A Story of Discovery, Change, And Not Judging A Book By Its Cover
By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily
Sometimes it takes a lot of hard work to bring you these stories of food exploration. Sometimes things don’t go as planned.
Today, it was “one of those days.” At one point, I almost threw in the towel and took up the trombone. Don’t worry, it all worked out in the end, and I walked away fatter and happier for the experience.
As you might have noticed, restaurants and cafes all across Wyoming are undergoing a profound change. Hit hard by the covid pandemic of 2020 through 2021, many places are changing ownership, or they have just closed all together.
It takes a special kind of person, and a special kind of drive, to run your own business, to be the master of one’s own ship. Sadly it doesn’t take much to run aground, as the pandemic has brought to light.
Sometimes it just takes that special person to grab the rudder, and chart a new course.
Recently, looking for someplace to sink my fork, I thought about Glenrock. A half hour east of Casper by back road, Glenrock is much like many towns I’ve told you about. Small, tight-knit communities with quiet streets. A place where everyone knows you, and you just can’t keep a secret if you wanted to. Towns like this, and Glenrock is no exception, normally hold a gem at their center. Finding a gem like that would be my quest today.
I had planned on checking out a place that a friend found online that he said has good reviews, if you were to believe Tripadvisor. So my friend and I headed towards Glenrock.
While on the way, I looked up directions to the restaurant, and right there on Google maps, in bold red letters, was “Closed permanently!” Strike one.
Ok, now what? I know, I know! I should have checked before leaving, but it was too late now, we were halfway there.
A quick online scroll through nearby eateries showed another restaurant with great reviews and nice photos. Choosing that one, Google quickly rerouted me, and we were back on track.
Now I’m going to withhold the name of this second candidate as well, because I’m not here to tell you where not to eat, but rather help you find someplace you would enjoy.
As we get closer, Google Maps speaks up and says “Your destination is on the right,” but where? I don’t see it. Oh, NOW I see it. I wasn’t impressed from the outside, but the photos online painted another picture. What the heck. I’ve already come this far so why not?
As I opened the door to this replacement destination, the cigarette smoke slapped me so hard that I immediately released the door handle, letting the door slowly close, taking the stench with it. This isn’t the place for me, and probably not for you either. Strike two.
Back to Google Maps.
This time, I found a possible third place worth writing about. The Higgins Hotel and Paisley Shawl Restaurant had a rating of 4.5 to 5 online with 59 reviews. Sounds promising. We’ll see.
I notice this is an old hotel, but I didn’t think that had anything to do with the restaurant, especially after the good feedback online. I walk into the main lobby and I can see straight through to the dining room. Well-set tables with folded white linen napkins were neatly stood at each place setting. Now we’re talking!
There was just one problem. There were no people in the dining room. No servers, and it was then I noticed, no smell of food. Was I too early for service?
It was just then a clerk mysteriously popped up at the front desk, and I do mean mysteriously, like someone rubbed a lamp and he was there to grant me three food wishes, so I asked if the restaurant was open.
“Not yet,” he replied.
“When does it open?” I asked.
“Summer” said the clerk.
I turned to my friend, while hiding my inner frustration and growing hunger, and jokingly said, “I’ll have a seat in the lobby and wait!”
Turning back to the clerk, he explained that the hotel was in the middle of being bought out. See? There’s that trend again. Plans are to resume dining service later this summer.
Ok, that explains it, however, that means swing and a miss! STRIKE THREE!
It was then that I thought about throwing in the towel and calling the day a wash, but being your culinary champion, I soldiered on. Asking the clerk if there was any place in town to get a good meal, and he suggested Classic Cafe & Pizza right across the street. I looked at my friend and back at the clerk, but he had vanished as suddenly as he appeared. I later found out that this hotel was haunted, but that’s another story.
To be honest, I was looking for something a little more than a diner to tell you about this time, yet I was really hungry, so I thought I would just get some food and try again another day.
As I walked up to the front of the cafe, it seemed like many other establishments I’ve visited before. Kinda simple, kinda unassuming, just a diner. But when I opened the door, instead of being greeted by smoke and gloom or a disappearing clerk, this time it was the smell of food coming from a kitchen, and diners! I mean people! Customers! Was this where the town was hiding its gem?
As I took a seat in a sparkly red upholstered booth. The waitress came over and introduced herself as Wendy and, as is custom, she took our drink orders while I browsed the menu.
I saw a great selection of starters and one choice stood out, “Rattlesnake Bites.” I knew this wasn’t real snake, but rather a jalapeno popper, as they are sometimes called. Split jalapeno peppers filled with cream cheese and then breaded, but in this case, wrapped in bacon before being sent for a swim in the fryer. This is one of my all time favorite starters, so there’s that part decided.
Looking further, I noticed the other items I could have chosen, like potato skins, chili cheese fries, and even a pound of wings, with my choice of sauces.
There were lots of sandwiches, like the crispy chicken club that sounded good, as well a steak and cheddar dip. Below that was a Philly Steak sandwich, served with peppers, onions and in this case a side of au jus. This would be my friend’s choice, but I was still looking.
There was a good selection of salads, but remember, this quest left me hungry, and my hunger was getting worse, so I looked on.
A burger sounded good, but then I’m always telling you about those, although the blackened cajun burger made me pause and think. The next section below the burgers was the “South of The Border” fare.
Rolled enchiladas, tacos, burritos and chicken quesadillas all competing for my fork’s attention. Not being one to disappoint, I’m going to order the combination platter, which is a smothered burrito, an enchilada and a taco, served with rice and beans. Can’t go wrong with combinations, huh?
Wendy returned with our drinks and shortly after, the Rattlesnake Bites. As she was taking our order, we chatted a bit, and she told me that soon she is going to be taking over as owner of the restaurant, hopefully by the end of the year, and that the current owners are ready to retire.
As I’ve written before and as mentioned above, many restaurants in Wyoming are doing this very same thing. The Chugwater Soda Fountain just changed ownership, as has the the Winchester Steakhouse in Buffalo — which is now The Cattleguard Steakhouse — so it was no surprise that this diner is going through such a change.
With owners Doug and Michelle Dohetry planning to retire by year’s end, Wyoming native and the cafe’s 8-year veteran server Wendy Sinske already has plans to continue it as a family-run establishment.
Sinske is not just a server at Classic Cafe & Pizza, she’s a budding entrepreneur.
“I have been ready to buy, for three years now, and this is my chance,” said Sinske, adding “My husband and I don’t want to work for anyone else. We want to work for ourselves.”
That screams Wyoming, doesn’t it?
With plans to pick up the baton, or wooden spoon, and continue the cafe, there aren’t many plans to change much else.
“Glenrock residents don’t like a lot of change. They don’t mind new things, but they want the flavors they currently enjoy.” says Sinske.
It appears the cafe and its fresh-made pizza dough, the house-made dressings and other Glenrick favorites are safe from the trend that’s closing so many Wyoming eateries.
Now let me tell you about those Rattlesnake Bites. These jalapenos were a few notches above others that I’d had before. I’ve had some that were just battered and breaded imposters, masquerading as a pepper. Some that were just a breaded, pepper shaped, blob of cheese that sat briefly sat next to a jalapeno. Thankfully, these emerald beauties were the real deal!
The bacon on the outside was crispy and in return for its crispiness, it protected the cream cheese and the pepper beneath. Not a spicy pepper, these had just a hint of heat on the back of the tongue that slowly built with each passing bite. Several times I contemplated not eating them all, because I wanted to save room for the main course.
It was a fleeting thought, as the peppers were quickly consumed. If this was an indication of what was to come, I was ready for it.
After a short wait, Wendy and her friendly smile returned with our lunch.
Now a burrito is often just as burrito, but sometimes, it’s A BURRRRITO! Yes, that was typed with an accent. This “burrrrito” was a real plate filler! And how they stuffed the enchilada and taco on that plate, along with the rice, beans and a copious amount of cheese, was nothing short of diner sorcery! Go on! Have a look at this photo, as taken from the international space station. Huge, right?
Next down on the table was the Philly Steak sandwich. As cheesesteaks go, this one had it all. And it had one thing that most places forego, the au jus! I mean what’s a cheesesteak if you can’t dip it into that liquid gold siphoned off from the roasting pan?
Ok, raise your hand if you’ve had a bun so hard that it was probably used to tenderize the meat, or one so soggy that it was like it was never baked? Yeah, me too! This Philly had neither. A perfectly soft bun filled with tender steak, cheese, and loaded with grilled peppers and onion.
The bowl of au jus should have been served with a diving board attached, because if there’s any left after dipping, you’ll want to go for a swim.
Don’t worry. I didn’t forget about the burrito. After a perfect bite with some of the rice and beans on the side, I could see it was filled to overflowing with moist flavorful beef. The tortilla was soft and tender and the red chili smothering it all kept it that way. This was a burrito worthy of note.
The taco was equally as good, with a crispy shell protecting well seasoned beef, topped with cheese and all the fixings, but I was half way through the burrito when I remembered the enchilada was down there somewhere.
I mounted a fork expedition and dug my way down to it and there, hiding beneath the taco, was a beefy cheesy treat that made the whole plate worth it.
Sorry mom! I’ll have to be honest, I didn’t eat everything on my plate. I mean, how could I? It was huge to begin with, and the Rattlesnake Bites got me halfway to full. Gleefully, this was a take out box meal.
You can see that what started out as a trip with a specific destination turned into a three strike disappointment, but ended with a meal worth writing about after all. Had I given up after the third strike, or dismissed the Classic Cafe & Pizza as just another diner and had I not opened the door, my day would have been wasted.
Sometimes, the good things in life are like geodes, you have to crack them open to find the hidden gems inside. Glenrock and the Classic Cafe & Pizza are just waiting for you to crack them open too.
The Classic Cafe & Pizza is located at 201 S 4th Street in Glenrock
Their hours are Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until 8:30 p.m., closed Sundays.
They can be reached at 307-436-2244 or check out their Facebook page.
Wendy says not to be confused by another restaurant elsewhere in the country, with the same name. There’s only one in Glenrock.