Sunday, March 30, 2008

Crown Burgers--The Tastiest Parking Downtown

Yesterday we ventured downtown Salt Lake to see the Video Games Live! concert with the Utah Symphony. Crown Burgers on North Temple/300 West seemed like a good place to grab something to eat. Little did we know that it would also pay for parking. If you spend at least $14 for food you can get an event parking pass for the Crown Burgers lot for the evening. From there it is a short walk to Energy Solutions Arena, Conference Center, the Gateway, or Symphony Hall (our destination).

Crown Burgers is a downtown legend which has now become a small chain. The original CB is on 200 South and 400 East, but the North Temple location is well know to thousands of men and boys who have crowded the joint following General Priesthood meeting. Unfortunately, there are no restaurants in Utah Valley. Like Astro Burger, Apollo Burger, and Burgers Supreme, Crown Burgers was started by a Greek family, so in addition to hamburgers, you can also get gyros and souvlaki (kebabs). As far as I know, CB is the first Utah Greek burger diner.

AnneMarie got the chicken gyro, which has a great tzatziki sauce. I got the Crown Burger, which is a 1/4 pound hamburger with hot pastrami stacked on top. They have thick-cut fries and their own variation on fry sauce. Because each CB restaurant is owned separately (by a different branch of the Katsanevas family), each one has slightly different menu items and decor.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

EZ Take Out Burger

For years, people have speculated about when In-N-Out Burger might finally open a place in Utah. This place has a cultish following, and with so many former Californians in the state, Provo would seem like a gold mine for In-N-Out. There are those who say that In-N-Out is anti-Mormon (but aren't there plenty of church members in So. California?) I suspect that they haven't opened a joint in Utah because they only use fresh ingredients. Apparently, Las Vegas and Phoenix are about as far as you can ship the fresh ground beef from Baldwin Park, CA. I'm sure that part of their desire to keep the chain relatively small is to maintain the "aura" surrounding it (in the same way that Harley Davidson does with their motorcycles).

There are conflicting reports of In-N-Out coming to Washington (near St. George), but according to the Dixie Sun, In-N-Out will open there in May.

The desire for In-N-Out also fueled the craze about Chadder's in American Fork which was well documented in this blog (look under "hamburgers").

Now along comes EZ Take Out, another hamburger place that seems oddly familiar. This California chain first got started in 1969 in Upland, CA, and it competes directly with In-N-Out (which got started in 1948). Sometimes, these may even be across the street from one another. They offer a simple menu: hamburger, cheeseburger, "double take" (which is a double cheeseburger) and a couple of chicken sandwiches. You can get your any of these "monster style," which is like In-N-Out's "animal style.) Interestingly enough, they also have breakfast burritos.

I know that people get pretty fanatical in the California burger wars (don't even try to talk to fans of Tommy's), but I think EZ is a pretty close approximation of In-N-Out, and probably a bit better than Chadder's. But it looks like if you crave the real thing, your drive down I-15 will become a bit shorter in May. (St. George is still technically Utah, right?) Too bad we can't just buy a fresh one of each and do a true side-by-side. (This would be a bad day to get your cholesterol checked.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Whistle Wok

The Whistle Wok may be the world's only Chinese take-out/dine-in restaurant with a railroad theme.

The Whistle Wok actually began life as The Whistle Stop, a sandwich and ice cream place. As in the Dairy Keen in Heber City, there was a model train than ran around a track at the top of the walls near the ceiling. There were also pictures of trains on the wall.

I don't remember ever going to the Whistle Stop, and it didn't last long. But the Chinese place that replaced it has become an American Fork institution. I suppose it was to save money, but the new owners just changed the name from Whistle Stop to Whistle Wok and kept the train theme. (The pictures on the wall and the model train and tracks are still there, but I've never seen the train running.) They also continue to serve ice cream.

The Whistle Wok does a brisk business. The food is typical Chinese American fare: garlic beef, sweet and sour pork, General Tso's chicken, orange chicken, cashew chicken, egg rolls, won tons, etc. Occasionally, they'll have something a little unique (like the sesame-paste pineapple dumplings they were handing out tonight). But most of it is just what you would find at similar places (including Panda Express or Smith's in AF). And it's cheap. In addition, where else can you get hand-scooped ice cream to go with your kung pow chicken? With ice cream, trains, noodles, and finger foods, it's a great place for kids.

We go on occasion when AnneMarie gets a craving for hot and sour soup. Their soup needs to be hotter and more sour, but it's still pretty good for $1.69. It's the perfect remedy for when AM has a cold. It also brings back fond memories of going with her mother to the popular Golden Gate in Mesa, Arizona, which has great hot and sour soup. (I also liked their lemon chicken.)

The Whistle Wok tried to open a second location on the west side of American Fork over by Sears in what would seem like a better location, but perhaps one Whistle Wok is enough.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pizzeria Seven Twelve

On a chalkboard mounted on the wall of Pizzeria Seven Twelve is the following quotation from Alice Waters: "When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is."

This quotation identifies the roots of 712 in California cuisine and also demonstrates their commitment to excellence. They take pizza to an art form.

712 takes its name from the proper temperature needed to cook pizza dough. Their name suggests an attention to detail that is evident in the food. The chefs, Colton and Joseph, came from the Tree Room at Sundance, which has long set the standard for fine dining in the Utah Valley area. But unlike the Tree Room, 712 is affordable. The pizza here costs about the same as pizza at California Pizza Kitchen, but at 712 you don't feel like you're eating at a chain restaurant. And I'm going to say that the pizza is better (even though I really like CPK).

712 reminds me of those small neighborhood restaurants you find in New York City. It may only have a dozen tables. As a result, you may find yourself waiting for a table at busy times (although we went about 1:00 pm and were seated immediately). This may also not be the best place to take young kids. Also, they don't do take out. But who would want to "take out" one of these pizzas when you can eat it hot out of the wood-fired oven in such a nice environment. (If you're really looking for take out, drive on down to CPK.) We found the service there to be great. If you're not sure what some of the ingredients are, just ask. Need a recommendation on a pizza? They're more than happy to oblige.

I visited 712 with Ed, a friend from work. While we waited for our pizza to cook, we polished off the complimentary handmade hummus with pizza crust cut into triangles.

He had the pizza margherita, a Neapolitan classic (which the server casually referred to as "our Marg"). It is tomato sauce, hand-pulled mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. I had pizza with speck, sopressata, garlic, and mozzarella. Readers of this blog know that my favorite kind of pizza is cheese pizza (which I would expand to include a good margherita). I normally don't like sausage on pizza unless it's really good. And soppresata is really good. (I asked the server about it.) It's an Italian dry-cured salami, but a long way from the greasy, waxy salami you get at the grocery store. Speck is a cured and smoked prosciutto from the South Tirol area of Austria (near the Italian border). The smoking is what sets it apart from regular prosciutto, which is typically dry cured. I think we both liked this second pizza better. Ed's pizza was $9.50 and mine was $11.50. These 10 inchers were more than enough for one but probably wouldn't have been enough for two large guys to share (unless we had ordered salads are some other accompaniment.) These prices are comparable to CPK. In fact, although I haven't checked, I think 712 may be slightly cheaper.

We decided against dessert, but their offerings look pretty enticing: apple cobbler, panna cotta, and chocolate cake with premium vanilla ice cream. (AnneMarie and I will make a trip back for dessert.) The dessert menu shows their commitment to high quality local ingredients. The panna cotta is made with creme from local Winder Farms, and the premium vanilla is from the Spotted Dog.

Here's the only problem with 712. It's kind of hard to find. It's located on the ground floor in one of the buildings in the upscale Midtown Village commercial/residential development at about 400 S. and State Street in Orem. (Since I blog about food, not architecture, I'll just say that you can't miss it.) It's much easier to turn in coming from the North, or perhaps from Orem Boulevard (State Street's parallel universe). But perhaps it's all right that 712 requires a bit of work to find. The more for the rest of us.

Joseph and Colton are also fellow food bloggers. Check them out.