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A River Runs By It: Banks Cafe and Store

By Pamela Kielbrink Thompson, Photography by Lance Thompson

The new owners of the Banks Café and Store are turning this century-old convenience stop into a high country dining destination. An easy 40 minute drive from Eagle on Highway 55, the Banks Café is perched on the scenic Payette River, overlooking pine covered mountains.  Now the restaurant is becoming as famous for its food as it is for its views.

Eagle residents Mike and Stephanie Hammer worked tirelessly to renovate the restaurant and store they bought in March to open for the start of the rafting season in mid-May.  “We completely gutted the restaurant and bar area as well as the restrooms,” says Mike. “I scrubbed the bathrooms myself. I couldn’t ask anyone else to do that.”Web-2

Mike had help with the renovations. “My father in law, Emery Davis, has been a custom home builder for over 30 years.  He came over from Portland and lived with us for about 3 months while performing the remodel. He is a very talented finish carpenter—among many other things—and we are very proud of the job he did.  It was really a collaboration between my wife and him and it was a true blessing for me to get to watch them work together to make their dreams and ideas a reality.”

Mike also had help from several young men from Kenya and the Congo. During a social work trip to Kenya in 2001, Mike was inspired by a woman who was struggling to take care of 20 orphaned children. He started the Gates of Hope Foundation in Boise, whose mission is to provide the tools and skills for sustainable growth to individuals and communities in need.  Mike hired several of the young refugees to work on the cafe to give them jobs and training in construction.  He marvels at the refugees’ reaction to the beauty of Idaho. “It was their first time in these mountains,” he says.

“We couldn’t have taken this on without the support of my parents, Mark and Danna Hammer,” says Mike. “They moved to Eagle when we moved to Eagle to help us with the kids while we renovated the restaurant.”

Stuart Douglas—aa Banks resident and electrician with Direct TV—is a regular. His two favorite items on the menu are the Northfork Cheeseburger and Class 5 Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. “I’m a meat guy,” he says with a smile. “But it’s all good.”

The Northfork Cheeseburger is Mike’s favorite. And when you bite into the fresh ground beef seasoned to perfection, served with pepper jack, pickles, onions, and Bank’s secret sauce, you’ll agree it’s phenomenal—certainly the best burger in Banks.  Most of the menu items are named after rapids or part of the river, giving tribute to the Hammers’ earlier business, Headwaters River Company, which they sold in 2006.

John Kroeber, 84, pulls up a seat at the bar and orders a Rolling Rock.  A Banks resident since 1996, Kroeber appreciates that his favorite craft beer has been put on tap. He commutes from his 15 acre spread on top of the mountain in his yellow jeep. “I’ve been here every day this week,” says Kroeber.

Melissa Radloff lives in Boise but has been stopping at the Banks Café for 20 years. “This is a great little place. I love this deck,” says Radloff as she gazes at the Payette sparkling below. “We always say ‘Let’s stop at Banks for breakfast on our way.’”

The Hammers’ two children, Shea, 7, and Wyatt, 4, each got to name a menu item.  Shea’s Flying Breakfast Burrito features eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, and cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla, served with salsa and sour cream.  Wyatt’s Grumpy Face Pancakes is a hit with kids, though some want a pancake with a happy face instead.

There were no grumpy faces at our table as we dined on the Kayakers Chicken Quesadilla, a Banks Café original. Listed as a starter, this signature item could be a full meal itself.  Bartender Helen W recommended The Deadwood Thai Wrap—grilled chicken served with a cabbage blend and peanut sauce and the South Fork Payette Salad—superfood kale mix topped with bleu cheese crumbles, green apples, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, and sweet vidalia onion dressing with chicken.

Stephanie told me a couple from Nampa drives up every other week to have lunch at the café.  After sampling the delicious fare at Banks Café, I totally understand that. Stephanie met their gifted chef, Pat Walsh, when she managed Mongo’s Grill in Meridian.  “He was the first person we called after we bought the place,” says Mike.

Mike and Stephanie met while attending college at Northwest Nazarene University, but it wasn’t until they worked together at Outback Steakhouse in Nampa that their relationship blossomed.  “She was my boss,” says Mike with a smile, “but I convinced her to be my wife.”

“The original permit for the site was pulled in 1915–exactly 100 years ago,” says Mike with a twinkle in his eye. “It’s fun to be part of that legacy and hopefully take it up a notch.”

 

Banks Store & Cafe

7864 Highway 55

Banks, ID

(208) 793-2617

Open 7 days a week year round

8 A.M. to 9 P.M during summer, 9 A.M. to 7 P.M. rest of the year

Beer and wine

Gift Certificates Available

 

Gates of Hope Foundation

Www.gatesofhope.net