A Taste of Life On The Rails
Great food found right off the main path.
STORY BY CORY MUNSON
PHOTOS BY KIPPY S. SPILKER
While journeying Nevada’s highways, it’s easy to get distracted by options; each road shooting off into the desert holds the promise of adventure. However, when it comes to getting a bite to eat, choices are at a premium and travelers are often resigned to a take-what-you-can-get diet. We’ve all been there: gas station sandwiches, fast food fries, bags of trail mix.
But now, hungry trekkers on Highway 93 can rejoice in a restaurant that puts variety back on the menu. Settled right in the heart of Caliente near the historic train depot, The Side Track restaurant offers classic American cuisine with many dietary choices.
AN UNEXPECTED VENTURE
Mary Love never imagined she’d be the owner and manager of a restaurant in her hometown. Mary—the daughter of two schoolteachers—moved away to the city after graduating high school. It was only later in life that she moved back to help her parents.
When she returned home, Mary purchased a commercial space in downtown Caliente, which she leased to a business that converted the space into a restaurant. But when that restaurant went under, Mary found she owned a restaurant property with no viable tenant.
Mary—who had no real experience in the restaurant industry—had an important, career-defining decision to make. She could sell the building, or she could go into business for herself. She says that starting a restaurant sounded like the more fun option.
Inspired by the town’s railroad history, she named the restaurant the Side Track, and the doors opened for business in May of 2018.
THE INSIDE STORY
The restaurant space has been designed with a clean, modern ambience and an understated décor. A large chalkboard announces the daily offerings above pink barstools and an elegant, tiled breakfast bar.
Prominently framed above the service window is the black and white portrait of a woman almost entirely covered in tattoos: Artoria Gibbons, Mary Love’s great-great aunt.
Artoria moved to Spokane in the early 1910s where she married a tattoo artist. To make a living, she decided to become a performing tattooed lady. The tattoos—inked by her husband—were inspired by her faith and patriotism; they include ‘The Last Supper’ and George Washington. Artoria hit the sideshow circuit and enjoyed a long career performing with such acts as Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s. When she finally retired in 1981, Artoria was one of the last performing tattooed ladies in the country.
“My aunt was an awesome lady who dared to be different,” reflects Mary. “She was smart, and they made a good living with the lifestyle. The portrait also makes for good conversation.”
Whatever your meal preferences, there are plenty of healthy and perfectly indulgent options at the Side Track. The restaurant has courses for vegan, meat-loving, and gluten-free diets through its generous, seven-page menu.
Breakfast offers all the classics—eggs and bacon, hash browns, parfaits, and pancakes— along with vegan scrambles, hearty breakfast burritos, and omelets of all styles.
For lunch and dinner, the restaurant serves up salmon, teriyaki bowls, build-your-own sandwiches, big salads, spaghetti, and signature burgers ranging from the V-Twin burger—a vegan bun and patty with optional vegan cheese—to the aptly named Hog—1/2 lb. burger with bacon and 3 oz. of ham steak.
Burgers are served with fries, onion rings, or sweet potato fries.
A favorite of the Caliente locals are the 14-inch pizzas. Mary says the restaurant’s record is 50 sold in nine hours.
If visiting outside of mealtime, there are a host of beautifully presented appetizers—the cheese platter, the Mediterranean tray, wings, fruit smoothies, and 14 different sides—along with a robust beer and wine menu.
ON THE SIDE
Pass through an adjoining door in the restaurant, and you’ll find yourself in the Side Car Speakeasy and Dining Hall. This long, vaulted room opened in May 2019 and is where the restaurant caters to large parties and hosts special events.
“The Side Car is very laid back,” says Mary. “We do a lot of things in there: trivia night, game night, concerts, karaoke, private parties. We even put on a car show.”
When asked if the Side Car used to be a real speakeasy, she replies that she doesn’t think so.
“Probably not. This restaurant was a bar at one time, but it was also a drug store and a bakery.”
Step into the Side Car, and your eye will immediately catch the sepia-colored mural depicting Main Street, USA, during Prohibition. The old-time shops line the street—including the eponymous Side Car café. Flapper girls ride motorcycles, men in zoot suits go about their business, and government men pour barrels of liquor down sewer drains.
“The mural was created by local artist Heidi Leavitt,” explains Mary. “It is such an amazing piece and really adds to the look.”
FULL STEAM AHEAD
Mary’s hard work and vision have certainly paid off; the Side Track restaurant has become a popular fixture in Caliente. The restaurant also attracts the stream of tourists who come through town.
“I never knew how much tourist traffic goes through our county until I opened the restaurant. Before COVID, we had people arriving in the restaurant from all over the world.”
Looking toward the future, Mary has some ideas for how she would like to improve the restaurant, including expanding the Side Car’s outdoor patio area to host more events. She says that she’s always working to improve the menu and hopes to make additions to the kitchen to make life easier on the cooks.
Regardless, the Side Track is here to stay, and so is Mary.
Although she never expected her career to take this turn, she’s happy to be back in her hometown in a community she loves.
The next time you find yourself in Lincoln County, remember that the best experiences are found when we allow ourselves to get a little sidetracked. The reward is often a delicious surprise.