The Place: Black Sheep Cafe, at 19 North University Avenue, Provo, UT 84606
- Lunch: Mon – Thurs / 11 – 4
- Dinner: Mon – Thurs / 5 – 9
- Lunch: Fri & Sat / 11 – 4
- Dinner: Fri & Sat / 5 – 10
About: Located in downtown Provo, Black Sheep Cafe is a contemporary take on traditional Native American cuisine. Drawing on not only the Native American foods from the Navajo, Hidatsa, Hopi, and Mandan tribes but also internationally from Guatemala, Mexico, Italy and France. Owned and operated by Bleu Adams and her sister Jovanna Mason with their brother Chef Mark Mason along with their mother, Alberta Mason, creating the best frybread in Utah and their father, Winston Mason, operating as a silversmith with beautiful jewelry and crafts.
Producing delicious comfort food has been a staple to the Mason family since they were young and would visit the administrative buildings on the Navajo Reservation passing out many different variations of their frybread. After operating many booths from North Dakota to New Mexico and resettling in Provo they decided to open a restaurant to establish a permanent place to offer their delicious frybread, as well as many other dishes conjured up from their food experiences. Source: Black Sheep Cafe website, http://blacksheepmenu.com/about
The ambiance: The space is small but well utilized. While I’m fairly certain the kitchen takes up more than half the entire restaurant, there are several tables inside and two outside during warm weather. They’ve kept it somewhat austere, with Native American artwork on the walls, and a small alcove with homemade jewelry. When you first walk in, you are welcomed by a server or host/hostess and the warm, rich smells of Southwestern cuisine.
The Munch: I’d been once and ordered the traditional Navajo taco and decided on my second visit to expand my horizons (with a side of frybread, of course. While I’m no connoisseur of frybread, theirs is pretty amazing.) The menu is somewhat compact but offers a wide variety that will suit nearly any palate or craving. I ordered:
- pork chop sandwich
- sweet potato fries
- cactus pear lemonade
The frybread is served warm with a light sprinkling of sea salt, which adds depth and flavor without overpowering everything that is good about frybread. It is crisp on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside, with a good chew. I am always tempted to stop at Black Sheep Cafe on the way home to get some frybread to munch on back to Orem.
The pork chop sandwich with sweet potato fries was actually a little disappointing. Housed inside warm nanniskadii (Navajo flatbread), you are served up a generous pork chop with a fire roasted red bell pepper, mixed greens, tomato, and adobo mayo. When I first saw it, I was certain it was going to be the most delicious sandwich I’d ever eaten, but the results were mixed. The pork chop was very heavily seasoned; almost to the point where you could taste little else, and it was overcooked to the point that I had to use the sharp knife provided for me. Rather than using lettuce, I’m pretty sure they used the organic mixed greens from Costco, and the radicchio was too bitter and contrasted too sharply with the seasonings. However, the fire roasted pepper and adobo mayo were very delicious — probably the best part of the entire sandwich. The nanniskadii was fairly nondescript and got soggy the longer it took me to eat.
I am something of a sweet potato fry connoisseur. I’ve ordered them everywhere, from fast food joints to fine dining establishments to BBQ restaurants, and unfortunately Black Sheep Cafe’s did not deliver. They were far too thick cut, and rather than being crispy (as I like them), they were more like stick-shaped pieces of, well, plain old sweet potato. Again, the spices were so overwhelming, I could have probably been served up any root vegetable and not known the difference.
The other high point of the meal, aside from the frybread of course, was the lemonade, which almost transcends all other lemonade. It’s fresh squeezed and they use fresh cactus pear that’s shipped from the Southwest. The flavor is just tart enough to taste like lemonade should, but the flavor isn’t cloying at all. Just pure refreshment.
The bill: ~$24.00 including tax and tip. As it was a business lunch, and the other person ordered a Navajo taco, I’m guesstimating on the total. It is certainly one of the more wallet-friendly restaurants in the area, and you can cut down on cost further by not ordering the frybread ($4.00) or the lemonade ($4.00 for a carafe that will provide for you about four glasses worth).
Total score: 5/10. Although the frybread and lemonade were phenomenal — quite possibly the best I’ve had of either variety — that wasn’t quite enough to compensate for my flavor-blasted sandwich and fries. However, this doesn’t really deter me — the overall experience I’ve had both times has been very pleasant. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable (one is an extreme food enthusiast) and it’s a great place to sit down at, enjoy a meal with a friend, and chat for awhile. Just … maybe don’t order the pork chop sandwich.
UPDATE: After discussing Black Sheep Cafe with a coworker, and reading a Tweet that was in major disagreement with my score, I’ve decided to amend my total score, for the pork chop sandwich visit, to 7/10. The frybread really is quite delicious, and perhaps they were having a bad day when they overcooked the pork to a dry piece of near cardboard. It happens — I overcook pork all the time, after all. Thank you, @jimmycdii, for helping me rethink things.