Country strong

B.J.’s Hog Wild Café

Jay Rathmann, owner of the Hog Wild Cafe, cooks up the The Trough breakfast.

Jay Rathmann, owner of the Hog Wild Cafe, cooks up the The Trough breakfast.

photo by amy beck

80 E. Victorian Ave., Sparks, 355-9920

It’s called The Trough: Wild Style ($10.95). It’s a lot of good stick-to-your-ribs food. It’s what keeps cardiologists in business. It’s the way people ate in the good ole days before the medical establishment cited possible health issues. But as the good Dr. Ben Franklin said, “Everything in moderation and nothing in excess.”

So for you gym rats or faint-of-heart, move on to your granola. For the rest of us, put on your napkin and grab a fork.

A seat-of-the-pants-trained chef, Jay Rathmann grew up wearing an apron and has been in the kitchen for more than 20 years. It’s all in the family. His folks, Peter and Roberta, are the heart and soul behind BJ’s Nevada Barbeque in Sparks. Rathmann’s approach to this eatery: “Go back to the basics.”

Before he picked up a skillet and spatula, it was a hammer and nails on a 14-month make-over of an old IHOP creating the café. Rippled, sheet metal walls, stained cement floor, open kitchen, and simple wood tables offer a classic, southern country-style look. Yet, you always get a linen napkin—a touch of class!

When the server sets the 15-inch plate down in front of you, the aroma of country fresh everything brings a blush to your face and will steam your glasses from this hot-off-the-stove feast. Three scrambled eggs, home fried potatoes, diced ham, chopped peppered bacon, sausage, onions, peppers, cheddar cheese, chicken fried steak, all covered with country gravy and served with a fresh biscuit and two slices of peppered bacon, and for your sweet-tooth, a small ramekin of homemade apple sauce … exhale.

The gravy was too alluring. It had a milk shake creaminess with the savory flavors replacing sweet—fresh-cut bacon, a tingle of black pepper for lift, a hint of onion, family spices, whole milk and a flour roux to thicken.

The home fries are stupendous. Starting with Winnemucca potatoes—Rathmann emphasized they try to buy everything local—diced, boiled, drained and seasoned with family spices, bacon pieces and bacon fat adding remarkable layers of flavor, and cold-stewed over night. When cooked, onions are added, providing yet another layer of savory taste. The buttermilk biscuits are from scratch— baking powder, baking soda, flower, lard—yes, lard, the foundation in great pastries and pie crusts. These melt in your mouth. The peppered bacon is from a supplier in Utah and the spicing will thrill any palate; the black pepper truly makes this mouth-watering.

The chicken fried steak starts as top round, it’s trimmed, hand-hammered, the “family” spices added, dipped in an egg wash and rolled in seasoned, homemade bread crumbs, fried, and covered with gravy. … Shazam! You’re a kid at Grandma’s on Sunday morning again. Everything is homemade, handmade and fresh.

The coffee is always hot, plentiful and a decent brew. Mimosas, Bloody Marys, a few beers and three wines by-the-glass are offered. Since I’m a Bloody Mary aficionado, I went with this hair-of-the-dog.

There are many flavored mixes. Hog Wild uses Major Peters’ The Works, and to this they add some BJ’s hot sauce, Worcestershire, celery salt, a fresh squeeze of lemon topped with a couple olives and a celery stalk. I like it spicy so the nip on the tongue tantalizes and stimulates your taste buds. This has a nice heat tasting some horseradish, peppers—particularly jalapeño—and you get a bit of vinegar for tartness. Rich mouth texture, enough tomato, a great quaff to help wash down “The Trough.” This place is a Bingo and a half for the ultimate breakfast food-house.