I’m typically not one for exaggeration. There’s already too much hype in the world. So when I say that, “It was the worst dining experience of my 30 years of life” this was a REALLY, REALLY bad…Oh, but wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Scene: A Family Outing
It was an unusually sunny and beautiful winter day in Western Washington.
When the sun comes out in the middle of February, soggy PNW residents come pouring outdoors, squinting their eyes and lacing up their tennis shoes. We can often be spotted furiously tackling landscaping projects and the lush overgrowth that sprang up over the winter months. Or pulling out bicycles and greeting neighbors we haven’t seen since October.
However, this particular Saturday found our family loaded into the SUV and traveling down National Park Highway (Hwy 7). We stopped along the way to take in breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier, fly the drone (see video below), and pee in the bushes. Our destination was Mineral Lake located in the quaint town of Mineral, WA.
Video we took of Mount Rainier near Elbe, WA and Mineral Lake
Dusk at Mineral Lake, WA
Now, don’t get me wrong, Mineral Lake was amazing and deserves its own blog. (Perhaps that one will include the harrowing tale of how we almost lost the drone). Grab a fishing pole or hiking boots and get out there, Washington! We saw a herd of elk, several deer, beautiful birds, and a pristine body of water.
But none of this could possibly be as memorable as what happened on our way home.
One Must Pass Through Elbe
You see, to get to Mineral Lake from the NW, one must pass through the small and charming town of Elbe.
But this is not a history lesson or a promotional series. Nay, this is a serious warning and favor, something I feel obligated to offer future unsuspecting travelers.
This is a serious warning and favor, something I feel obligated to offer future unsuspecting travelers.
“Ah, what a cute restaurant!”
We have a four year old son who is in the middle of a full on train obsession, so when we spotted at the Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Co. on our way to Mineral Lake, we knew we had to stop on our way home for dinner.
Outlined in white lights and painted a cheery brick red, our son was ecstatic as we marched up the steps to the dining car, chilled and hungry after playing at the lake.
Outside the Mt Rainier Railroad Dining Co. That look on our faces? That would be sweet ignorance of what was about to happen…
I didn’t bother to pull up any restaurant reviews on my phone like I normally would because “hey, this looks awesome!” and the only other option in Elbe was a double-wide boasting the “best burgers in town.” (Possibly the only burgers?)
I expected a fairly standard “Sysco” dining experience, but hey, that doesn’t always mean bad…does it?
Disappointment Lies In The Space Between Expectation And Reality
(Note: One of our major regrets, among many that evening, was our lack of photo documentation. We apologize for that, but once you read the following description we hope that you understand our haste to vacate the premises before other things… vacated us. In place of our original photos, we took the liberty of sharing some photos from the the restaurant’s website. These photos are not doctored in any way…)
From the Mt Rainier Railroad Co website. Yes… this is true… we will never forget it…
The interior is modest, certainly would benefit from some updates, but we all enjoyed taking in the model trains on tracks above our heads and reading the history of the town and its railroad, displayed in cases throughout the train car.
The menu wasn’t anything special, but I quickly settled on a hearty hobo stew hoping to warm up and my husband opted for the fish burger. (rookie mistake. Never, I repeat, NEVER order the fish burger in small town USA. Do I need to explain…?)
The two young women waiting tables in the car were prompt and friendly enough, but almost seemed apologetic as they took our orders. No explanation of the day’s “specials”was offered or anecdote about favorites on the menu.
The Grisly Details
If they are referring to the physical menu, I have to say it was pretty standard. Basic paper laminated on both sides. If they are referring to the food… well…
Dinner arrived. A jumbo, freshly de-frosted bread bowl soaking in a half inch of brown slop dominated my plate. Inside the bowl was a dollop of “stew” creating soggy sourdough and strange smells. I couldn’t find any of the cabbage, hearty vegetables, or beef advertised on the menu. Only some cubed potatoes, fragments of what I assume were once green beans, and some specs of a mystery meat.
My tongue was assaulted. I mean, full on sabotaged by salt as I took a bite.
Thankfully, a container of fake, SALTY margarine was also on my plate atop some wilted iceberg lettuce so I could fill up on stale sourdough and a lifetime supply of trans fat.
Desperation Sets In
Something tells me these people don’t actually work here.
Hungry and starting to feel desperate, I looked across the table at my husband and son, wondering if I could poach anything edible from their plates. My son’s pasta with cheese slid easily down my throat, covered in fake mozzarella and more salt.
No problem unless you try to chew it.
The only metaphor that comes to mind is rubber bands. Yet he was happily coloring his train picture and munching a piece of what looked to be Texas Toast, the kind you can find in most freezer sections at a gas station.
The only metaphor that comes to mind is rubber bands.
Horrified, but owning my losses and planning to fill him with fresh cucumber and red peppers I had packed in the car on the way home, I glanced up at my husband. One look at him and I didn’t even need to ask for a bite.
His Facebook status later that evening says it best:
It Just Keeps Getting Worse
I offered some French fries to our 9 month old who will literally eat anything, and she took one sniff and threw it on the floor. I consider her to be the only winner this whole evening as she was able to happily breast feed while we waited for our food to arrive.
With no appetizers, dessert, or drinks aside from water, our bill totaled a whopping 45.00.
Half shocked and half impressed at the sheer audacity of charging such exorbitant prices for food not fit to be consumed, I glanced up from the table and realized that a steady stream of jolly skiers and snowboarders were pouring into the train car and lining up outside.
Ah-ha! this explains the unusually large alcoholic beverage list for such a humble restaurant AND the ability to charge out the nose for food.
The Bottom Line
I’m just gonna leave this picture here. Again… pulled straight from their website.
This charming train car is seducing tired, hungry explorers and adventurers into dining with them and suffering an unexpected fate.
One that hit us later than evening and on into the morning of the next day…
Its not often that I feel the need to wash all of my clothes after eating out, but promptly upon arriving home I had the entire families’ garments churning in the laundry room while I took a shower. I could wash away the smells of that meal but the rest would soon have to be flushed…
Now, let me explain my need to expound so elaborately on this experience. Its not out of spite, anger, or even disappointment. (Although I was disappointed by the wasted potential of such a cute restaurant.)
It’s more out of awe and a sense of duty to my fellow WA explorers. It was the worst dining experience of my 30 years of life. That’s kind of impressive.
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT eat at the Mt. Rainier Railroad Company Dining Car.
Also, I’m hoping that the owners or employees might chance upon my words and understand that we would love to dine with them. So please, please learn how to cook. Or order food. Or hire the right people. Or fix whatever in the tarnation is going on.
Thank you, and may your explorations be less hazardous to your intestines than mine.