Zipping along at 80 miles an hour through Utah’s Ruby Canyon at sunset, or crossing the Mississippi River and being welcomed into Iowa by nesting American Bald Eagles are breath-taking experiences. In California, after climbing thousands of feet from Reno, Nevada, we saw the ice breaking up on Donner Lake. Enjoying meals as scenes pass by giant windows of the dining car stimulates table discussion and creates a unique camaraderie among travelers. The offerings are varied, well prepared, and delicious. Vegetarian choices are available at breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with kid-friendly offerings at each meal. Amtrak’s California Zephyr plies the rails between the San Francisco area and Chicago. On a recent trip, my meal count was five breakfasts, six lunches, four dinners, and a wine and cheese experience. Meal choices greatly outnumbered eating opportunities, and included omelets, oatmeal, fruit and yogurt, crab cakes, salmon, tilapia, sirloin, green salads, ice cream, sorbet, and cheese cake. Wines, liquor, and beer were available. Entrees were cooked to order and served hot and in a timely manner.
For as good as the meals were, it was the scenery and conversation it inspired that interested me the most. “How did the pioneers do it?”, “Imagine building the track bed through here”, “It’s hard to believe how large our country is” and “My ancestors helped settle this area” were regularly heard at meal times.
An unofficial sneak peek at the kitchen in which all the food was prepared for hundreds of people was a treat. It spanned nearly the entire length of the lower level of the dining car and was a gleaming stainless steel wonder of efficiency. A long work area, running down the center of the car, between conventional and large microwave ovens, grills, stove tops, sinks, freezers and refrigerators was a hub of activity, overseen by Chef. Plated meals were sent upstairs via dumbwaiters.
My first Amtrak trip was on the Southwest Chief, between Los Angeles and Chicago, across the deserts of the Southwest. The California Zephyr crosses the Sierra Nevada and Rockies on its way through Salt Lake City and Denver to Chicago. Now, I’ve got my sights on the Empire Builder, going from Seattle, through Glacier National Park and Minnesota to Chicago. I’m sure the meals will be first rate, and I’m looking forward to new views and conversations.