Recently, I found myself in Fort Collins, Colorado, where I asked my Aunt (who lives there and would officially be considered In The Know), "what is the best baked good in the area?".
There was no hesitation or delay in response: "Cinnamon Rolls from Johnson's Corner."
Now, here's the thing about Johnson's Corner. If you didn't know it was Cinnamon Roll Mecca, there wouldn't be any big indications as you came up to the establishment. For one thing, it's a truck stop / gas station. The type of place you'd be more likely to pick up coffee, beef jerky, or (if you're a trucker or just feeling dirty), a place to take a shower.
But as you approach the snack counter, which advertises things like burgers, fries, and sandwiches, there they are: Cinnamon Rolls not the size of your head, but roughly the size of two of your head. This may be an exaggeration, but not by much.
Turns out, the Johnson's Corner has a long history. According to their site:
In 1950, Joe S. Johnson and one of his station managers, Clayton Bearly staked the outlines of a new Johnson's Corner on the old US Highway 87. With nothing around but farm land and a beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains, Johnson’s Corner opened in 1952. Most thought Joe crazy for building in the middle of nowhere, but shortly after construction began on an interstate highway that would run right in front of the new truck stop. The words “build it and they will come ” never rang more true. When Interstate 25 opened in the early 60's, the legacy of Johnson’s Corner began. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, Johnson’s Corner has never closed its doors.
But the site Westword.com was a bit more revealing about the history of the sweet rolls themselves:
Since 1952, this family-owned and -operated truck stop has been serving down-home, King of the Road cuisine to hungry truckers, travelers and wanderers of every description. And while a recent overhaul has rendered it nearly unrecognizable from the Johnson's Corner that generations of road people came to love, the cinnamon rolls -- first prepared by local celebrity Ida May (CakeSpy note: she also lived in an interesting home) in her home kitchen, and today whipped up from her original recipe by the hundreds every day -- have not changed a bit. They're still fat and sticky, topped with a glaze of sweet-sweet icing, and they still require a fork, a big appetite and several napkins to get through. Keep on rolling.
...but you know, it's clear that I am not the first one who has noticed these sweet rolls. Per the Johnson's Corner website again,
Renowned for their World Famous Cinnamon Rolls, Johnson’s Corner was even featured in a Hollywood movie. In 1995, it was a location for the United Artists’ movie “Larger than Life,” starring Bill Murray and Matthew McConaughey. Bill and Matthew are only a few of the many celebrities to grace the booths of Johnson’s Corner.
In 1998, Travel & Leisure magazine picked Johnson’s Corner as having one of the “Ten Best Breakfasts in the World.” A few years later, in 2003, it was featured on the WB2 Network as one of the best roadside attractions in the United States. And in 2004, the Food Network called Johnson’s Corner the "Top Truck Stop Resturant" in the country.
Well, clearly the story is compelling, but what about the goods?
Happily, as big as these cinnamon rolls are on size, the deliciousness follows in direct proportion. They wouldn't be qualified as fancy fare--not by a long shot--but they are made fresh, with non-scary ingredients (the huge clamshell package in which I received mine to-go, there was nothing I couldn't pronounce), and will keep you fat and happy for a long time after eating--I'd even put it into "I'd share that" territory. Seasonal flavors are available; I went with the original cinnamon roll, which was so carb-y, sweet, and cinnamon-y that it felt like eating a warm hug. A huge, delicious hug of a cinnamon roll.