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RECIPE of the MONTH - January 2008

Got Milt’s?
By Annabelle Numaguchi

Milt's lunch counterMilt’s, the friendly no-frills burger joint located at the corner of 4th East and Mill Creek, qualifies as a local landmark. It meets two criteria that I use to judge a place so. First, when you mention it everybody in town knows where and what you’re talking about. Second, I always recommend it to visitors to Moab. Although I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek, it’s sort of like going to Delicate Arch; it’s a step back in time, one geological, while the other nostalgic.

Milt’s history, and it has one, goes back to 1954, when Milt Galbraith opened the diner. Today, when you eat at Milt’s, you go back to that same time period, as practically nothing has changed. The vinyl-topped stools, the patterned Formica counter which overlooks the open grill and kitchen are all original. Despite its age, the restaurant remains neat and inviting, illuminated by large windows on three sides of the small building. It’s a challenge to find the differences between a photo of Milt’s taken on its opening day to one taken today.

The one feature that has not remained is Milt, himself. After running this successful eatery for 24 years, he sold it and relinquished the reins to the next owner, who also kept it for over two decades. Despite Milt’s long retirement from the restaurant, his imprint and influence remain today. Recently, the establishment has changed hands several times, landing in the very capable ones of B.C. LaPrade and Danelle Ballangee, who respect the institution of the diner.

Danelle Ballengee and B. C. LaPrade

They are young, fresh and are bringing many interesting experiences with them that will enhance, but not change, the core of Milt’s. With his extensive experience as a chef and proprietor of a café in Leadville, LaPrade is obviously in his element behind the counter. He is as adept at recreating a favorite menu item as creating new ones. The down-home chile at Milt’s, still made from the original recipe, tastes as it always has, attested to by Milt himself who still comes in occasionally. LaPrade is placing his mark on the menu, too, by adding new items, such as the Santa Fe Burger with green chiles, pepper-jack and chipotle sauce and specials like a Dill-Havarti Grilled Salmon Hoagie Melt. Most importantly, he knows when to keep tradition alive and when to push the boundaries, gastronomically-speaking.

The thing is, when cook and customer are only a few feet away from one another, the customer is not going in just for food. Milt’s relies heavily on local business, and many of the people who eat there have been coming since it opened, back when they were kids. Like the “Cheers” theme song describes, they come here because “everybody knows your name,” and they expect familiarity in the form of a feeling, an atmosphere and familiar flavors.

Another aspect of the diner that hasn’t changed in the last fifty years is its good value. The prices have barely risen over the years and you can still get a burger for under $5 or a meal that costs in the single digits. The quality of the food is also reminiscent of a former era, offering home-made fries, all-natural chicken and meat from local butcher, Ye Old Geezer. Milt’s is home to probably the best deal in town, found in the form of the Chili Cheeseburger, which comes with two patties, for $5.55.

With an open set up that is reminiscent of bellying-up-to-the-bar, Milt’s offers the opportunity for conversation as well as a cheeseburger. This expectation places a certain responsibility on the new owners, who have fascinating stories to tell. Even if you don’t recognize Ballangee’s name, I bet you’ve heard of her.
A year ago, Ballangee, an endurance athlete and coach, went for a trail run around Amasa Back, slipped on ice and spent 52 of the longest hours of her life fighting the cold and pain from a cracked pelvis by doing crunches continuously. She has singlehandedly brought shower caps back in fashion as she relied on the one she wisely carries in her pocket to store body heat during this grueling survival experience. This remarkable story has been recorded in various newspapers and magazines, but those who visit Milt’s might get lucky enough to hear it first hand.

Knowing that Ballangee was an elite athlete and has earned a certain celebrity status because of the ordeal she survived, I was pleased to discover that both she and LaPrade are warm, unassuming people. In responding to my interest in her story, Ballangee made a distinct point of how grateful she is to the exceptional Search-and-Rescue team of Moab, who followed her dog, Taz, to where she was had fallen and for handling the situation so efficiently. In all the coverage her story received, she wishes that they had received more recognition, including locally.

Whether you’re stopping in for a burger, a shake or some company, you’re sure to find an authentic old-fashioned diner experience at Milt’s. Located on the way to the world-class mountain bike Slick Rock Trail, it’s the perfect spot to refuel and swap stories. In our increasingly complex society, Milt’s offers nostalgia and a last bastion for the best parts of a simpler era.

Milt’s is open from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. every day and can be reached at 259-7424. Pick up is available.

Recipe of the Month

Macademia Nut Crusted Salmon Steaks
with Horseradish-Tarragon Mustard Sauce

2 oz. Chopped Macademia Nuts
1 cup bread crumbs
4 5 oz. Salmon filets
1 egg, beaten
½ cup water
3/4 cup oil
Salt and pepper

Mix the bread crumbs and nuts. Dip the salmon in the water and beaten egg, really soaking the salmon. Dredge the salmon in the chopped nuts and bread crumb mixture, really coating the salmon. Fry the salmon steaks in the oil for about four minutes, until crispy. Place the salmon in the oven at 250 degrees to finish the cooking process.

Horseradish-Tarragon Mustard Sauce

3 Tbsp. Butter
½ cup white wine
1 tsp. Tarragon leaves
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Horseradish (minced)
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter, add wine, tarragon, mustard and horseradish. Simmer until reduced by half. Add the cream. Simmer 1 minute and season.

Serve the salmon in a puddle of sauce with your favorite vegetable and starch.

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