320 South State Street, Suite 147, Orem, Utah
Date Reviewed: 4/26/08
Have you ever found yourself in Utah County around 6 P.M. surrounded by a wasteland of strip malls, cheap burger joints and row after row of cookie cutter houses and thought to yourself, “I’m hungry and I’m in Happy Valley; where the hell am I going to eat?”
Well, I found a place, and it’s in Orem, no less. If you’re anything like me, the idea of eating out that far south in the valley brings to mind such palate-busting, gut-wrenching, big-family-accommodating, conveyor-belt food troughs like Chuck-a-Rama and, ahh, well, Chuck-a-Rama.
I guess there might be a couple of other places like P.F. Changs and a McDonald’s, but culinary delights are not the first thing that I think of, until now. It was the end of April and we were in Orem looking for some pizza place that a friend of mine swore would be amazing.
It was my wife’s birthday and I was skeptical and, maybe just a little scared. Located at 320 South State in what could be the ugliest condo development in all of Utah (it looks like some demented and sprawling Tower of Babel) lies Pizzeria 712.
The décor is simple: warm comfortable colors and unassuming simple furniture, with an open kitchen. The space is small and seats maybe 50. On a chalkboard by the kitchen is scrawled, “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,” a quote by restaurant guru Alice Waters of the renowned Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.
Waters’ statement seems to drive the menu here. Don’t let the word pizza mislead you; this is not the greasy shit you get delivered when you’re stoned and too lazy to make grilled cheese; this is fine dining at its best. Not the kind of breakthe-bank-and-go-home-hungry-and-embarrassed-becauseyou-forgot-your-tie fine dining, but the my-mouth-loves-meand-I-think-I-love-life-a-little-more-because-of-it fine dining.
Chefs Joseph McRae and Colton Soelberg, both formerly of Sundance’s Tree Room, started this place with the goal of making fine dining more accessible and sustainable, and this
they accomplished by using pizza cooked in a wood-fired brick oven, something familiar and lacking pretension, and using ingredients that are fresh, purchased locally when possible, and most are made in-house.
When we spoke on the phone, Soelberg promised regular changes to the menu and seemed genuinely excited about the coming months and all the farm-fresh ingredients that will be at hand. They picked Orem because it was close to home for both of them and there would be a high-density population in the mixed-use complex in which they are located.
The menu was simple and small, featuring just a few appetizers, salads, pizza and dessert, but almost overwhelming because everything sounded fantastic. With appetizers like a white bean stew with house-made sausage and braised duck leg ($7.50) and wood roasted brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnuts, bacon and vinegar ($6) as well as pizzas that range from the somewhat simple tomato sauce with hand-pulled mozzarella and basil ($9.50) to one with caramelized onions, potato, rosemary, and fontina ($10), it’s no wonder it seemed almost impossible to make up our minds.
They have a small selection of Squatter’s beer and now have a lunch menu offering a handful of panini sandwiches that range in price from $6 to $7.50 in addition to a slimmer version of the regular menu. My wife started with the house-pulled mozzarella and arugula salad with crostini and sea salt ($7.50) while I tried the roasted beets, house-made ricotta, endive, walnuts and tarragon salad ($6.50).
Both were incredibly well-balanced with no one flavor overwhelming any other and were reasonably priced at less than $8. For dinner I had the roasted fennel and house-made sausage pizza for $12 and my wife had the speck, sopprassata, garlic and mozzarella pizza for $11.50.
I can no longer eat sausage anywhereelse; the flavor was delicate and rich and was perfectly complimented by a tomato sauce that can only be described as actually tasting like tomatoes; you know, that sweet-yet-tart and smooth flavor that you think a tomato ought to taste like. Apparently, my wife’s food was excellent too, but I wouldn’t know because nothing could pull me away from my own dinner.
We had no room for dessert, but the Winder Farms pannacotta with winter fruit ($6) was tempting. We even had leftovers, which were nice the next day when I was stoned and too lazy to make a grilled cheese sandwich. The pizza was surprisingly still good. The only downside to this place is that Orem is nowhere close to my home and now I have a reason to venture into Happy Valley way more often than I am comfortable.
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