Butte Falls Cafe

After an afternoon swim last weekend at a nearby mountain lake, my boyfriend Rob and I had strong appetites for an early supper. We'd passed through the town of Butte Falls on our way to Willow Lake.

The small burg is about a 45-minute drive from Medford, and it is home to almost 450 people, including the Butte Falls High School's Loggers, a gas station, general store, one four-way stop light and two cafes.

Famished by light breakfasts and physical exertion, we stopped at one of the cafes on our way back home — the one with a sign on the sidewalk that touted "the best cooking in town."

The Butte Falls Cafe is owned and operated by Marc and Shone Ellis — with the help of waitress and good right arm Margo. It's a friendly place with green-and-white checked curtains in the windows, wooden tables and chairs and a scrubbed-floor look that helped earn the cafe a score of 100 points at its last county restaurant inspection.

There are some antiques displayed around the room, along with circa 1900 photographs of logging crews and vintage metal signs advertising Pepsi Cola, bread, eggs and Ogilvie's flour adorning the walls. We took our seats at a table and chatted with the Ellises while we waited for our orders.

The menu offers the usual fare of breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are eggs and omelettes, burgers and sandwiches, soups and salads, along with steaks, chops and seafood. There are dinner specials for different nights of the week, with prime rib ($13.95) on Saturdays.

Prime rib. The two words washed all notions of trying anything else on the menu right out of Rob's head. I settled on one of the burgers. There are various ones to choose from, and the prices range from $6 to $8.50.

The Ellises have owned the cafe for almost three years, and as we talked I learned more about them and their sleepy little village. Butte Falls was founded in the early 1900s after a water-powered sawmill was built over the falls of Butte Creek.

The cafe has been there since the 1940s. The Ellises are both graduates of Butte Falls High School. They had their first date at the cafe. Today, there also are two museums, a historical society, a library and plans to build a new water bottling plant to sell the city's excess water.

Once Margo brought our dinners to us, I could see we'd have no trouble satisfying our voracity for food. Rob's slab of prime rib was sliced thick and parts of it practically hung over the edges of its platter. A large baked potato sat next to it, along with servings of au jus and creamed horseradish.

That was the end of the conversation with the Ellis couple. Rob's eyes crossed, and he didn't utter another word as he devoured his "don't get this at home" meal. I liked the burger, too. It was dressed up with mushrooms and swiss cheese and buried under a generous pile of hot French fries.

Shone Ellis bakes her own cakes, brownies, cinnamon rolls, bread pudding and pies — including a wild huckleberry pie — at the cafe. I tried the bread pudding ($2.95), a personal favorite of mine. It was simple and sweet, baked until the crust had caramelized and topped with whipped cream.

The folks at the Butte Falls Cafe know who their customers are — and how to feed them. There's a warm, affable atmosphere at the place. The leftover prime rib may show up on Sunday mornings as beef and potato hash, and now and then huckleberries can be found in Shone's pancakes, says Marc.

Knowing that, we'll no doubt return soon for a hearty breakfast. The cafe keeps shorter hours during the fall and winter months, so those planning a trip out that way may want to call ahead. And bring your appetites.

— Laurie Heuston

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