Station 22's version of Chicken and Waffles. Photo Courtesy: Local First
There was a time in my life when I thought that hitting up the nearest Olive Garden or Chili’s was “eating out.” To me, Southwestern egg rolls and the never-ending pasta bowl were the height of culinary achievement. Eventually, I began discovering restaurants— born and bred in Utah—where one can go for a superior meal at a price comparable to those of the soulless chains currently haunting our nation’s strip malls. Local First Utah has always been a staunch supporter of the gastronomical rock stars that choose to make Utah their home, and they showed the love last week at their sixth annual fundraiser, aptly named Celebrate the Bounty.
The event was held at Rico’s Warehouse, which had been converted into a shabby chic venue for several of Utah’s most notable restaurants to present hungry attendees with samples of their autumnal cuisine. In addition to the wide variety of local food, guests were treated to the music of Touchstone Coyote, whose laidback soul provided an excellent soundtrack to the evening.
Walking from one side of the warehouse to the next was an experience in and of itself. On all sides guests were teased with contrasting aromas and visual presentations that one usually does not see or smell together. The distinctly autumn scent of Red Iguana’s pumpkin mole blended with simmering meatballs courtesy of Pig & a Jelly Jar. Guests navigated through the crowd with plates piled high with eggplant-topped crostini from Café Molisse and squares of smoked cheddar with homemade strawberry rhubarb jam from Beehive Cheese. Each restaurant in attendance served great food, but there were a few that presented dishes that will definitely bring me into their establishments for more—even though a lot of them are all the way down in Provo.
Place: Station 22 Café; station22cafe.com
Dish: Chicken and Waffles
I’m a sucker for chicken and waffles, and Station 22 took everything that I love about the dish—juicy fried chicken, maple syrup and a crisp waffle—and kicked it up a notch. Their version of this Southern classic came topped with a slice of candied bacon and deep fried leaves of purple sage. It was composed in this beautiful two-bite presentation that left sticky maple goodness on the tips of my fingers.
Place: Black Sheep Café; provoblacksheep.com
Dish: Hog Jowl Tacos
Preparing tacos for an event like this is a no-brainer, but piling a taco high with braised hog jowl meat slathered in maple bay leaf barbecue sauce and sweet pickled jicama is a stroke of genius. I’ve eaten lots of pork in my day, but I think this marks the first time I’ve ever tried jowl. The verdict? Jowl is awesome.
Place: Frida Bistro; fridabistro.com
Dish: Pancita de Puerco
Where many eateries had their offerings arranged at their table for easy access, Frida actually arranged this plate in front of you. It began with a healthy dollop of garlic purple mashed potatoes which were then topped with a nice thick slice of pork belly that had been marinated in brown sugar. The chefs then topped the dish off with a sweet and spicy orange jalapeño glaze. Excellent.
Place: Communal; communalrestaurant.com
Dish: Locals Only PB&J
By far the most exquisite dessert that I sampled, this offering from Provo’s Communal is difficult to condense into words. A cube of chilled, homemade peanut butter drizzled with chocolate ganache was the centerpiece to this familiar yet sophisticated dish. The peanut butter was paired with a reduction of Concord grape jelly and beet juice, and was garnished with a crunchy piece of peanut brittle. The chefs at Communal pride themselves in acquiring their ingredients from local sources such as the Clifford Family Farm and Amano Chocolate, and their attention to detail really comes through in this dish.
Place: Avenues Bistro on Third; facebook.com/avenuesbistroonthird
Dish: Opera Cake
Avenues Bistro’s Opera Cake is an inspired mash-up of tiramisu and dulce de leche that has been enrobed in a thick chocolate ganache. The multiple layers of almond chiffon cake were held together by smooth chocolate mousse, which gave the cake a cloudlike texture. When the flavors of chocolate and almond are balanced as well as they are here, it’s a beautiful thing.
The next time you’re feeling the urge to go out and spend a few bucks on dinner, consider these local food heroes before you enter the belly of The Cheesecake Factory. Local restaurants are extremely important to our community and they help define our culture as a state. If that’s not convincing enough, all you need to do to support a local restaurant is to show up and eat good food.