This article was first published online at deseretnews.com and can be found here.
For our latest adventure, we headed south to Fillmore to try out a drive-inn that was recommended by some of our fans.
Like most who travel south on Interstate 15, we have gone by Fillmore knowing basically two things about it: Fillmore love to advertise that it was Utah’s first capitol, and if you are in the mood for a round of golf, Fillmore has a course. Beyond that, it was just another small town on the side of the road we passed on our way to somewhere else.
What we got out of this trip is that Fillmore has a lot to offer for anyone who decides to actually give it a chance. For example, there are about seven volcanoes within 25 miles of the town, some of them heavy with lava tubes, which are remnants of old lava rivers. We were also impressed by the beautiful scenery of the mountains behind the city. There was something else, though, that is probably one of the best parts of this city: A 1950s car hop that has its fifth family generation working it, namely Cluff’s Carhop Cafe.
Now, Cluff’s won’t take you back to when cars were made of steel and grease was the current hair gel, but it will definitely make you wish you had been there. As you roll up to the small red brick building with its large awning and the accompanying benches and tables, don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity of the place. While the building itself may be simple, the food is far from it.
Something happened on this trip that doesn’t often happen; in fact, this is the first time this has ever happened during the time we’ve been working on Utah’s Forks in the Road: We ordered a salad as one of our main entrees. Yep, a salad — a grilled chicken salad, to be exact. One of the employees recommended it, so we went for it — and weren’t disappointed in the very least. Most of the time when one orders a chicken salad from a restaurant, one can expect to at least get basic greens with some vegetables and some pieces of chicken. At Cluff’s, it’s a different story. Each salad is a work of art. Fresh veggies, fruit, and wonderfully flavored and moist chicken. They even chopped the radish to make it look like a flower. It’s the little things that show they care, and these guys care a lot.
Gayle Cluff, the owner and primary cook, is the third generation family owner of the building and restaurant, which his grandfather built back in 1950. To us, this shows a passion not just for making food so the business looks good, but also because it makes his family legacy look good. That legacy is being carried on, as he also employs his granddaughter, making this a five-generation restaurant.
While asking Cluff the regular questions about the car hop’s history, we also asked him if there was anything else that he wanted our readers to know. He made sure to emphasize that “this is quality food; we don’t use cheap ingredients.” This idea really showed not just in the salad, but in the burger we ordered, too. We have had a lot of great burgers, and something that was apparent in Cluff’s bleu cheese bacon burger was the fact that you could taste everything. Nothing was overpowering or not powerful enough; each bite contained the smoky taste of bacon with the sour taste of the cheese and the fresh, meaty burger.
Cluff tries his best to get products locally (such as their fried mushrooms), but if it isn’t possible, he makes sure that his customers will get the next best thing. In his words, “This isn’t cheap food.”
Not only is the food worth the stop, but if you really are in such a rush that you can’t get food, do yourself a favor and stop by and at least get a drink. Cluff’s has a whole array of unique drinks. If you like cream soda, the Ironport is worth a stop every time you are close to Cluff’s. This “super cream soda/root beer” is a rarity, and we have only seen it at one other place in Kamas at the Hi Mountain Drug Store. If cream soda isn’t your fancy then, get any of the fresh limes. We got the raspberry, and there really isn’t anything like fresh-squeezed lime soda, to which the raspberry just a little something that made it dynamite.
If you still need some convincing, go and try the watermelon lemonade. We have never had anything like it, and it is Gayle Cluff’s own concoction. The only way we can describe the taste it is like a watermelon Starburst, mixed with the feeling you have on a hot summer day after you have been playing a sport. It satisfies the need to relax after doing something tiring. Seriously good.
Cluff’s Carhop is full of 60 years of rural Utah history, and Fillmore is filled with its own great history and plenty of things worth doing. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss out on the adventure. We spent three hours in Fillmore and were entertained the whole time. We are confident you would enjoy 30 minutes. Cluff’s is only one minute and 49 seconds (yes, we timed it!) off the first exit in Fillmore, so the excuse that it’s out of the way doesn’t apply. The food is priced as well or better than the fast food chain restaurants you’ll find there, but that is where comparisons end. Cluff’s Carhop Cafe is a great treat, and a real fork in the road.
You can find Cluff’s Carhop Cafe at 270 N. Main Street in Fillmore, Utah.
That’s it for this time, friends. Until next time…stay hungry, and don’t forget your fork.
All the food shown in these photos was paid for by the restaurant.