For some reason, RYE has been on my “must try” list for a while now, but it seems like every time we tried to swing by and grab a bite, we hit the few hours of the day they are actually closed: between 2 and 6 pm. But the stars aligned a few weeks ago, and we checked out RYE for the first time. 

RYE is in a unique setting: it shares a building with the Urban Lounge, and in fact the restaurant is owned by the same owners as UL. The owners had always wanted a place where they could grab early morning bites and late night food, so when the space next to UL opened up, they snatched it up and opened their own restaurant. Another unique feature is that when you’re enjoying a concert at Urban Lounge and go next door for a drink or some grub, they have TV’s streaming the concert next door so you don’t miss a beat. Pretty great idea.

As you might expect based on the current dining trends in SLC, upon entering RYE you will be greeted by Edison bulbs and plentiful beards–during our visit, I counted 11 dudes and 10 beards. I’ll let you guess which diner can’t grow one didn’t have one. So, while the atmosphere is plentiful in hipsterness, the restaurant is also plentiful in delicious food.

A friend recommended the pickled quail eggs to start, and they were indeed unique. At $3, it’s definitely worth giving them a shot. I love pickled anything, and these were right up my alley, although my wife was not interested in them at all.

For our entrees I went with the shoyu fried chicken with fresh corn grits and pickled peaches. My wife had the RYE burger with roasted jalapeños, caramelized onions, and avocado creme, all sandwiched between a lovely Eva Bakery bun.

Flying in the face of most new restaurants, the serving sizes at RYE are plentiful. The ½ chicken meal was easily enough for two meals. And while I was a bit disappointed in the toughness of the chicken, the breading was deliciously crisp, and the fresh corn grits were perfect. And let’s not talk about the pickled peaches, because they were so good, so in-season, so perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, that I am salivating right now and may need to run down there and get an order if I keep writing about them. So let’s just move on.

The burger was also fantastic. Well cooked, with buns that are hearty enough to withstand the juicy drippings of this fabulous burger. And I loved the fries. Get the burger and you won’t be disappointed. 

Service was really good. Attentive, responsive, but not too intrusive. Exactly how it should be.

So there you have it. The kitchen is currently being run by Erik Daniels (formerly of Avenues Bistro and Copper Onion. Erik has gradually added some more American flare to the menu to complement former chef Tommy Nguyen’s emphasis on Asian flavors.

I’d also be remiss to not mention that RYE offers a very solid breakfast/brunch menu as well. I have not had the chance to try it, but look forward to being able to in the near future.

That’s it. I’d give RYE 8 pickled quail eggs out of 10, with a half egg deduction for chicken that was a bit too chewy. Definitely go check it out, and stick around for a show next door as well.

RYE Diner and Drinks
239 S 500 E, Salt Lake City
(801) 364-4655

Magleby’s Springville

Look, I’ll just cut to the chase: this place was not great. Passable? Yes. More than passable? Nope.

I had no idea there was even a Magleby’s in Springville until a coworker brought me here. I knew they were up in Provo/Orem, but didn’t know they had ventured this far south. The restaurant is located in a fantastically-renovated historic building on the main drag. If I had to guess, it was an old bank building that has been freshly redone. Unfortunately, that was the most exciting part of my visit.

The interior is what I like to call Utah County Cliché. I don’t know what it is, but there seems to be a higher than normal ratio of Roman columns, stark white interiors, and painted mural ceilings in Utah County than anywhere else (except, maybe, you know, Rome). Except that in Rome, they are done well. The restaurant space is huge, and doesn’t exactly feel warm or welcoming. It just seem…..vast and strangely empty.

Our service was, again, less than great. I counted a grand total of two overworked servers working a dining room filled with over 30 people. With a ratio like that, you’re bound to have some disappointments. Drinks went unfilled and desserts (which, I believe, is one thing Magleby’s is known for) weren’t even offered for our consideration.

The food was mediocre. I had the prime rib sandwich. I’m not sure how many days the prime rib had been hanging out in the walk-in, but it was tough and flavorless. The sandwich lacked any sort of imagination or flavor, and was as boring as you get.

And then there was the pickle.

The sandwich was accompanied by the saddest, most down trodden pickle I have ever seen. It looked like it was taken straight from the jar, dropped, stepped on, then lived a life of sadness camped out begging under the highway overpass, only to then find his way home to my lunch plate.

The only redeeming part of the meal were the fries. They serve my favorite kind of fries: the ones that are straight out of the freezer, with that extra little layer of breading around them, which make for a crunchy, flavorful bite. I really liked them, despite the runny “fry sauce” they were served with.

I didn’t take any pictures. You wouldn’t have wanted to see them anyway.

So, that’s about it. I won’t be going back, and wouldn’t suggest you stop there, either.

Mountain West Burrito: A Lesson in Blandness

I’ve wanted to check out Mountain West Burrito ever since they were acquired by the Heirloom Restaurant Group, who also own Communal and Pizzeria 712. Heirloom is doing such great things in the Utah dining scene, I was excited to have a little piece of Heirloom closer to home.

I was thrilled to hear that they opened a new Mountain West location near Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, which is a short 10 minute drive from my home. Draper isn’t exactly what you call a food mecca, and choices for quality Mexican-American is limited.

So is Mountain West my new go-to for a tasty burrito? In short, no. In fact, my trip to Mountain West this week was a lesson in blandness. Everything throughout my experience was the epitome of bland.

The location is tucked in next to a Firehouse Subs. The interior space is completely unremarkable. The space is filled with long, communal tables as well as a windowside bar with stools, little to no decor, and no personality. I’m no fan of Cafe Rio’s ridiculous over-the-top decor, either, but putting a little effort into creating a more welcoming environment wouldn’t be a bad idea. 

If you’ve ever been to a Chipotle, Barbacoa, Cafe Rio, or the like you’ll be familiar with Mountain West’s menu. The restaurant offers a variety of burritos, tacos, nachos, and salads. The $14 price for a burrito shocked me, until I realized how large the “giant” size is. Stick with the $7 “regular” size and you’ll have plenty to eat. So, while it offers a solid selection, the menu is rather, well, bland.

Service was vanilla as well. While I appreciated not being constantly yelled at military-style, which is my typical experience at places like Cafe Rio, the person working the counter didn’t seem particularly happy to see us or engage us about the food. We had numerous employees walk past us as we ate, and a little check in (“How is your food?” “Can I get you anything else?”) would have gone the extra mile and would have been appreciated.

Although I certainly appreciate Mountain West’s focus on local, organic, fresh (did I miss any buzzwords?) ingredients, those things are all good as long as the food tastes good. We started with an order of chips and guacamole. The chips were fresh, crunchy, made in-house, and perfectly salted. I ate more than my fair share of these. The guacamole was a disappointment. I would have appreciated some more zip and personality. Maybe some lime juice to add some acidity and offset the creamy avocado. Or perhaps some chopped onions to add some brightness. Cilantro, cumin, cayenne…anything to add some more dimensions other than just avocado.

I tried the half and half burrito. Half steak and half carnitas. The burrito come wrapped in foil and is a bit smaller (although still plenty big) than competitors’ similarly-priced burritos. They steam their tortillas, which adds a certain gumminess to the texture. The meat was tender and perfectly cooked. I had a few crunchy bits of undercooked rice, and the unremarkable guacamole made another appearance. And that’s about it for burrito fillings. In fact, I scanned the dining room looking for a fixings bar, desperate for some onions, cilantro, lime, or even some hot sauce. Nothing was in sight. I asked a dining buddy what flavors he was picking up on with his burrito. “Salt,” was his reply. I couldn’t agree more.

So, all in all not a very good experience at Mountain West. I plan on visiting again and will update this post when I do. But at this point I don’t think I would recommend Mountain West.

What do you think? Have you been to Mountain West? Did I just catch them on a bad day? Let me know!

Per Noi Trattoria

Italian dining in SLC seems to only have two gears: cheap, low-end chains, and ultra-expensive, yet tasty establishments. There aren’t too many Italian restaurants in SLC that serve high quality food at the lower price point. Then I heard about a new trattoria that opened in the old Z Pizzeria space on Stratford Avenue in Sugarhouse, and that the prices were very reasonable. It’s been on my “need to try” list for a while now.

Per Noi is located in an older building with a few other businesses next to it. Parking is limited (look in the back for some additional spaces), but this corner oozes character. More than likely, when you enter the restaurant you’ll be greeted by the ever-ebullient owner of Per Noi, Francesco Montino. Francesco is very proud of his little space, and it shows. White tablecloths top the limited number of tables in the trattoria. The space is small, but doesn’t feel cramped. Servers are decked out in all black, and are very professional, milling about as Francesco greets every guest that walks through the door. 

After being seated, we were given a basket of delicious house-made bread, which was light and had a nutty, perfect crust. The balsamic was nice and fruity, and the olive oil had a strong peppery taste. We started our meal with the Arancini – a ball of rice, peas, and mozzarella perfectly fried and served along with a lovely tomato sauce. About $6. Don’t let this picture fool you–it’s about the size of a baseball. For the entree I chose the Spaghetti Pescatore (Francesco later told me it is his favorite dish), and true to his word, it was fantastic. Spaghetti is cooked with a deliciously complex, nutty tomato sauce, mussels, scallops, calamari, and shrimp. The shrimp were a tad overcooked and a bit on the rubbery side, but it wasn’t a deal breaker due to the exceptional flavors. This is one of those dishes that will make it difficult to order any other entree during future visits, because I’m confident it will be hard to beat. The dish was around $13. Melissa went with the Pollo Marsala, which is chicken served in a marsala wine sauce and topped with mushrooms. I wouldn’t get this dish again. The chicken was a bit on the tough and dry side, and the sauce wasn’t anything that I would order again. The dish was beautifully presented, but it just didn’t get along with my taste buds.

I’m not sure what their corkage fee is, but we did see a couple bring in their own wine. It seems they’ve raised their prices about 20% since they opened, but it is still very reasonable.

I remarked to Mel during our meal that this place reminds me of a small neighborhood trattoria that you would find in NYC or Italy. Small, family-run, with an owner who is extremely proud of the food coming out of his kitchen. And he has good reason to be proud of Per Noi.  Per Noi Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Dinner at ZY

Well, I didn’t get around to many restaurants for the Dine O Round, but I knew there was one I couldn’t miss: ZY. ZY serves upscale, yet approachable modern American cuisine. Luckily they extended their Dine O Round deal an additional week, which gave me time to wrangle a group of buddies together to check it out.

They changed the interior around slightly, mainly by adding some walls made out of wood slats. Miles, the general manager, explained that the redesign was partially due to the Zion Curtain laws, and partially because they were ready to change things up. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the new walls–I’ve always though of ZY as having a modern, hip atmosphere, and adding walls made out of rough-hewn timber didn’t exactly fit, in my opinion. 

On to the food. Chef Lake treated us to an amuse-bouche that was really fun. He wouldn’t reveal much about the dish, so when we all dug in and half of us said “pear” and the other half said “potato,” we began to seriously doubt each others’ sanity. Turn out this dish had two potato balls and two pear balls sitting atop a delicious pumpkin sauce. It was a really nice, well-executed dish.

For the appetizer, I went with the buttermilk fried oysters. After trying oysters on the half-shell in the Ferry Building, I swore them off for good (gotta try things at least once, right?). However, the allure of cooked oysters was too much to resist. These oysters were indeed tasty, with just a hint of spice and a nice crunchy texture on the outside. I was really pleased with this dish.

On to the main course. Beef short ribs served with grits and collared greens. One thing that’s always impressed me about ZY is that Chef Lake understands the value of presentation. The short ribs were presented in a very fun, if not a bit over-the-top manner, with the servers carrying the dish out, topped with a glass container. As they lift the container off the dish, you immediately smell the beautiful scent of smoked wood, which lightly carries through the dining room.

The short ribs were cooked to perfection, fork tender and deliciously moist. The sauce which topped the ribs is a sweet and tangy BBQ sauce that brings the whole dish together. This one is a winner. I asked Chef Lake if he’d be willing to share the recipe, and he said “of course.”

I went with the lemon cake and huckleberries for dessert. The cake had a lovely consistency, almost shortcake-like, and the tart berries were a nice counter to the sweet cake and sauce.

Chef Lake surprised us with a fun drink at the end of the meal. It was simply hot apple juice with a bit of honey, grilled grape, and rosemary. Four things I would never think of to make a drink out of. But it really worked well. The rosemary would waft into your nostrils as you sipped the drink, creating a sweet, yet savory experience. 

Service was excellent as usual. Brady, our server, was very knowledgeable about the menu. The pace of the meal was steady, and it seemed he always stepped in at just the right time throughout the evening.

ZY Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Penny Ann’s Café

Penny Ann’s makes me happy. I won’t lie–I’m a sucker for any business that remembers my name. And Penny and her family have remembered me from day one. I walked in for lunch today, and Penny immediately says hi, followed with “I was thinking about you today!” Welcome home.

I love that their restaurant is a family business. Penny can be found up front serving guests, and her brother, Warren, is the chef. Sisters, brothers, and parents are all present, clearing tables and prepping food. 

They have a large selection of items on their menu. You’re not going to see Korean tacos, lavender-infused pork belly, or anything that could be described by the word fusion. Penny Ann’s offers the epitome of comfort food. You’ll find chicken parmesan, turkey melts, meatball subs, fish and chips, and Philly cheese steaks gracing their menu.

Nine times out of ten, however, I go with the Reuben. They make their corned beef in-house, and it shows. Ever since I had a Reuben in New York (thank you Katz!), I regularly crave it. And I go to Penny Ann’s to satiate the craving, because it is a near-perfect rendition. Tender, peppery corned beef is sliced thin and partnered with sauerkraut and just the right amount of Thousand Island dressing. The bread is crisped to perfection. One of my favorite dishes in SLC. 

Their fries are delicious as well, but if you’re an onion ring fan, I’d highly recommend you swap the fries for onion rings. You won’t be disappointed. They have just the right amount of breading, and they serve it along with their tasty version of fry sauce. 

And don’t think you can leave Penny Ann’s without ordering a piece of pie. The pies are made by Penny’s mother, I believe. They have banana cream, coconut cream, key lime, and lemon raspberry cream in their regular rotation, among many others. My wife particularly loves a special pie they make from time to time with blueberries. I believe it’s called blueberry paradise. I never dare leave Penny Ann’s without a slice of blueberry paradise in a to-go container. A portion of their peanut butter chocolate pie usually comes home with me as well. It’s such a rich affair that even this sugar junkie can only eat about half before throwing in the towel.

I’m just going to say it: their prices are ridiculously low. I know–that makes me the kid who would remind your teacher about the assignment due that day. But it has to be said. Their reuben is $6.99, and for an additional $2.50 you can add fries or salad and a soda. I’m pretty sure they don’t have anything on their menu over $10. 

They are located in a bit of a culinary No Man’s Land, with Pho Tay Ho one block north and Grove Market one block south, but not much else. Look for a big, cream-colored apartment building–their restaurant is attached to this building. They used to offer dinner service but have since changed their hours (probably so their family can get some much-deserved sleep). They are now open from 7am to 4pm, Monday through Saturday.

These guys deserve your business. Not just because they’re local or family-owned. Penny Ann’s deserves your business because their food is outstanding, their prices are exceptional, and their service is excellent. And I can guarantee you won’t leave hungry. 

1810 S Main St

Salt Lake City

(801) 935-4760

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Penny Ann's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Black Sheep Café, Provo

I don’t get down to Provo too often. But I heard so many good things from my friend Becky about a new restaurant in downtown Provo called Black Sheep that I knew I had to make a trip.

Black Sheep has an interesting background. The restaurant is founded by two sisters, Bleu Adams and Jovanna Mason. They have their brother, Chef Mark Mason, as the executive chef of the restaurant. Their family grew up on a Navajo reservation, where they learned about cooking as young children. They have brought their Navajo culture and infused it throughout their new restaurant, Black Sheep.

The restaurant itself isn’t over-the-top with decor or architecture. White walls, adorned with paintings from local artists, help brighten the spot up. I was intrigued with their floor, which appears to be plywood that was then lacquered over to make an intricate design in the middle of the space. Very cool. In the middle of the dining room, they have a beautiful glass sculpture hanging from the ceiling.

Our server was very polite and knowledgeable about the menu. He let us know upfront that since they make everything from scratch and they only make things to order, that it can take a bit longer than normal to get our food. I can totally appreciate that.

We placed our order, and that’s when service became a bit spotty. Water glasses and soda were left unfilled, and we felt a bit abandoned by our server. But not to worry, our food arrived soon enough, and it was absolutely delightful.

The green chile Navajo taco was my favorite dish (I only wish I had been the one that ordered it, because I only had a few bites!). Wonderful flavors melded together to make it a fantastic dish. The pork was so tender it almost fell apart just by looking at it.

I had the pork chop sandwich, and it was a very good dish as well. It had just the right amount of spice, and the pork was cooked perfectly. I heard good things about the sweet potato fries, and was pleasantly surprised when I saw them on my plate. I was expecting skinny, fried, crispy little sticks. But I got much more than that. Black Sheep cuts their fries thick, and either pan-fries or bakes them (more likely a combination of both). Unlike thick cut potato fries, which tend to get dry and almost powdery in the middle, these sweet potato fries were moist and tender, and were served with a tasty fry sauce.

Our buddy had the burger, and we heard good reports from him. He was kind enough to let me try the house-cured bacon, which is cut think and made from pork cheek. Yes.

Service suffered at the end of our meal, just when a bridal shower at the table next to us began. Our checks were dropped off at our table, and we sat for a while waiting for our server to pick them back up, which he never did. We ended up tracking down a hostess at the front desk to run our cards. 

My favorite restaurants are those that take fairly basic dishes, and add their own special flair to them. It’s the little things, like the beautiful salsa served atop the Navajo taco, that separate the ho-hum from the next level. Black Sheep is certainly taking things to the next level, and I can’t wait to see how far they go.

Black Sheep Cafe on Urbanspoon