In the early 1950s Ben's Crow Inn was a chow house for the men who built Lucky Peak Dam. Today it is a favorite stop for boaters on their way home from Lucky Peak Reservoir and for motorcyclists returning from a day of touring Idaho's Highway 21. It has built a reputation on buckets of steamed clams, but Ben's crab legs, burgers and finger steaks are also popular. I reviewed the joint for BW almost five years ago and I, a humble California transplant, worried about dining on fresh seafood at a dive bar out in Bumfuck, Idaho. Thankfully I came away assured, both then and now, that Ben's kitchen receives fresh shipments of seafood from Washington's coast three times a week. Although the ambience is gritty and the service can be slow, a couple of beers and that bucket of clams help ease every complaint.
My husband and I pulled into the crowded dirt parking lot in front of Ben's Crow Inn for a Sunday dinner of said clams and beer. Neon beer signs weakly illuminate the bar and dining room, but most of the light comes from the open back door, which leads to the patio. Outside, half of the patio tables are shaded by a net tarp and cooled with water misters. The other half sit in direct sunlight and will actually make the fat on your bottom sizzle if you sit there on a 101-degree day. All shaded tables were taken, so we opted for a cooler table indoors, where we swatted flies and still sweated little puddles onto our chairs.
We immediately ordered the famous three-and-a-half-pound bucket of clams ($29.95), a Corona ($3) for the man and a New Belgium Skinny Dip ($3) for this little lady. About the time we were ready for a second round, it became evident we were seated at the Forgotten Table. I got up and fed a dollar to the jukebox, but could barely hear my selections. It wasn't until my third song that our waitress reappeared, apologized for forgetting us, then went to retrieve our second round and turn up the jukebox's speakers. My irritation over our forgotten status and the muffled jukebox (and those pesky flies) increased with each puff of cigarette smoke that blew steadily from the table of bikers behind us. Finally, our waitress reappeared with beers, clams and a plate of homemade thick-cut French fries. "This better be good," I grumbled to myself. Carefully dipping each nugget into melted butter, we savored every chewy bite. Slowly, my mood lightened. After a few minutes our waitress stopped by again.
"Was it worth the wait?"
"Yes," I conceded, "it was worth the wait." I'd rather spend 40-plus bucks at a nicer joint. But Ben's has its place and has enjoyed a loyal following for some 56 years. Who am I to argue with that?
Jennifer Hernandez finished last in a cherry pit-spitting contest.
Ben's Crow Inn, 6781 Warm Springs Ave., 342-9669. Open daily 10 a.m.-late.