There is no better conversation about stuffed mountain lions than the conversation about stuffed mountain lions you have at Vern’s. If you’re headed north, it might be your first of many dining conversations about taxidermy; if you’re headed back to Boulder County, it might just be your last for a while.
Vern’s Place is affixed to a gas station west of Fort Collins in the 2,000-person farm and fishing hamlet called Laporte. The town sits along the Cache La Poudre, and Vern’s looks out over a cowfield, dewy and daffodil-yellow in the early morning.
It’s only about 30 minutes north of Longmont, but Vern’s feels like a roadside welcome station to something cozy and familiar, like some over-romanticized personal version of Mayberry we have in our heads. The lack of pretension at Vern’s, combined with a hearty American breakfast, is the source of that feeling.
We order a big breakfast and start in on the mountain lions. Mounted along the top of wooden beams are fish from the Poudre, elk and deer heads popping out above the coffee pot and three big cats in separate corners of the dining room. ‘What is that, a cougar? A lynx?’ Maybe Vern’s feels foreign because I’m out of place like a student walking into the wrong lecture. ‘And what kind of cat is that furry brown one?’ That cat is a bear.
The food I have a better handle on. And, the food is as cozy-making as the stuffed animals. A warm and fluffy cinnamon bun; chicken-fried steak with sausage gravy; homefries and hasbrowns; crisp bacon and toast; and an ever-filled mug of hot coffee that has a cartoon of Vern holding up a trout on a fishing line.
The chicken-fried steak was pure comfort. You don’t get chicken-fried steak for any other reason than comfort. The cube steak on the inside was tender and warm, and the resulting fry was crispy and moist. It was well-executed and fresh, and if you eat this dish on road trips you know that sometimes you get a salty hockey puck instead of the mouthgay that Vern’s serves up. The sausage gravy was rich and peppery, and thick enough to serve as a base for the over-medium eggs plopped on top of the whole thing.
Vern’s also managed to simplify the most simple of side dishes, hashbrowns and homefries, while still elevating and personalizing them. The hashbrowns were closer to mashed potatoes than fries, fluffy and just moist enough. The homefries were large wedges of potato, with an extracrispy skin left on, and subtle seasoning with salt and pepper. How they managed to get those things so crispy without drying out the whole wedge is mystifying.
The cinnamon bun — and I’m no cinnamon bun aficionado, a point worth making because Vern’s boasts the best — was good. It was about the size, color and shape of a catcher’s mitt except a lot more succulent and airy. It came with a big cube of butter plopped on top, so yeah, it was on the lighter side.
Vern’s is the perfect place to get you in the right headspace for a trip into the West, or to give you one final experience of something different before returning to Boulder County. Or, it’s just close enough to get in the car, do something different and make a long morning out of a good, old-fashioned breakfast.