Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pizza Pie Cafe

A bit of Rexburg has found its way to Provo. Pizza Pie Cafe, a pizza buffet, opened recently in what used to be a Chi Chi's Mexican restaurant (hence the Aztec-looking building), then a Tony Roma's, then another BBQ place that never got reviewed here. I was starting to think that this was another of Provo's retail "black holes." But I'm predicting that PPC will become a Provo tradition.

PPC is modeled after Craigo's Gourmet Pizza in Rexburg. This began as a student pizza dive just off the campus of Ricks College. Then it went upscale (as upscale as a pizza buffet can) and moved to the north end of town on the highway. Now there is PPC in Provo. Inside, the restaurant is all shiny and new--the expensive remodeling really paid off. There are flat screen TVs (thankfully with the sound turned down) in strategic locations--even in the bathrooms.

PPC offers a wide variety of pizza and pasta, and it's always hot and ready. The crust is thick and chewy, and I think it's a sourdough. Sometimes the crust tastes kind of sweet. Pizza purists may not be happy with it, but it's a great family place. (Much better than Doc's Pizza Buffet, which is now out of business. Doc's started to get a little run down towards the end.) You know you've got a bit of Idaho when you try the Spud-o-licious pizza--pizza with sliced potatoes on top. (Hey, purists, when I was in Italy this summer, I also had authentic Neopolitan pizza with sliced potatoes. So is it Idaho or is it Italy?)

Pizza purists will still want to walk over to Niccoitalia for authentic east-coast pizza, but if you want to feed a crowd of hungry teenagers, PPC is the place.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The In-N-Out in American Fork is Now Open

Two questions:

1. Who has been?

2. How have they managed the crowds in that parking lot?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Eating Out for Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving we drove to Arizona to visit family. It worked out best for us to eat out for Thanksgiving, which was a first for me. We ate at Bill Johnson's Big Apple in Mesa, AZ, one of the few places where we could get a reservation. Bill Johnson's is a Western-style restaurant chain with locations all over the Valley of the Sun. It's mainly famous for steak, BBQ, and breakfast. The Thanksgiving menu was just OK, a step above cafeteria food. However, the wait staff was very friendly.
But we did have some excellent food elsewhere on the trip. On the way down, we stopped in Las Vegas ($29 rooms at Circus Circus), but we decided to forego the LV buffet. We had heard good things about The Egg and I (aka The Egg Works) for breakfast. They have great pancakes, waffles, and eggs served about every way you can imagine. We tried the mashed potato omelette, which sounds a little strange, but tasty and very filling. It was kind of like an loaded baked potato in an omelette. (The fact that there were garlic mashed potatoes made it even better.) The Egg and I (Las Vegas) should not be confused the The Egg and I chain based in Colorado (with a location in St. George and a new location opening in SLC). (I wonder if the Colorado chain is why the other locations in LV are called Egg Works.)
In Arizona, we were sad to see that Mama's Pizzeria (by ASU) had closed down. We used to hang out there when I was a student. We had dinner at Monti's La Casa Vieja (now run by Michael Monti). This place is on the National Register of Historic places. Still the same great steaks, but we're pretty sure that the spaghetti recipe is no longer Leonard Monti's family recipe. (It tastes like generic food service sauce.) And Monti's is much more expensive than I recall. We also stopped at The Golden Gate, a Henrichsen family favorite. This is a decent and affordable family-run establishment with the best hot and sour soup I've had anywhere (and we've looked).
The biggest surprise was The Queen Creek Olive Mill, Arizona's only olive farm and mill. We stopped here for breakfast on the day we returned to Utah. Here the Del Piero family produces locally grown artisanal olive oils using sustainable farming methods. (Yes, you'll feel like you're in Napa Valley. But it's Queen Creek.) Their "Tuscan-inspired" menu includes fresh fruit waffles, a variety of breakfast sandwiches, and eggs benedict. You can also buy a several olive products and other locally produced food products. If we lived in Queen Creek, everyone would be getting olive oil for Christmas.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Finally, something besides hamburgers. Salt Lake has always had a pretty strong Italian influence. The first Italians who came to Utah were protestants from Northern Italy who had converted to the Mormon church, but the bulk of Italians came in the huge wave of Italian immigration from 1890s to 1920s. These Italians came to work in the mines and on the railroads. Utah's "little Italy" is small relative to other big cities, but it has always been centered on the area between Pioneer park (which still has a farmer's market) and the Rio Grande station. That's where you'll find some true gems: Tony Caputo's Deli/Market and the fabulous, but somewhat expensive Cucina Toscana. (If you've got a special occasion, it's worth the money, and actually not a whole lot more for some dishes than Macroni Grill or other chains.) If you go to CT, you may never be able to go to Olive Garden again. In Salt Lake City, you will also find Settebello, certified Vera Pizza Napoletana. Downtown, by the Library, you will also find Cannella's, a Zagat-rated Italian restaurant in about the same price range as Macaroni Grill (family owned and operated since 1978).

This brings us to Fratelli (brothers). I was attending some meetings at Snowbird, and my wife and daughter and I drove down Little Cottonwood looking for a place to eat. We discovered Fratteli in the Quarry Bend Shopping Center (located at the old gravel quarry near 9000 South and about 1000 East). This restaurant is owned by Pete and Dave Cannellla (the brothers), whose uncle runs Cannella's. They have real-deal Italian food in a casual, family friendly environment (cups on the lids for the little kids). So although SLC has great Italian food, you can also find it in the South Valley, and a shorter drive from Utah Valley. (Check the Deseret News review.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Burgermania Begins

I drove past the Orem In-N-Out on my way to work today, and the line was already starting to form--two hours before opening. I'll be waiting a few weeks before I get in line, but stay tuned for my In-N-Out/Chadders burger challenge.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

First Casualty in the Burger Wars

In-N-Out is here. So if Five Guys. EZ Take Out in Orem closed. Will Chadders survive In-N-Out?

It's Official

In-N-Out Burger opens in Orem on Thursday, Nov. 19th at 10:30. They expect to sell over 10,000 burgers in the first week. I wonder how this will affect my morning commute?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

JCW's enters California Burger Wars

I've covered pretty extensively in this blog the In-N-Out/Chadders/Route 66 battle to establish the best "California-style" burger here in Utah. (Just follow the "hamburgers" tag.") Now JCW's is in on the game, although in a pretty modest way. Now the JCW's menu includes a "single single" or "double double," a cheeseburger with American cheese, grilled onions, toasted bun, fry sauce (of course) and tomato/lettuce on the bottom. I tried this recently and thought it was OK, but it comes in fourth behind In-N-Out (#1), Chadders (#2), and Route 66 (#3). (The bottom bun was falling apart--too much fry sauce?) Besides, why would you order such a burger at JCW's when you can get either a guac/bacon burger or their pastrami burger. JCW's compares favorably with what I call the "Greek Burger" establishments (Crown Burger, Apollo Burger, Burgers Supreme), not with the California style.

Chadder's is opening a new restaurant on 9th east in Provo, across from Stan's (the previous home of Hogi Yogi). I think you would drive past it to get to a McDonald's tucked behind it.

Utah Food Bloggers

Cafe Johnsonia (primarily a recipe blog) has put together a useful list of food bloggers in Utah. Cougareats gets a (modest) shoutout.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Holy Molé!

A few weeks ago, we were watching my daughter at a Winter Guard competition (color guard without the band) at West High School. These things usually last several hours, and we had enough time during a dinner break to drive around the corner on North Temple to the Red Iguana. It was tough to drive past Crown Burger, but I had something particular in mind--molé.

It's not a perfect analogy, but molé is to Mexican cuisine what curry is to Indian cuisine. "Curry" isn't just a single spice, but a blend that draws heavily on tumeric, red pepper, and cumin (or not). Just as a "curry" can be any number of spiced dishes with a blend of various spices, "molé" refers to any number of sauces used in Mexican cooking. And like a curry, a good molé is a mixture of spices and flavors that can be best described with one word--complex.

I first heard about molé when I was in college and a friend who had served a mission in Mexico described a disgusting chicken dish with a sauce made from chocolate. Several years ago, when I was in San Antonio (Mi Tierra), I decided to give it a try. It's not disgusting, and although Mexican chocolate is an ingredient in some sauces, it's more like the Aztec Xocolatl than a Hershey's bar.

The Red Iguana is famous for their molé sauces. They offer seven different kinds: amarillo, coloradito, poblano, verde, red pipian, negro, and almendras. Your seventh-grade Spanish should reveal that some of these are named after the color of the sauce and some after the ingredients. As with curries, there are strong regional variations and individual family recipes (closely guarded). I had the molé negro emolada, which includes chile mullato (like an ancho), negro pasilla (chilaca chile), Mexican chocolate, raisins, peanuts, walnuts, and bananas, plus a bunch of other stuff that isn't listed on the menu (including avocado leaves).It's hard to say that it tastes like any one of these ingredients. Individual ingredients are tough to pick out. It's just complex. My brother suggested asking for a sample of each of their sauces before you order. If you ask nicely (or perhaps in Spanish), they may bring out a small spoonful of each one.

The Red Iguana was featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. In a video excerpt, you can see how they make the very thing I ordered.

The Red Iguana recipes come down through the Cardenas family. This family also started The Blue Iguana downtown, but the Cardenas family is no longer associated with it--so don't expect the same food. The Blue Iguana is what I would describe as "upscale American bistro." Watercress salad? Breaded chicken palliard? Ginger almond crusted salmon filet? These all sound good, but they aren't based on authentic Mexican recipes lovingly handed down from one generation to the next.

If you go at dinner time, expect to wait. I've heard that it's a little easier to get in at lunch. The Red Iguana attracts a mixed crowd, so you'll find convention visitors mixing with the local hipsters.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

The first thing you notice when you walk into Five Guys is the bags and bags of potatoes. They form a little wall that you walk by as you go up to the counter to place your order. (I went to the Fort Union restaurant.) And there is a sign on the wall that indicates where "today's potatoes" came from. (The potatoes I had were from Rigby, ID--home of the Rigby High School Trojans.) I guess this is for those who understand the subtle nuances of regional tuber varieties (like wine or single-malt whiskey or single origin coffee, I guess. Perhaps we could set up a potato tasting. "This is a fine Rigby potato, so much better than an Idaho Falls variety. I hear that they may have a rare Swan Valley tomorrow. Have you tried the Moses Lake?" (Actually 5 Guys only uses Idaho potatoes. Sorry.)

$10 will get you a regular cheeseburger, regular order of french fries and a regular drink. This sounds like a lot for a "combo meal," but you need to put this in perspective. The "regular" cheeseburger is two large patties (1/3 pound). The cheeseburger is at least as tall as it is wide. You can also order a "small," which is just one patty. Most places ask if you want to make your hamburger bigger. I kind of like the attitude of a place where the "regular" is large, and you have to "mini-size" it. Looking at their nutritional chart, I figure the regular cheeseburger has easily 1000 calories--more if you add bacon. The hamburgers come with your choice of toppings. I ordered mine "all the way" with their suggested list, just to see how they imagined the ideal burger: mayo, mustard, ketchup, tomatoes, lettuce, Mt. Olive kosher pickles, grilled onions and grilled mushrooms (this last one is a little unorthodox, but a nice touch). On request, you can add fresh onions, Mt. Olive kosher relish, jalepeno peppers, hot sauce, A-1 sauce, or Cattleman's BBQ sauce. They pay a lot of attention to the patties here (each one is hand formed and never frozen), so there is the danger of too many toppings. Next time I might just get the mayo and the relish.

A regular order of french fries is actually a "small" (as is the drink). However, to create a regular order of fries, they fill a 10 oz styrofoam cup with hand-cut fries, and then dump at least that much again into the bag. There are easily more "bagglers" than official fries.

They are an efficient team at 5 Guys, so even though they make everything to order, you don't have to wait very long. But while you wait, you can help yourself to bulk peanuts in the shell--a nice bit of Virgina. (The nuts are not allowed to leave the restaurant--but I smuggled a few out in my bag.)

Five Guys began almost 25 years ago in Arlington, VA--basically the DC area--but it has now spread throughout the country. There are currently over 300 restaurants, with Utah locations in Bountiful, West Valley, Fort Union, Sandy, and Orem (the newest). 5 Guys has an east-coast feel (kosher ingredients, anyone?) and provides an nice, meaty alternative to all the California burger clones in the area. Its primary decor consists of signs praising itself. It does have a Zagat Survey rating for best hamburger in DC--the only chain to receive this honor. 5 Guys serves up fry sauce in addition to ketchup. Is this an accommodation to the local culture, or is this also the case at their other restaurants? This raises again the question: Will In-N-Out offer fry sauce when it eventually opens in Utah Valley?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's the same every year: They come, they eat, they leave.

It's general conference priesthood session again. This means that hordes of men and boys in white shirts descend on the local eateries at about 8:05 (except for those few who skip out before the closing prayer). I always feel sorry for any women who haven't cleared out by then--or those poor folks driving by on I-15 who think it might be good just to stop off at the Cracker Barrel in Springville. It must look like a convention for 12-year-old IRS agents.

Unless you want to be seriously standing in line, you need a strategy. First, you need to arrive early--not to get a good seat but to get a good parking spot. Parking parallel on the street is best, as long as you don't have to walk very far. Otherwise, park as close to the door as possible, facing out. On principle, we stay through the closing prayer and always stay to put away a few chairs before dashing out the door. There are always those who leave right after the last speaker. Not only does this violate my sense of fair play--we also end up putting away their chairs!

We make our way quickly to our car and head out, careful to drive safely and courteously and to observe all traffic laws. Don't even think about JCW's. It's not only popular, but across town, which means you have to somehow get there sooner than those whose church buildings are actually closer. Also, forget Chili's. I guarantee that it is still overrun with women at 8:05. (Zuppa's is way out--on many levels. "Guess where we're going, boys!") We tried Arctic Circle once, but then we were battling the Lehi crowd.

Our tradition (having been there twice now) is Asian Buffet in American Fork. We're trying to keep this to ourselves, but apparently word is out. It was crowded, but they were prepared. They had us all seated quickly, and since it's a buffet, everyone gets their food right away. We even had a coupon. And the food is really good too. The signs over the buffet items are handwritten on 3X5 cards in both English (sometimes "Engrish") and Chinese--always a good sign. Every one who works there is also Asian, and there is a fair amount of chatter in Chinese. It looks like they actually cook the food on site, rather than having a Sysco truck drive up with generic Chinese American. In addition to a wide range of Chinese options, there is a decent sushi bar and Mongolian barbecue. They have excellent pastries, and ice cream. One of my sons had nine desserts. And even though it was crowded, the service was great. They keep your drinks filled, and I've never seen anyone clear a table so fast. They obviously make their money on volume.

There were a few confused folks who must have been from out of town, but mostly it was a sea of white shirts (in a range of sizes).

I wonder what the folks who work there think. Have they figured out the semiannual nature of this horde of Mormon crickets? Or does it just look like every man and boy in town decided to get dressed up and eat out at exactly the same time? Whatever it was, by 9:00 it's all over. (We would have still be in line at Chili's.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wei to Go

One of the popular trends in dining out is what some call "fast casual dining." This lies somewhere between "fast food" (McDonalds in its many incarnations) and sit-down casual restaurants such as Chili's, Applebee's, or TGI Friday's. A fast casual dining restaurant typically offers restaurant-quality food but without a table service. These are particularly popular here in Utah, where diners are notoriously bad tippers.

Fast casual includes popular places such as Noodles and Co., Rumbi Island Grill, or one of my favorites--Pei Wei (pronounced "pay way").

Pei Wei is a fast-casual version of P. F. Chang's China Bistro. The food is good, but a lot faster and less expensive than it's full-service sister. Most dishes range from $6.75 to 8.25--$9.00 at the top end if you're having shrimp. With a combo meal at the local fast food place running about $5.00, you can upgrade your meal considerably by checking out a fast casual place.

I like the Orange Peel Chicken or the Spicy Korean Beef. I've also tried the Chicken Pad Thai. AnneMarie usually gets the Dan Dan Noodles with chicken. (She needs to find something between mild and medium on the spiciness scale.) As starters, they offer the lettuce wraps that everyone seems to want to get at P.F. Chang's. We haven't tried those for some reason, but we usually get an order of spring rolls.

Right now the closest P. F. Chang's is in Sandy, near the South Towne Center.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rubio's Returns to Utah Valley

I should probably mention that I'm on a quest for the best fish taco. Like most quests, this one has a certain pointlessness and an indeterminate end date. What it means is that when someone offers a fish taco on their menu, I usually try it. So far, I've been pretty disappointed (but not deterred). Most restaurants either have good fish (McGrath's or Magleby's) or good tacos (the now defunct Rosa's), but rarely do you find both. The best I've found is at the Lone Star Taqueria, a Cottonwood Heights legend, but more on that another day.

The best "fast food" fish taco I've found is at Rubios, which has finally returned to Utah Valley. Rubio's began in 1983 as a walk-up taco stand. It was started by Ralph and Ray Rubio in San Diego, CA. As a young man Ralph Rubio had enjoyed fish tacos on his frequent trips to San Felipe in Baja. Provo used to have a Rubio's at the current site of L&L, but when it closed, I had to travel to the Rubio's at 700 East between 300/400 South (by Wild Oats). Now Rubio's has opened at the Meadows in American Fork (just off the Main Street exit). I have to admit that I've been spoiled by some of the better tacos I've had. Sometimes, the Rubio's taco does taste a lot like a big fish stick. It can depend on how well it has been deep fried and how carefully it has been assembled. Remember this is fast food. The Chili-Lime Salmon taco offers a bit of an upgrade, and they also offer a Mahi Mahi taco. (Mahi Mahi sounds a lot more exotic and appetizing than "dolphin fish.") I actually liked the Rubios Carnitas taco best of all. (Perhaps a new quest?) It comes with a really good chimichurri sauce (which is more Argentina than Baja, but it still tastes good).
At their grand opening, Rubio's offered a year's supply of tacos to the first 50 people in the door. Unfortunately, I had to work that day, or we would be "livin' large."

Rubio's is part of the "Fresh Mex" movement that I usually associate with California but that can now be found throughout the country: Rubio's, Bajio, Cafe Rio, Costa Vida, Chevy's (no longer in Utah), Baja Fresh, Qdoba, Taco del Mar, Barbacoa, and Chipotle. If you want some Sonoran food (by way of contrast), try Mi Ranchito at one of its several locations. (But even Mi Ranchito has adjusted its menu to be a little more "Fresh Mex.")

Monday, March 30, 2009

Nothin' Could be Finer . . .

Charlie Boy's Pit BBQ in Springville advertizes itself as "authentic Carolina BBQ." There are certainly signs that it is authentic. You can see the smoker and smell the rich BBQ smoke everywhere. Also, you can buy meat in bulk. That's always a good sign.

What makes it Carolina? There are several distinct regional barbecue traditions. The Carolinas are rich enough to have several of their own. Charlie Boy's provides an eastern-style Carolina BBQ, which means pulled pork, slaw, and a vinegar/hot pepper sauce. (They also offer a beef sandwich, but it is pulled brisket rather than the sliced brisket more common to Texas style.) I didn't find as many sides as I expected, but they did offer up a pretty good potato salad (a little on the sweet side) and good beans. Carolina usually means "whole hog" barbecue, which apparently CB's sponsors on occasion. I thought the sauce was great, on either the pork or beef. (The pork is more authentic Carolina, but I actually like the beef better.) Next time, I'll check into getting a bottle. I'm a big fan of slaw, and I like theirs a lot. And do you suppose you could just get a dozen of their soft rolls?
Charlie Boy's is on 1400 North Main Street in Springville, on the site of the old Brand X Burger (which I never had a chance to sample). There is no indoor seating, but some nice shaded outdoor seating for when things warm up again. (There is a second Charlie Boy's in Lehi.) I'll definitely be back in the summer.

Friday, March 27, 2009

In-N-Out is Coming to Utah--in a big way

All right, it's true that In-N-Out is already in Utah, but it's in St. George, which always feels a little more like Arizona or Nevada to me than Utah. Now it's coming to northern Utah in a big way. Locations are approved an under construction in Draper, American Fork, and West Jordan, and plans are under way for Orem and Layton. The American Fork location has garnered interest because of Chadder's, an In-N-Out knock off. (It's like In-N-Out, but with fry sauce.) Will In-N-Out but Chadder's out of business? Or does have Chadder's have enough of a local following that it can stand up to the California chain? (By the way, Chadder's has just opened a new location in West Valley. Let the battle begin!) Now we can settle the debate about which is better by doing a side-by-side comparison (something that would have required an airplane before).

The Orem location is also interesting because In-N-Out will compete with two other out-of-town chains: EZ Take Out (another CA product) and Five Guys (which originated in Washington, D.C.). Anyone up for the local legends meets out-of-towner burger throwdown? We can try Chadder's, Parker's, Burger Supreme, Apollo Burgers, and Crown Burgers and compare these to In-N-Out, EZ Take Out, and Five Guys. (Then we can all check into the cardiac unit.)

Parker's Drive-Inn

Somehow Parker's Drive-Inn has managed to survive the proliferation of fast-food places in American Fork. There are other "indie" hamburger places in the north valley (JCW's, Purple Turtle, Chadder's), but Parker's is one of the originals. Lillian Parker has owned and operated Parker's for 55 years, and you can still find her working the grills in the back. As I've said in another entry, "Parker's is what Arctic Circle was 50 years ago." I like the fact that you can get a "stake sandwich" there (it's taste that matters, not spelling) as well as some truly "old school" burger joint extras: lime rickey, foot-long hotdog, brown topper, and some great shakes. The only setting at Parker's is outside (at one of the busiest intersections in American Fork), so plan on carry out. You should also be prepared to stand in line, not because they are slow, but because they are busy. They do a brisk call in business (why don't I ever think of this?), and woe to you if you get caught behind the call-in order from Cabela's or Doug Smith Autoplex. (I've had both experiences.) In an age of mass production of food, I'm not sure how long Parker's will stick around, but given the following it has, Parker's might occupy the corner of 500 East and State Road for a long time. (Check out the Herald Extra story on Parker's.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Luck + Cash = Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scouts never come to our door selling cookies, which is too bad, because we buy just about everything that some kid is selling--football, cheerleading, Boy Scouts, and especially band. (But for some reason, I don't buy anything from those kids who are part of some program to "keep them off the streets"--obviously not working.) We're only able to score GS cookies once every few years, and it's usually by chance. I got some several years ago because someone at work was selling on behalf of her daughter. My son and his friend happened upon some in the parking lot at The Canyons ski resort.

Leaving work on Friday, I found a few girls selling boxes at on the corner across from the bottom of the Maeser hill, just off BYU campus. Knowing the city of Provo, this is probably illegal. Let's hope that if they police did show up, they bought some cookies before moving the little girls along.

The other amazing fact was that I actually happened to have some cash in my wallet--enough for two boxes. ($3.50 per is the going rate.) My favorites? Thin Mints and Do-Si-Dos.

A word to moms and other adult leaders who help with the cookie sale--let the girls actually do the selling. When I got to the little card table, I asked the girls if they had Thin Mints. The adult accompanying them took over immediately. Remember, Courage, Confidence,and Character. Girls will learn this by taking the responsibility themselves. The adults should just be kicking back in a lawn chair nearby.