After enduring a crash diet during the summer, I’ve made a solid effort to keep my girth at a reasonable level. After spending an evening at Celebrate the Bounty, Local First’s annual food-centric fundraiser, I found that my poundage had veered dangerously into the red. The delicious, delicious red.

It was a sacrifice I was more than willing to make. It’s not often that representatives from some of the finest local eateries are gathered in one place for the express purpose of doing what they do best. Around 25 restaurants were present, each one touting something unique and appetizing. In addition to treating attendees to their culinary talents, each restaurant was competing for different awards in recognition of their presentation and overall taste. SLC Pop took home the award for best presentation, Hell’s Backbone Grill was awarded best taste, and Caputo’s was given the Hardcore Locavore Award.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending one of SLC Pop’s dinner events, and they definitely know how to present food in a creative and artistic way. This evening, they were serving Sri Lankan Beet Curry, a beautiful medley of earthy cooked beets marinated in a warming curry sauce. Hell’s Backbone had baskets of homemade scones that went extremely well with their squash soup, earning them the award for best taste. If you’re ever visiting Capitol Reef, I strongly suggest a sunset dinner at Hell’s Backbone—it will not disappoint. The Hardcore Locavore award is given to restaurants who have made the best use of local vendors and ingredients, and I can’t think of a more appropriate winner than Caputo’s Market and Deli. While they provided some excellent charcuterie—pickled okra wrapped in house-made speck is quite amazing—I was completely floored by their pastrami sandwich. It had the elements of a proper Reuben—pastrami and sauerkraut on rye with a swatch of Russian dressing—but there was something transcendental happening with this particular sandwich. The pastrami was smooth and buttery while the dressing provided a spicy kick that I felt in my chest. Despite its small size, this may have earned a place on my top ten sandwich list.

Although I would love to include descriptions of every single morsel that passed between my lips, I will abstain in the interest of bandwidth. What follows is a list of the foods that caught my attention and lured me back for seconds—and thirds.

Place: Black Sheep Cafe 
Dish: Posole and Smoked Chicken Tacos
One of the very best reasons to visit Provo is Black Sheep Cafe, and I was very happy to see that they had come to Salt Lake for this event. All of their offerings were able to capture that alchemy between soul food and fine dining that the restaurant has tried so hard to maintain. Posole is a traditional Mexican stew that comes in many varieties. Black Sheep ladled their posole over a beautiful cube of slow-cooked beef—perfect food for a wet autumn evening as it warmed me up from inside out. During my second visit to their table, I tried one of their smoked chicken tacos. Based on many years of eating underseasoned chicken in tacos and burritos, I was subconsciously expecting the same experience here. But, this is Black Sheep, after all. The chicken was smoked using peach wood and was then topped with a beautiful and fresh-tasting assortment of peach and guajillo salsa.

Place: Pig & a Jelly Jar
Dish: Pulled Pork Sliders
Of all the pork that I ate this evening—trust me, it was a lot—I think this incarnation from Pig & a Jelly Jar was my favorite. The key here was glazing their pork in maple syrup before slow cooking it and piling it on a slider bun. That, along with their house pickles and broccoli slaw, made for an intense few bites. Nothing quite beats the tag team of sweet pulled pork and sour pickles.

Place: Meditrina 
Dish: Utah Corn Puddin’
It’s difficult to properly elucidate this shot glass of wonderful. I’m going to try anyway, though. First, think of creamed corn. Got it? Now, ramp the taste level up to eleven. Then, make it almost obscenely silky. Now, throw a sliver of perfectly braised lamb and chevre into the mix and there you have it. Sometimes simple ingredients prepared with love and tenderness can manage to outshine the finest haute cuisine offerings.

Place: Avenues Bistro 
Dish: Apple Almond Shortbread
Avenues Bistro’s Opera Cake won my heart at last year’s event, and they did it again this year with Kelly Sue’s Apple Almond Shortbread. Topped with thin slices of baked apple and a whipped vanilla bean cream cheese, it captured the flavor profile of a crisp autumn afternoon.

Place: Cupcakes by Kasthuri 
Dish: Ginger Cupcake with Lemon Frosting
This local purveyor of cupcakes prides itself on using local artisan ingredients to make cupcakes that are surprisingly low in sugar. The ginger cupcake had just the right amount of sweetness, and the citrus-spice of the ginger paired well with the lemon frosting. I have nothing but love for bakers who are striving to make delicious desserts better for me.

Though the experience of sampling 25 of the state’s best restaurant’s in one evening is a small miracle in and of itself, I think it’s the excitement and enthusiasm for food that makes Celebrate the Bounty special. I can’t think of another opportunity where chefs and diners can mingle and discuss the shared love of a good meal while actually eating a good meal. Keep tabs on Local First Utah for more information—especially to see when tickets go on sale for next year. Find more photos of the night by Talyn Sherer here