaper rent. The closure of the mega-popular gathering spot caused the demise of countess Coeur d’Alene subcultures, and created a hole in the fabric of downtown life that dozens of uppity cafes and jazzy wine bars still can’t replace.
Those who followed Woody and the gang up US-95 discovered right away that the physical location of the Roost was thankfully the only perceptible change. The labyrinthine building which once held a retro-futuristic spaghetti house had been re-formatted as a trip back in time to a wild-west ghost town. Suddenly, the 7-mile trip to Hayden never seemed so long as on a Sunday morning with a snarly tummy and an irrepressible craving for a “famous country breakfast”.
There were quite a few of us Pike Street Tea addicts who had no choice but to make the transition, needing desperately to feel the familiar squeeze of the plastic honey bottle and the steamy warmth of the sweet, spicy brew drifting up into our cold faces. A few of the long-time waitresses made the transition as well and amazingly, some remain to this day. If serving tables was a degree-earning skill, these ladies would all hold double doctorates – they’re incredibly down to Earth, fast as heck, and charming even in foul moods, yours or theirs.
On a recent weekend morning visit, the lobby was in its usual elbow-to-elbow state and Woody was running the chaotic show at the front counter. Despite the mad hungry throng, Woody was calm as can be, answering folks who asked about the wait time with a smile and a vague “Oh, not much time at all…” Realistically, the wait can be anywhere from five to twenty minutes, and is certainly worth it, but he probably knew that if he said specifically “fifteen minutes”, a lot of people might not stick around for a table. As we sat waiting, I had to point and chuckle at the irony of the “Lose Weight Fast” CD on display for sale in the waiting area – I wondered how many they sell to miserably full regretful dieters on their way out.
We were seated by Woody himself, who wiped our table and apologized for the wait, rolling his eyes and saying “Sorry guys, must be the all rain today that’s bringing all these people in here.” Funny, seems like it’s busy like that pretty much every time I drop in, rain or shine.
Many people know that Woody moonlights as a Coeur d’Alene City Councilman, but few realize that he’s also the Governor of Great Gravy. Or at least, that’s what we decided he is, the original mastermind behind such intense breakfast situations as the Wrangler, the Maverick or the Bull Rider, which are two eggs, home fried potatoes, biscuits and that awe-inspiring gravy served with, respectively, piles of bacon, sausage or beef patties. The Oakland Special is a ham and veggie egg-scramble, the Redneck is a three biscuit whammy, and even the Lightweight is actually pretty heavy.
Long-time customers don’t even fuss with a menu, knowing exactly what to ask for: “Wagon Master please, eggs over easy, extra gravy.” Portions are humongous, and most breakfasts come spread delightfully across two or three separate plates. The hotcakes here are bigger than the platter they come on, and the hot cinnamon roll automatically comes with a to-go box since no-one can finish a whole one without croaking.
Rustler’s Roost is also worth checking out for their excellent diner-style lunches, some featuring their wonderful tangy original2 BBQ sauce, like the fresh grilled burgers, smothered roast beef sandwiches, and thick slices of pit ham. Noontime classics abound like tuna melts, BLTs, and you can even get your fix of comfort foods like liver & onions and meatloaf, served mom-style with mashed potatoes and a green salad.
I elected to go with the Rustler’s Special, an old stand-by which is the same three-egg combo as above with chicken fried steak. We realized with awe that their already-incredible biscuits had somehow grown larger and become flakier, and the gravy was addictive as ever, perfect atop every portion of the meal, even the sublime scrambled eggs. The home fries were as good as they’ve been consistently since the 80’s, small potatoes sliced into circles and fried flavorfully dark.
My only minor complaint this time was that the chicken-fried steak was noticeably different than usual, as if they’d run out of fresh cube steak and had to use perhaps a frozen, Salisbury-steak sort of thing. It was a little on the rubbery side, but just fine, especially after I smothered it with enough dank gravy to justify ordering myself a nice Lipitor for dessert.