Recently spent a couple of weeks on a camping/fishing trip that took us from the Bay Area to central Idaho and back. Our path took us through Alturas on the way up, and on the way back, providing the opportunity to eat at The Brass Rail. I had read about this place, an old-school Basque restaurant a couple of times and was anxious to try it, plus there are really only a couple of options in town, and this one seemed like the most fun. The restaurant is in a rustic, cinder block building, devoid of windows, no doubt to stand up to the frigid winter, and blistering summers.
The menu is pretty typical, family style, soup, salad, bread, entrée, side, ice cream, coffee, wine, all included. Nothing fancy here, ingredients (save for the lamb) are commercial, and come off of a Sysco
truck. I have always felt that context has a great impact on the enjoyment of food, and here, in the middle of nowhere, it all tasted pretty darn good – indeed I have to say I really loved the whole experience.
Upon sitting down the waitress plonked a ½ bottle of ice cold red wine, and returned immediately with a large tureen of noodle soup – spaghetti in a tomato-tinged chicken broth. It was really hot, which I appreciate, and we wolfed it down. My three kids 14, 11, and 9 especially liked this, and I have to say it appealed to the kid in me as well. Soup was accompanied by a basket of thickly sliced, homemade white bread which was just great, and followed by a platter of green salad – chopped iceberg with vinaigrette – another crowd pleaser.
After salad the waitress returned to take our entrée orders. The menu is short, Rib-Eye, Sirloin, Lamb Chops, Lamb Steak, Fried Chicken, Fried Scallops, Fried Shrimp, or a mix of Shrimp and Scallops. The owner at the motel tipped me off to order the lamb steak, and to ask for it with garlic, which I did. The waitress confirmed that while the other meats all came from Sysco, the lamb was local. What I got were two shoulder chops seared on a griddle, with a pile of sautéed garlic slivers on top. I grew up raising sheep and eating a lot of lamb, and this dish really took me back. The meat was chewy, the fat was delicious, and it was very “lamby”. Came with a baked potato and sour cream. My wife had an immense rib-eye, two kids had sirloin steak, and one had fried shrimp.
On Saturdays the side dish is “Spanish Rice”, paella really, with sausage, chicken wings, and lamb chunks. While this was hearty, and tasted pretty good, it was made with converted rice which I just don’t understand.
Dessert is ice cream, a choice that day of Spumoni or Cookies and Cream, and I have to say that the spumoni was actually pretty good.
We left full to the gills.
Dinner for 5, 1 cocktail, wine, dessert, etc - $81
Next time I hope to hang in the bar for awhile ( my Old-Fashioned was spot on)
If you’re passing through Alturas around dinner time, it’s worth a stop if you enjoy this sort of place.