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Center of the Universe 

Eating a slice of history in “downtown” Wallace, Idaho

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My travel partner and I began our trip to Wallace, Idaho, with a few questions. Is the mining town more than a fueling-up spot for travelers along Highway 90? Is it overnight staycation worthy? And most importantly, what can we eat? After all, this is the self-proclaimed “center of the universe.”

The former mayor of Wallace, Ron Garitone, proclaimed in 2004 that Wallace was at the middle of everything. How did Wallace, a scrappy county seat of 784 residents who’ve survived devastating fires and the boom-and-bust cycle of mining earn such a distinction? Well, if you head to the city’s website, you’ll find that the tongue-in-cheek declaration hinges on the notion that no one could disprove that Wallace is not indeed the center of the universe.

But on that website, you’ll learn some provable facts about Wallace. The entire downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1997 film Dante’s Peak was shot there. The place is a hotbed of Americana: Hiawatha bicycle trails, the new Silver Streak zipline tour, mining and railroad museums, 6th Street Theater & Melodrama, and the quirky Oasis Bordello Museum. Nearby is hiking, Cataldo Mission, floating the Coeur d’Alene River, the Silver Mountain gondola and the “ghost” mining town of Burke.

Not a bad resume.

Dining in Wallace

1313 Club
608 Bank St.
208-752-9391

Silver Tea Room
618 Bank St.
208-556-1500

Red Light Garage
302 5th St
208-556-0575

Hub Cafe @ Vintage Games
509 Cedar St.
208-752-1810

Smoke House BBQ & Saloon
424 Sixth St.
208-659-7539

City Limits Pub (North Idaho
Mountain Brewing)

Wallace RV Park
108 Nine Mile Rd
208-556-1120

Wallace Brewing
610 Bank St.
208-660-3430

When we arrived, we settled on things we do well and easily: shopping and dining. There’s Tabor’s Emporium, Fonk’s, Parlor Antiques and Klock Tower. North Idaho Trading Company harkens to history buffs with railroad items and a zooful of animal mounts. The Cobblestone features three floors of antiques as fascinating as the owner, who walks around town often trailed by his orange tabbycat.

Collectibles and cuisine co-mingle at Price Tag Antiques with its Silver Tea Room. Afternoon Tea ($7/person) is served in china cups with dessert or savory finger food. Full Tea ($15/person) is a five-course “high” tea of scones, fruit, sandwiches, salad and tea varieties. For added affectation, the owner loans out her vintage hats so you can feel like the Queen Mum herself. And Vintage Games features the Hub, with an old-fashioned soda fountain serving 16 sandwiches ($4.95-5.95 half/$7.50-9.50 whole) named for area mines and classic desserts like the brownie sundae ($4.95).

For more substantial fare, the 1313 Club specializes in comfort foods, quick service and a casual place to enjoy whatever’s on tap — like the Vindicator IPA — from next door’s Wallace Brewing. For hearty appetites, there’s ample meat in the Molly B Damn That’s a Big Burger ($9.25), so named for an 1880s prostitute who nursed miners during a smallpox outbreak. Pulaski Hot Beef is prime rib on Texas Toast, mashed potatoes and gravy ($10.95), honoring the U.S. Forest ranger who saved fellow crewmen during a 1910 fire and is credited with designing the Pulaski tool.

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke. Indulge your primal self at Smoke House BBQ & Saloon with tender wings (mild or hot) cooled by a dip in homemade ranch ($6.50 six/$11.50 twelve). Can’t decide? The sampler is Andouille sausage, pulled pork, beef brisket and two ribs ($10.50). Pair up drunken spicy shrimp boil ($7.95 quarter-pound to $21.99 full pound) with the 1940s-era St. Tammany Parish Hurricane ($5.75) made with rum and mixer from New Orleans’ legendary bar owner Pat O’Brien’s. (If Cajun spice doesn’t make you lift your shirt, the drink might.)

There’s a bit of bayou in the Muffuletta (ham, salami, provolone and green olive sauce; $8.25) at Red Light Garage, otherwise known for its burritos, burgers, and funky floor-to-ceiling decor like the claw-foot couch, collection of hot sauce bottles and assorted musical instruments.

On the edge of town — which spans about five square blocks — is City Limits Pub, headquarters for Wallace RV Park and North Idaho Mountain Brewing. Although they’re still fine-tuning the menu and service, the beer alone is worth the trip. Red Amber paired perfectly with tender house-made sausage ravioli — choice of alfredo or marinara — ($13), while Loft Honey softened the bite of jalapeno cream, cabbage and salsa in beer-battered cod tacos ($8).

The next morning it was over to D&G Bakery, which uses North Idaho Mountain Brewing’s spent grain in their Brewery Bread ($5.95 loaf). Our souvenir of Wallace — besides a good time — was pumpkin bread for the road and plans to return someday soon ... to the center of the universe.

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