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VERNON - When Sir Anthony Hopkins is bouncing around the outback that is southern Tooele County, he likes to drop in at The Silver Sage Café & Groceries.

You can see his famous mug tacked to the wall if you make the trek to this little oasis for one of Kristine Quarnberg's renowned chile verde burritos - a staple in this part of cow country 35 miles south of Tooele.

"Tony," as they call him here, and his film crew took over The Silver Sage last year during a shoot of the yet-to-be-released "World's Fastest Indian."

These days, however, you're more likely to stumble across cowboys, wildland firefighters or a gang of rabbit hunters bellying up to the counter for a cup of Joe and some good grub.

"When bikers or hunters come in here, they aren't in a hurry. And we don't treat 'em like customers - they're friends," Kristine says. "Sheepherders will come and get coffee and sit here and visit because sometimes they get a little lonely."

Old-timers like Marvin Wallace are keen on the place, too.

"Every time we're out here, we stop," says Wallace, an 85-year-old retired dairyman and a member of the Sheriff's Citizens Patrol. "They're very friendly here. And Kristine always takes the time to sit and chew the fat."

Wallace's 89-year-old sidekick, James Winchester, a retired lineman for Utah Power, explains that the Citizens Patrol is the eyes and the ears of the Tooele County sheriff in the far-flung corners of this vast territory.

Winchester likes to poke fun at the other interesting outlet in this hamlet of 270 souls: a nearby sod farm. "We're going to call this Turf City," he cracks.

"It's more like Bull City when you come out," answers Kristine's husband, Mike Quarnberg, who just dropped by on his way to Tooele, where he works in real estate.

Mike spells Kristine on Saturday mornings, cooking breakfast for the Vernon café's regulars and anyone else who materializes for huevos rancheros or breakfast burritos. He's philosophical about all the hours she logs at The Silver Sage.

"This is a necessary place for this area," he nods. "Kristine takes good care of the ranchers and the truckers and the tourists. She's a legend in Tooele County."

If there is a nerve center out here where the wind blows freely along the old Pony Express Trail north of the Sheeprock Mountains, The Silver Sage Café is it.

It's the only place along 60 secluded miles of state Route 36 - between Stockton and Eureka - where you can fill up on gas and ice and soda pop. You can get beer here, too, but you can't drink it on the premises. And for Vernon's youngsters, this is candy central.

"We call it the Vernon mall, because we sell everything but shoes," jokes Mary Blauser, who, with a couple of high school girls from town, holds down the fort when Kristine is out.

But whether Kristine is at the grill or not, nobody leaves The Silver Sage Café hungry.

"The cattlemen come out here in calving season, and they eat a lot," Kristine says. "My dad had cows, and they're not my favorite. They've come first all my life."

Nonetheless, The Silver Sage menu offers a host of tasty beef sandwiches. There's the Cowboy Burger topped with sausage and bacon. The Q Burger is a beef patty with pastrami. A bacon cheeseburger with guacamole and jalapenos is dubbed the Firefighter Special.

All the burgers come with a side of fries for $4.99.

And, then, there's the Vern Burger - a bacon cheeseburger with onion rings between the buns.

"It's named after a bachelor I feed a lot," confides Kristine. "When I get a new recipe, I test it on him because I don't eat red meat. It's a good deal for him because he doesn't have to pay to get experimented on."

But, mostly, folks frequent The Silver Sage for Kristine's real specialties: her smile, a thoughtful ear and the latest on what's what around here.

Open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. six days a week, The Silver Sage functions as Vernon's de facto town hall. And Kristine sees her share of crazy stuff.

Last year, a deer hunter stopped in to say he had come across two men on foot who were totally naked and apparently lost. Sometime after Kristine called the sheriff, deputies ushered the bare pair into the café for reasons she's still not clear on.

"They were so sunburned. And they had no idea how they got here," she recalls. "The last thing they remembered was going to a party."

And, of course, there are the UFO sightings.

"There is a big row of lights that comes up above the mountains right here," Kristine says, pointing toward the Onaqui Mountains, beyond which lies the military's Dugway Proving Ground. "Sometimes they're red and sometimes they're yellow and they're just big. They're probably just government UFOs, but they're cool."

Serious emergencies find their way to The Silver Sage, too, like a Bureau of Land Management ranger who suffered a heart attack and a rancher who gashed her leg with a chainsaw. Kristine deals with whatever comes through the door.

But the bulk of her extracurricular duties amounts to running errands for townsfolk when she drives into Tooele to pick up supplies or keeping wives and mothers apprised of the whereabouts of their husbands and kids or reassuring callers that, yes, the power is out all over town.

"Out here, you just watch out for each other," Kristine explains. "That's what small-town people do."