As the car rounds death-defying switchbacks on the dazzlingly beautiful ride to Hell’s Backbone Grill and Boulder Mountain Lodge, it’s no surprise to learn that Boulder, Utah, still received its mail by mule train until 1942. Still stranger is the tale of how this tiny restaurant in a tiny town (population 180) in the wilderness of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument came to be known across the state, written up in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and to have its recipes featured in Oprah Winfrey’s magazine.
Chefs Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle bought the grill in 2000, gradually creating a menu from homegrown and locally sourced food and drink. They wanted amazing food firmly connected to place, created in the spirit of love and service. Local ingredients—like blue corn and pinons (pine nuts from western pine trees), jicama, hominy, trout, chiles in every shape and size, and foraged foods like juniper berries—are the foundation of the menu. They’re cooked in a kitchen suffused with good will and an aspiration to make others happy, which Blake believes to be the secret to good food.
Eventually, word spread about the extraordinary meals served from the little kitchen. Salt Lake magazine declared their house salad among the best in the state. O, the Oprah Magazine featured a lemon chiffon cake recipe from Hell’s Backbone Grill. Zagat and Fodor’s guides both acknowledged the restaurant as one of the best in southern Utah. And traveling Tibetan monks began to show up for meals and lodging.
Blake and Jen collected their stories, rounded up local personalities, and wrote down 65 of their best recipes in a beautiful cookbook, With a Measure of Grace. If recipes can capture a fraction of the remoteness and splendor of Hell’s Backbone Grill in its setting, then the recipes are beautiful indeed. Here are three of our favorites.
With a Measure of Grace, The Story and Recipes of a Small Town Restaurant, by Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle with Lavinia Spalding
—By Nicki Pendleton Wood