July 12, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Roger’s returns nearly intact, and what a tasty return it is

By The Spokesman-Review
 

“Quick! Grab it before your teacher sees it!” I whispered to the little girl. She was glaring teary-eyed in shock and sadness at her just-dropped chocolate ice cream cone on the sidewalk, which seemed to be looking up at her like it would hop back up into her hand on its own free will if it could.

She was among a group of about 20 hyperactive preschool-age Art Camp kids and two very frantic Art Camp teachers still all dressed up in their Kiddie Parade outfits. They’d decided to besiege an already busy Roger’s Ice Cream moments before my arrival. The little girl gave me a quick wide-eyed glance and went for it, rescuing her rapidly melting treat in the nick of time.

“Five-second rule, it’ll be all right,” I told her, but she was already too far gone back into her ice cream to care, detachedly covering her face and hair with chocolate goo, as if it were one of her Art Camp projects. I listened to each and every one of those kids approach the girl at the walk-up window and order their ice cream. “Um … I’ll have a … uh … um … vanilla!”

After the long, grueling moments of indecision, almost every kid would pick plain old vanilla, with only a couple of token chocolates thrown into the mix. When one brave boy climbed up to the window and ordered a scoop of bubble gum, I wanted to applaud him for his sheer vision and ingenuity.

Certainly, the kids had plenty to choose from. Roger’s doesn’t offer quite as many flavor options as some of the national chains, but here quality trumps quantity. Many flavors are made from scratch locally, with the addition of popular favorites from Denali Flavors such as Caramel Caribou and Bear Claw. Also on hand is the vanilla-peanut-butter-fudge swirl of Moose Tracks, the flavor that prompted former VP candidate Sarah Palin to say it was “near and dear to my heart.”

New owner Mark Randolph has done a mighty terrific public service by resurrecting Roger’s from real estate oblivion, after it sat painfully empty for an entire summer last year. For decades the place was known as the Dairy De-Lite, and it was the headquarters for several generations of neighborhood residents seeking cheap sustenance and old-fashioned refreshment on hot, lazy afternoons on the way to and from the beach.

The original Roger’s Ice Cream was born in Moscow in 1940, eventually relocating to Coeur d’Alene for a stint at the corner of Fourth and Sherman. It finally took over the current spot from Dairy De-Lite in 1992 with very few noticeable changes. Similarly, Randolph has managed to erase the memory of Roger’s hiatus by leaving things virtually the same, including the classic red and white exterior, the cheerfully adept teenage staff and the uncomplicated burger selections.

The menu’s lack of variety is refreshing in a fast food world where too many choices result in a form of mental block known as Jack in the Box syndrome. Available options include a single plain burger or cheeseburger, of course. Then there’s the Double-D with two patties and cheese, the Triple-D with three patties and cheese, and I had to ask the counter girl just to make sure, but yes indeed, the .44 Caliber burger includes four beef patties and cheese piled high on a bun. Fries are available in one size only, and that’s the extent of the food menu other than Randolph’s healthful new additions of a Turkey Burger and a Veggie Burger.

The gaggle of preschoolers finally cleared out, and I placed my order. Between the radio and the chaos of cookery, the noise level in the tiny kitchen was so intense I had clarify after the counter girl looked at me sideways and said “Uh, sorry, we don’t have ribs.” I smiled and said it a little louder: “I’ll have a Double-D with fries and a Mr. Pibb.”

We laughed and I added on a scoop of homemade huckleberry ice cream. I grabbed one of the picnic tables in the shady covered outdoor patio and wrapped my fingers around my Double-D burger. A Roger’s burger can be a messy beast; the patties sprawl outside of the borders of the bun and the shredded lettuce and tomato slices are piled high. There’s a dense layer of a thick, white spread made from (I think) whipped mayo and cream cheese. The beef itself is sizzled up on a well-seasoned grill and tastes comfortingly home-cooked. My fries were pretty much cold but still tasted great. Thin, crispy, golden brown potato strips with skin deliciously intact and salted so well I retain water just thinking about them.

The grand finale was the ice cream cone, a scoop of rich homemade vanilla blended with what our local Stickman refers to as “Purple Gold,” sweet, plump huckleberries. I was so enrapt in its tangy goodness, I had to stop myself from smearing it all over my face and hair, and if I’d accidentally dropped it on the dirty sidewalk, I’d have just picked it up and kept eating. Five-second rule.

Contact correspondent Patrick Jacobs by e-mail at orangetv@yahoo.com. Previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists.


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