Don't take those noodles for granted
After making soup for the masses at Wellington's Cowboy Kitchen for a quarter century, Cheryl Cooper has heard it all.
"One time a lady sent back her meal and told us that she had found a piece of chicken in her soup," she said. "She wanted to know why no one had told her that there was going to be actual chicken in the soup. After that, we had a sticker up for awhile which warned that the chicken noodle soup may actually contain real chicken."
It's been 25 years now that Cooper, the sister of Cowboy Kitchen owner Glen Wells, has been rising before the sun breaks in the east to begin making the soup's hand pressed, hand cut noodles.
"I get in at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, and begin working on the day's batch of noodles," she said. "It takes 150 eggs just to get the recipe started and we use six chickens for every pot of soup we make."
The Cowboy Kitchen has been a staple on Wellington's Main Street since Wells and his partner Ralph Stevenson opened the doors in 1973. However, looking at the facilities where Cooper is bringing the soup together and baking the day's rolls, one would never believe that more than 200 diners could be served from a kitchen that size. For Wells and Cooper the confined space is comfortable and they move around one another in a ballet of food service.
According to Wells, it's more than the soup's taste or preparation that keep the Castle Country crowd coming back.
"The weather plays a big part in the size of our crowd on Thursday," said Wells, who came in to help his sister serve the morning breakfast crowd during our interview. "When it's cold, we can get right next to capacity quite often."
Moving between a bar, music spot and steak house the Cowboy Club has seen many incarnations over the past 30 years.
Currently, the steak house and restaurant boasts two of the best young chefs in the western United States. Owner Glen Well's children Ty and Lyn.
Both have impressive records concerning student chef competitions. Lyn won this year's western student chef championship, missing the national title by a fraction of a point. Ty, whose student days are well behind him, has worked locally for more than a decade, representing the family name at several area locations.
"They make the best chicken noodle soup I have ever had," said Fenner Dunlop Office Manager Jennifer Crisp. "And that roll is so warm and soft, it's just delicious. The Cowboy Kitchen is a great place to get together with your friends and enjoy a warm kicked back lunch on a cold afternoon."
Cooper, who is a mother of eight, actually starts the soup long before Thursday's rush. The vegetables are prepared and cut on Monday and Tuesday. The lamb stew's major components are gathered on Wednesday and the chicken noodle rolls out by 11:30 a.m. Thursday morning.
Like many of the best things in life, the honey and peanut butter which now comes standard with Thursday's rolls, started as a special request by one customer and before long, everybody wanted it, said Cooper.
The lamb stew, which Well's says originally came from the High Spot on Main Street in Price with Andy Douros, became part of the special when a group of "old timers," began asking for it.
"John Sampinos help me dig out a recipe by Kathrine Andrus and then Cheryl tweaked it," explained Wells. "From there we added lamb stew to Thursday's combo."
"The lamb stew is to die for," said Carbon County business man Karl Kraync, who has been enjoying lunch at the Cowboy since the1980s. "It truly has a special taste that has kept me coming back for decades."
As with many phenomena, the Cowboy Club's Thursday special started modestly and has grown.
"It was always popular," said Wells. "But Cheryl started by making one pot of soup, now we make three of just the chicken. We also started with three waitresses, now we bring in six and often me, my wife and both kids will end up down here when Lyn isn't at school."
These days, patrons will drive down from the Wasatch Front to eat the lamb stew, said Cheryl. With that type of reputation, the special is something that many of the area's working men and women count on.
"Making the soup is always an adventure," she said. "But it always manages to get out on the table and by that I mean we have never had a major catastrophe back here. I sure hope that continues."
Just as many love the meal, Cooper is not immune to the complaints every chef in America hears from their patrons.
"Oh we hear it all," she laughed "There isn't any chicken in my soup, they say often. We have learned who those ones are and so we set aside special bowls for them. I mean, we are feeding over 100 people and sometimes the chicken falls to the bottom of the pot. To put it simply, every week we do what we can to put together the best soup we can, and that's all we can do."