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Logan • Traveling along Main Street, it's obvious that this Cache Valley city has more than its fair share of fast-food outlets and chain restaurants. To find those quirky, hole-in-the-wall dining gems, however, you must look beyond the flashing neon.

"A lot of people see the fast-food signs and make the easy pull-in," explained Joy Brisighella, a Logan resident who works at Utah State University's Conference Center. "But those of us who love the foodie culture try to focus on the 'one-ofs' that make Cache Valley unique."

Brisighella is one of four leaders of Logan Foodies, a 3-year-old food appreciation group. The group has some 550 followers on Facebook, who write posts about local restaurants and favorite dishes. Once a month, the group also sponsors a Logan Food Crawl to introduce diners to local places.

The group is "pretty militant" about keeping activities at locally owned restaurants, Brisighella says. That way people can get a fabulous meal and an experience that fast-food joints just can't provide.

Dining institutions • One of those experiences is meeting former city councilman John Harder and tasting the fresh meat grinders he serves at The Italian Place, 48 Federal Ave. For 40 years, Harder has been standing behind the grill cooking made-to-order sandwiches, such as the popular Four Seasons, made with marinated steak, eggs, green pepper, onions, mushrooms and provolone.

No matter which sandwich you order, Harder will serve it up with a side of commentary about politics, religion or whatever else confounds him that day. He's been called the Sandwich Nazi because he wants customers to order with speed and confidence. Television executives supposedly came in years ago and saw Harder's shtick. Not long after "Seinfeld" aired its infamous "Soup Nazi" episode. Coincidence? Harder thinks not.

It's more than just the food that keep locals, such as Jeff John, the golf professional at the nearby Logan Country Club, returning.

"I was born and raised in Logan, so I've been having these sandwiches since I was 18," John said last week as he sat down to enjoy a Double Manhattan (steak, eggs, cheese and mushrooms). "But you tend to come back mainly because of John."

New places • One of Logan's newest eateries, Herm's Inn, can be found inside one of the city's oldest buildings, at 1435 E. Canyon Road. Decades ago, the brick building, located near the Utah State University Ropes Course and First Dam, served as an inn.

Later, it became a combination store and gas station. The last owner, businessman Herman "Herm" Johnson, ran it as a grill and diner, before the building sat abandoned for decades. Until last year, when Jim Laub, the owner of Cache Valley Electric, fulfilled a promise to his father by purchasing and renovating it.

As Laub sat down to order a breakfast at Herm's Inn recently, he said that as the renovation project developed it became clear "that we had to make it a breakfast and lunch place." He convinced Heather Santi, owner of Salt Lake City's Eggs in the City, to open a second eatery in the new building. Santi, brought her right-hand man, Ryan Bird, to manage the restaurant, which has a menu that includes pancakes, omelets, breakfast skillets, hamburgers and sandwiches.

While Laub made an addition to the original building and created an up-to-date kitchen, he was careful to retain the building's historical character, with exposed brick and wood beams, an antique gas pump in front, and original signs that proclaim "First Chance Lunches" and "Last Chance Lunches."

Local lore says that depending on the direction you were driving, Johnson's diner was either your first or last chance to get a meal.

Other places • The list of Logan dining favorites goes on — handcrafted ravioli at Le Nonne Italian restaurant; Kamikaze salmon at Elements; beer and grilled hamburger at The White Owl; South American turnovers at Pupuseria El Salvador; and even German pickle soup and French pastries at Sweetly Divine Bakery.

Sweetly Divine owner Mark Grodkowski graduated from pastry school in his native Poland before moving to the United States. He opened his Logan bakery six years ago and insists on using real cream and butter, as well as fresh eggs and fruit. Specialties include Napoleons, cannoli, swan-shaped cream puffs, cupcakes and real éclairs.

He makes sandwiches on soft foccacia-like bread and offers a daily soup. While he makes the traditional clam chowder and tomato basil, Tuesday is always a Polish soup, and every other Tuesday it's a creamy soup made with dill pickles, potatoes and carrots, which has become a favorite of customers. "People are hesitant to try it at first," Grodkowski said. "But once they do, they get hooked."

Even though Logan has its gems, John Simpson, owner of Logan's Culinary Concepts catering, can't bring himself to say all things are rosy on the local food front.

"Chain restaurants are really conquering this valley right now," he said. "As a restaurant chef, that's very sad for me. I know there are a bunch of local restaurant that are white-knuckling it."

Still, he's hopeful enough to make plans to launch the valley's first Food Truck operation, Street Eats, later this year.

There are other food projects on the way as well. Liz Butcher, owner of Butchers Bunches jams, along with several other small-business owners are creating Balance, a project that will include yoga, massage therapy, a café and retail store that serve locally produced foods.

"Logan restaurants are evolving and people are really becoming more aware of really good places to eat," said Butcher, who points to the success of the Cache Valley summer market. "People travel to Salt Lake and other cities and when they come back they want to see that happen here."

Twitter @kathystephenson —

Dining in Logan

Clip out this list and on your next visit to Logan eat at one of these local favorites:

Breakfast • Herm's Inn, 1435 E. Canyon Road; 435-792-4321. Open daily for breakfast and lunch. Menu includes pancakes, omelets, breakfast skillets, hamburgers and sandwiches. Operators are partners with Salt Lake City's Eggs in the City.

Fine dining • Elements, 640 S. 35 East, at the Riverwoods; 435-750-5171 or An elegant river setting and a menu that includes pastas, seafood and steaks. Specialties include the Kamikaze salmon and short ribs.

French bakery • Sweetly Divine Bakery, 1309 N. Main St. (next to ShopKo); 435-787-1860 or Napoleons, cannoli, swan-shaped cream puffs, cupcakes and éclairs will satisfy your sweet tooth. But don't miss the sandwiches on soft foccacia-like bread and the dill pickle soup offered every other Tuesday.

Indian • Tandoori Oven, 720 E. 1000 North, Logan; 435-750-6836 or This family-owned eatery, tucked into a gas station/convenience store, serves Indian classics at affordable prices. Try the garlic naan and the butter chicken, or the lunch buffet.

Italian • Le Nonne, 129 N. 100 East, 435-752-9577 or While it's located in a tiny house, the menu is rather large and includes pasta, gnocchi, ravioli as well as chicken, beef and fish.

Late night • The White Owl Bar and Grill, 36 W. Center St.; 435-752-4059. In the summer, there's nothing better than a hamburger and a "Big Dog" — on the patio.

Mexican • La Tormenta, 95 E. 1400 North; 435-787-4640. A tiny place that will make you feel like you're visiting Mexico. Carne asada, enchiladas, chiles rellenos and horchata. Adventurous locals like to enjoy the tortas filled with tender beef tongue.

Pizza • Jack's Wood Fired Oven, 256 N. Main St.; 435-754-7523 or Salads, soups, sandwiches and wood-fired pizzas. Try The Cache with white sauce, chicken, onions, mushrooms and spinach.

Sandwiches • The Italian Place, 48 Federal Ave.; 435-753-2584 or Owner John Harder stands behind the grill cooking made-to-order grinders including the popular Four Seasons, made with marinated steak, eggs, green pepper, onions, mushrooms and provolone.

South American • Pupuseria El Salvador, 95 E. 1400 North, Logan; 435-752-0676. This family-owned restaurant serves tacos and tamales, but its speciality is stuffed and grilled pupusas, which are made with masa, filled with choice of meats, beans and cheese, and served with curtido, a cabbage slaw.