102 North University Avenue
Provo, UT 84601
Sat. 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Tues. – Fri.
11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Tues. – Sat. 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Closed Sunday – Monday
The last stop on this journey was Communal Restaurant, which many people consider to be a true pioneer of the Utah County food scene. As the name would suggest, diners join one another at a large wooden table, and the food is prepared in portions that are big enough to share. All of the ingredients are acquired locally, and it communicates a strong sense of what Utah is capable of as a producer of food. Communal is part of the Heirloom Restaurant Group, a collection of local restaurants and caterers of which Orem’s Pizzeria 712 is a member. Colton Soelberg is the man behind this local collective, running the show with co-owner and director of catering, Joseph McRae, and it’s evident that he’s passionate about treating his diners to an excellent experience. “You have a finite amount of bites in this life, and each bite is one less that you’re going to be able to experience. We’re committed to making those bites the best they can be,” Soelberg says.
Soelberg grew up in Provo, and after working in restaurants all over the country, he decided to bring his culinary expertise back home. “After seeing some of the more unique restaurants in New York and San Francisco, I realized that Utah County didn’t really have anything like that. It was like a blank slate,” says Soelberg.
From a culinary point of view, Communal is all about crafting sophisticated yet comforting dishes from the best seasonal ingredients that Utah has to offer. When dining at Communal, it’s a good idea to start with some of their menu’s Small Shares. The La Ney Ferme Beets ($8.00) and the Mixed Radish Salad ($12.00) are both cool and refreshing. The beets are cooked to an al dente consistency, and each one packs a surprising pop of sweetness. In contrast, the Mixed Radish Salad is pleasantly crunchy and the lemongrass dressing adds an acidic tone that complements the fresh radishes nicely. I also couldn’t pass up their Deviled Farm Eggs ($2.00 per egg). Their preparation varies from night to night, and I liked the two options that I tried. One of them was prepared with crispy bacon, and the other was adorned with a slice of smoked salmon. They were delicious, but two bucks is a bit steep considering their dainty size. As an entrée, the Koosharem Valley Steelhead Trout (half portion $13.00; full portion $24.00) is excellent. It’s cooked in a glorious mixture of brown butter, lemon and capers, which emphasize the trout’s natural flavor. It’s rich, flaky and best of all, it tastes like it came from Utah’s own waters.
Both Soelberg and the staff of Communal are dedicated to a professionalism that comes through in their food. I had a few minutes to watch sous chef Vance Lott prepare the night’s orders. Despite preparing food for dozens of guests, he remained enthusiastic about the work that he and his colleagues do at Communal. Soelberg says, “We’re dedicated to commitment and consistency, no matter what. It’s making that decision to spend two hours cleaning the kitchen after closing, even though you’ve just been slammed by the Friday night dinner crowd.”
In addition to serving great food, these three restaurants have come to represent a movement to bring more local flair to Utah County. Whenever local businesses can cause people to reinvest in their community, that community inevitably becomes stronger. If the occasion to visit downtown Provo ever comes your way, it’s worth it to stop by any of these three fine establishments for a memorable culinary experience.