By Peter Tormey
SALT LAKE CITY – It must be March Madness since the breakfast buzz was all about basketball this morning at Ruth’s Diner, an iconic little eatery – and the second-oldest restaurant in Utah – located a few miles from town in historic Emigration Canyon. Fans from both Gonzaga, the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 seed in the West, and No. 9-seed Wichita State, the Zags’ opponent on Saturday, proudly sported their schools’ logos this morning and remained civil – apparently content to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and leave the shouting until Saturday.
I had the chicken fried steak with eggs over-easy, hash browns and country gravy and found it perfectly fulfilling. Of course, the fluffy Mile High Biscuit the friendly waitress slid my way upon arriving may have prejudiced me to the place.
The diner was featured on the Food Network TV show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” in which host Guy Fieri travels the country looking for the best in classic American diner cuisine. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the diner is its namesake, Ruth, whom, according to the diner’s menu, passed away in 1989 at age 94.
Ruth was a gifted storyteller who lived a colorful life. A cabaret singer from 1912-1916, she started the diner downtown in 1930 as Ruth’s Hamburgers and flipped burgers for many years there until her building was sold and demolished. Then, Ruth bought a Salt Lake Trolley car and moved it up Emigration Canyon where she reopened in 1949. She built an apartment onto the back of her trolley car and lived alone on the property, with her Chihuahua dogs, for 40 years.
Fiercely independent, Ruth was known to have made at least two concessions in her life. When she turned 80, she switched from Lucky Strikes to a filtered cigarette, and, according to the menu, “she finally placated the health department by posting a hand-written sign on the wall next to the door, which read “No Smoking Section – First Bar Stool Only.”
The diner has changed hands many times since Ruth died. Now, Tracy and Erik Nelson carry on Ruth’s legacy.