Five Star BBQ Company

The place: Five Star BBQ, in an old white house, at 70 N Geneva Rd, Orem, UT 84057

Contact info: online at http://5starbbqcompany.com/, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 225-2685

Reservations: No

Hours: 

  • Lunch: Mon – Thurs / 11 – 3
  • Lunch/Dinner:  Fri / 11 – 9
  • Lunch/Dinner: Sat / 12 – 9

About: It’s true, JT has a heart as big as all outdoors and a big, big love of family and friends. That’s why he’s spent years experimenting, tasting, studying, and getting the flavors and meals “just right” for everyone he loves. But you’ve probably figured out that JT LOVES BBQ too! If you ask him what he had for breakfast, 9 times out of 10 he’s sure to tell you “Pork Sandwich with a side of Chicken.” His new Five-Star BBQ and Catering Company is JT’s lifelong dream… something he’s envisioned for years… BBQ 24/7. What could be better? (source: Five Star BBQ website, http://5starbbqcompany.com/aboutus.html)

Photo courtesy of Five Star BBQ on Facebook

Photo courtesy of Five Star BBQ on Facebook

The ambiance: The first time I ever drove by Five Star, on our way to a large recycling plant, I mentioned to Husband, “Look at that placce — it’s a big, old house. It’s gotta be amazing.” Because for whatever reason, restaurants that look campy on the outside (not to be mistaken for dirty or old or not well-kept up) tend to have really delicious food inside. We continued to drive by and finally decided to enter its doors for lunch. It’s a fairly stark interior with tile floor, one large menu on the wall, vintage art, and red/white checked tablecloth-covered tables with folding chairs. Despite our arriving around 1:00 pm to miss the lunch rush, there were still quite a few full tables and diners continuing to come through the front doors during our entire meal. The first thing we noticed was the SOLD OUT sign over the Smoked Sausage — any time a place runs out of food, that’s a really excellent sign. Although BBQ is notoriously messy food to eat, the entire restaurant was pleasantly clean with freshly wiped down tables and not a lot of mess on the floor.

I didn't actually ask if I could take his photo, but he seemed pretty unperturbed.

I didn’t actually ask if I could take his photo, but he seemed pretty unperturbed.

Although I don’t mention service very often, I have to say theirs was impeccable. The gentleman who helped us was extremely knowledgeable about all the food he was serving up, with excellent recommendations for each customer, and a willingness to answer any questions people might have. When I gave them kudos for such delicious food, they were all very gracious about it, despite the fact that I’m sure they realize they’re the best BBQ restaurant in Utah.

The Munch: Husband insists that he’s not much of a BBQ fan, and I’m not quite sure as to why that may be, so it actually took some prodding to get him there in the first place — he just never “felt like it.” When we first walked in, however, we were greeted and immediately offered up samples of each meat since we were first-timers. BBQ restaurants are always touting their “melt in your mouth” meat, but their brisket, pulled pork, and smoked chicken transcended even that description. It was extremely tender, with an almost buttery texture, and a deep, rich flavor. They have several delicious looking sides, as well, which are prepared fresh. We ordered:

  • The Brisket Plate with creamed corn, smoked beans, and cornbread with honey butter
  • The Pulled Pork Plate with mac & cheese, coleslaw, and cornbread

The portions were enormous — since I’m not much of a food weigher, I can’t say whether we each got 1/4 lb. or 1/2 lb. of meat, and the sides were plentiful. Husband’s coleslaw, sauced only once it was served to keep the cabbage fresh and crisp, took up half his plate alone, and I was unable to finish my smoked beans. As aforementioned, the meat was remarkably tender, the type you could eat with just a fork or even your fingers because it fell apart so easily.

 

Their house BBQ sauce was rich and delicious with a tangy kick — not too cloying nor smoky. I overheard a customer asking if the sauce could be purchased, and I couldn’t blame him — if I were to bring a bottle home for myself, I’d eat it on everything. Cardboard. Paper. Dry cat food. They have several other sauces available, all made in-house, like smoky chili, Carolina, and JT’s Alabama, which we were told was a peppery, horseradish-based white sauce. I ate my meal too quickly to be able to try the other sauces, so I’ll need to try them when we return.

Photo courtesy of Five Star BBQ on Facebook

Photo courtesy of Five Star BBQ on Facebook

I’m a sucker for creamed corn, purchasing it bulk at the grocery store, and I always order it at restaurants when I can because Husband doesn’t eat corn (I know). Theirs is a popular option with diners, and I understand why. It’s very creamy, well-flavored, made with corn fresh off the cob in a slightly cheesy sauce. I gobbled that right up and will probably order it every time I go. The smoked beans were rich, flavorful, and deep, and you could taste the molasses and brown sugar in them. I’ve had negative experiences at BBQ places in the past because the baked/smoked beans were in a base that clashed with the BBQ sauce, but that was not the case at Five Star — the complemented each other very well.

Brisket Plate

I initially shied away from ordering the coleslaw because it wasn’t pre-sauced — although I understood why they’d want to keep it fresh and crisp, I was worried the flavors wouldn’t have melded well together, and I was incorrect. It had a great, well-mixed flavor, a little on the vinegary side, and their method did keep the cabbage so fresh that it remained a star in the dish. His mac & cheese was also very delicious — cheesy, creamy, and smooth, although he made the good point that mac & cheese is pretty difficult to ruin. I’m excited to try the other sides, such as Brunswick Stew, Applesauce, Homemade Chips, and more. The cornbread was good; the honey butter made it great.

Pulled Pork Plate

The bill: $25.90 with tax and tip. For the portion sizes, their prices are verging on ridiculous (but don’t tell them that). Not only is it one of the most delicious restaurants at which I’ve dined, it was also one of the most reasonably priced.

Total score: 10/10. This will remain the best BBQ I’ve ever eaten (and trust me, I’ve had a lot of it, from Oregon to Utah). In fact, he mentioned that sometimes customers from Texas will come in and mention that it’s better than what they can get at home. I’m apt to believe them. If we’re going to get really nitpicky, the only complaint I have is their usage of styrofoam cups, which aren’t very environmentally friendly (when I complain about cups, you know it’s good). I look forward to making it a regular date night spot for us.

Station 22

The place: Station 22 Cafe, in that hip little strip of downtown Provo, at 22 West Center Street, Provo, UT 84606

Contact info: online at http://www.station22cafe.com, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 607-1803

Reservations: No

Hours: 

  • Lunch/Dinner:  Mon – Sat / 11 – 10

About: At Station 22, we dig way down deep into our American roots to bring you fresh, reinvented versions of family recipes, classic dishes and some new flavors you never imagined. … Station 22 grew organically to become what it is today. Rather than bringing in an outside concept, the historic downtown brought this concept to us. We have tried to tailor this restaurant to the needs and wants of the community by listening closely to comments and critique. We adjust constantly and strive to improve our business every day. We hope it shows! Source: Station 22 website, http://station22cafe.com/our-roots/

Station 22

The ambiance: You get the sense that a lot of Provo hipsters are spending their time at places like Station 22. I’ll admit, the funky decor (large, artificial deer heads are apparently a hot commodity in Utah county — see also: The Awful Waffle), mismatched chairs, and twine-wrapped napkins made me a little worried that my friend and I would suddenly find ourselves in what appeared to be a food-serving concert for Iron & Wine. But, “judge not lest ye be not judged,” and it’s a welcoming, comfortable restaurant with a friendly staff.

Station 22

The Munch: Since I am the type of person who reads a menu and peruses Facebook photos beforehand, I knew I was going to order the Sage-Fried Chicken and Waffles, and I was genuinely hoping my friend would order the Southern Shrimp & Grits (she did, after my light “encouragement,” aka I think she saw my face and knew if she didn’t order it, our friendship would be on the rocks). Therefore, we ordered:

  • Sage-Fried Chicken and Waffles
  • Southern Shrimp & Grits
  • Cookies & Milk

Chicken and Waffles, Shrimp and Grits

I’ve spent years watching food trends like chicken and waffles come about, but I feel quite particularly about where I might consume said food trends. Even though IHOP features them prominently on their menu, I’m probably not going to try them there. However, I felt like Station 22 was probably going to be my best bet in terms of restaurant choices for chicken and waffles, and I’m so glad I tried them there.

The waffle was a little sweet and buttery, the fried chicken was perfectly crisp and delicious, without being greasy, and it stayed that way for the remainder of the meal, even after I dumped all the maple syrup (real) over it. The chicken was topped with two thick-cut slices of candied bacon, and fried sage, making for a sweet, salty, savory, hearty dish. If you question whether chicken and waffles are a good pair, you should stop right now and head straight to Station 22. This entree alone was delicious enough to make Station 22 my favorite restaurant in Utah county, bumping Pizzeria 712 to second place.

The shrimp and grits, however, were nothing to sneeze at. The grits were supremely cheesy and flavorful, with a good texture (not mushy). The shrimp was plump and meaty, which is a difficult thing to find in a landlocked state, and the spicy bbq sauce was both full of heat and sweetness, creating a well-rounded flavor. Served with your choice of a side, my friend and I decided upon the sweet potato wedges, which were crispy, perfectly salted, and served with a great dipping sauce.

To round out our meal, we decided upon the cookies and milk for dessert; two large, homemade cinnamon-sugar cookies, served with cardamom milk. The presentation of all the dishes was impeccable (chicken and waffles in a personal-size cast-iron skillet, fries in a paper-lined basket), and the dessert really took the cake (one bad pun per post, please). The milk was served in a small milk jug and was warm, a perfect accompaniment to the cookies. While I don’t particularly care for the flavor of cardamom, I found the combination rather comforting, and it paired well with the cookies. I would certainly order this again.

Cookies and Milk

The bill: $13.64 with tax and tip, although our server offered dessert for free because it took awhile to get to our table, so it would have been more along the lines of about $16 (since my friend and I were going to split the cost of the dessert down the middle). For the quality and quantity of food, Station 22’s prices are extremely reasonable, and it’s an excellent place to meet friends or have a nice date night.

Total score: 10/10. Unquestionably the best restaurant I’ve been to in Utah county, more delicious than even Pizzeria 712 because it features a homey menu full of comfort foods. They use sustainable, organic ingredients where they can, and it shows.

Chef’s Table

The place: Chef’s Table, right off State Street between Provo and Orem, at 2005 South State Street, Orem, UT 84097

Contact info: online at http://chefstable.net/, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 235-9111

Reservations: Yes

Hours: 

  • Lunch/Dinner:  Mon – Fri / 11 – 2, 5 – 10
  • Dinner:  Sat / 5 – 10

About: Fresh, creative, local, energetic, passionate — this is how we would describe the feel of Chef’s Table. Come and see what we mean. Source: Chef’s Table website, http://chefstable.net/fine-dining/owners/, edited by author.

The ambiance: This is fine dining at, well, its finest. The exterior is fairly misleading, and you’ll probably end up surprised at how large and roomy it is once you enter. The tables are all set with linens and water goblets, and there is a lovely view of Provo from one of the back rooms. It’s clear the entire staff has been well trained on how to provide for each diner an excellent experience, and they are both attentive and stay out of the way; you never feel hovered over nor do you feel neglected.

Photo courtesy of Chef's Table on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/chefstableutah/photos_stream

Photo courtesy of Chef’s Table on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/chefstableutah/photos_stream

The Munch: Because we went on Valentine’s Day, there was a prix fixe menu, so the offerings might not be what you’ll find if you visit on a regular weeknight. There were five courses, including a sparkling cider toast (during which Husband and I toasted to not killing each other by now), all of which were better than the last. We had:

  • hand made cheese straws with marinated olives
  • fresh baked “stone ground” rolls and Chef’s Table herb butter
  • sparkling cider toast
  • wild mushroom crostini
  • roasted potato bisque
  • tuscan romaine wedge salad
  • mesquite grilled “Ballard Farms” pork rib eye
  • Alaskan halibut with rock shrimp risotto
  • macadamia crusted baby cheesecake
  • chocolate brownie mousse cake

The cheese straws and marinated olives were only okay, but that’s largely because I abhor olives in their many forms, and I’m still fairly unsure as to what their definition of cheese straws actually is. I assumed they’d be made entirely of cheese, but their texture led me to believe otherwise. The rolls were some of the most delicious dinner rolls I’ve ever had in my life, and I was sad when I wasn’t able to lure the young woman back over and steal the entire breadbasket.

The amuse bouche (wild mushroom crostini) was the epitome of a perfect bite of food. Your teeth would sink into the tender mushrooms and basil roast tomato, then meet the satisfying crunch of the crostini, and the goat cheese foam was perfectly balanced — just a little salty and a wonderful texture to offset the rest of the ingredients. It was an eye closer for me, and I rarely have those during a meal.

Wild Mushroom Crostini

Since we were dining together and are more than happy to share our offerings, my husband and I always choose as many options as we can. He ordered the salad, and I ordered the soup, and I was more willing to share mine with his because I am a better person. The potato bisque was velvety smooth and not grainy at all, which can easily happen with such a starchy base. It was topped with crisp bacon, leeks, and a lemon oil, and the flavors melded together really well. The lemon oil added a nice, fresh brightness to the earthy soup, and the bacon and leeks were good, rich additions as well. The romaine wedge salad was also really excellent; the lettuce was crisp and came with a bruschetta vinaigrette, mozzarella, and some of the best aged balsamic I’ve ever tasted. It was equal parts tangy and sweet, and is something I would certainly order if offered.

Tuscan Romaine WedgeRoasted Potato Bisque

There were six entree selections to choose from, and I decided that we should have gone out with two other couples so I could have tasted each. However, neither of us were disappointed with our decisions, as they were remarkably delicious. Husband opted for the pork rib eye, which was served with a BBQ cherry demi-glace, glazed onions, candied sweet potatoes, and roasted broccolini. The portion was quite sizable, but it was still tender and perfectly cooked; the demi-glace was a little smoky and sweet and paired very well with the pork and onions. We gobbled up the candied sweet potatoes before anything else, and the roasted broccolini was also delicious and well cooked — neither burnt nor mushy.

Mesquite Grilled Ballard Farms Pork Loin

My seared halibut was probably some of the most well-prepared fish I’ve had the pleasure of ordering out, which is saying something since I come from the Pacific NW and have eaten at several oceanside restaurants. Halibut is probably my favorite fish, so long as it is prepared correctly, because when it is the flavor is mild and the texture is firm but flaky. It was served atop risotto with rock shrimp and fresh herbs, which was creamy and flavorful, and also came with baby asparagus spears with a hint of lemon. I rarely order asparagus at restaurants because it is often overcooked and thusly mushy (I live in fear of mushy food, as you can probably tell), but this asparagus was fresh and crisp and had a wonderful flavor.

Seared Halibut with Rock Shrimp Risotto

For dessert, there were four options, but I believe we ordered the two best offerings. The cheesecake had an almost ethereal texture, and the macadamia nut crust was a nice departure from regular graham cracker. It was served with a berry compote and sweet cream, both of which were perfect accoutrements to the delicious cheesecake. The chocolate brownie mousse cake had a double brownie base topped with a classic dark chocolate mousse, and the pairing of the rich flavors and differing textures was perfect. I savored each bite and was sad when my plate was empty.

Macadamia Crusted Baby CheesecakeDouble Brownie Mousse cake

The bill: $123.77, including tax and tip. For a five-course meal in a fine dining establishment (particularly one that offered up reasonable portions rather than a few bites of food that forced you to go through the drive-thru on your way home), this felt like a steal. If ordering from the everyday menus, however, expect to pay somewhere around $20 a person for lunch and $40 a person for dinner, although that price can fluctuate depending upon whether you opt for appetizers, salads, soups, and/or desserts.

Total score: 10/10. This is only the second perfect score I have issued to a restaurant in Utah county, but I found no fault in the ambiance, service, or food at Chef’s Table. It was a perfect dining experience, and I look forward to joining them again.

Old Towne Grill

The place: Old Towne Grill, in a historic building in downtown Provo, one floor below the Madison, at 295 W. Center Street, Provo, UT 84601

Contact info: online at http://theoldtownegrill.com, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 375-2183

Reservations: Yes

Hours: 

  • Lunch/Dinner:  Mon – Sat / 11 am – 10 pm
  • Breakfast: Sat / 8:00 am – 11 am

About: 

Our mission is to provide phenomenal food and superb service, at great prices. Because we believe you should eat well without having to spend a fortune.

Wherever possible, we are committed to using local, organic and sustainable products both in our food and throughout our restaurant. We will make every attempt to buy from local farms and to minimize waste wherever we can, thus lowering our “food print” in an effort to both save the environment and keep money in your wallet.

We care about providing fantastic food to the guests who dine with us, and we also know there are so many in our community who go without. Therefore we are committed to partnering with organizations to help put an end to hunger and poverty. Take a look at our blog or sign up for our e-newsletter to learn more about our charity partnerships and promotions.

Our goal is to be your neighborhood American Grill – a place you can relax, grab a bite, and enjoy a meal among friends. Source: Old Towne Grill website, http://theoldtownegrill.com/about-old-towne-grill/

Photo courtesy of Old Towne Grill on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/oldtownegrill/photos_stream

Photo courtesy of Old Towne Grill on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/oldtownegrill/photos_stream

The ambiance: Imagine if homey and lackluster got together and tried out a relationship. While there certainly is decor on the walls and mismatched dishes (like you’d find at home? At Grandma’s? I’m not sure why restaurants do this because I’ve never actually been to anyone’s home and had a different set of dishes than the host/hostess), there’s still a somewhat bleak austerity to the Old Towne Grill. Because it’s housed in a historic building and is below a night club (yeah, you heard me, a night club in Provo, Utah), the architecture is a little awkward for a restaurant, and space feels fairly limited. However, there are lovely, large windows for you to look out while you dine, and it seems like they did what they could with what they had.

The Munch: I went with a coworker who is a lighter eater than I, so we shared a salad and had our own entrees. We ordered:

  • grilled kale salad
  • center street tacos
  • madison chicken sandwich with a cup of cuban black bean soup with smoked ham

I typically don’t have much to say about servers, since I like to focus primarily on the food (unless, of course, they drop dishes and food on us). However, my coworker and I had such an awkward encounter with our server, that I can’t really shake it off. Having worked in the restaurant industry myself, it was pretty clear she was a first-time-ever server, which is perfectly fine (we all have to begin at the beginning, after all), but she was equal parts uncomfortable and pushy. She spent a little too much time at our table after we ordered, compelling us to come up with brief conversation, and she was quite insistent upon what my coworker order, which may have come from management, so I won’t hold that entirely against her. This isn’t to say she wasn’t kind or prompt, as she was both, but I hope in the future the management at Old Towne Grill trains their staff a little better — food service is a whole different ballgame than any other industry, and it requires a certain demeanor.

Moving onto the food.

The salad, which wasn’t actually something my coworker had wanted to order in the first place, turned out to be a pretty good prompt from our server. Primarily spinach-based, it had small bits of crispy, grilled kale, orange segments, toasted pepitas, seasoned breadcrumbs, and chopped dates, with a honey vinaigrette. I wished it came with far more kale than it did, since the name naturally implies you’re going to be getting a plate full of grilled kale, and the seasoned breadcrumbs were there for no apparent reason, but it was still delicious. The chopped dates added a wonderful sweetness and textural difference against the greens, and the orange segments (fresh, not canned mandarins) were refreshing and bright. The honey vinaigrette was quite wonderful — not too cloying, which can happen when you have a honey-based sauce.

Grilled Kale Salad

My coworker ended up full enough from the salad and took her street tacos and black beans home, but the presentation was lovely, and I have little doubt in my mind that they were tasty based upon their preparation and appearance. They topped the black beans with crumbled blue cheese, however, and I thought that a perfectly odd combination; I would have preferred something more authentic, like queso fresco.

Street Tacos

My sandwich was very good but also provided for me something of a letdown. I’ll admit that I am a pathological menu reader; once I know where I’m eating, I always peruse the online menu to decide whatever it is I’m going to order so as to speed up the entire process of going out to eat and also to avoid the awkward, over-asked question of, “What would you recommend?” When you really think about it, the last person on earth you should be asking meal advice from is a perfect stranger who most likely has a completely different palate and set of tastebuds than you. On both the online menu and the physical menu, it says the sandwich has: grilled chicken on a ciabatta roll, green chiles, roasted red pepper, pepper jack cheese, avocado, and chipotle mayo. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I ordered this sandwich was for the roasted red pepper, so you can imagine my disappointment when my sandwich arrived, beautiful, delicious, flavorful, but without any red pepper to be found. It was also served with what tasted a lot like swiss cheese, rather than pepper jack. The sandwich was still very good – all the flavors mixed well together, and I can understand why it won Best sandwich of the Taste of the Valley 2012, but I would have loved roasted red pepper. There was also menu discrepancy with my coworker’s meal; the menu clearly states you will get four tacos, and she only got three. Hopefully they will align their menu more closely to what they are actually serving, so there isn’t any confusion.

Madison Chicken sandwich

The soup was probably the highlight of the meal for me, although, again, another letdown because both my coworker and I were hoping for the salmon chowder, and it wasn’t going to be ready for consumption for about 20-30 minutes after we arrived. Since we were there around 11:40, and the restaurant opened at 11:00, I anticipated all the menu items would be ready to order, and I was disappointed to discover the salmon chowder (which appears to be a soup they offer every day, based upon their Facebook page) wasn’t. However, the Cuban black bean was incredibly rich and flavorful, with a light broth and topped with tortilla strips. The ham added a good smokey flavor without being too salty. I would certainly recommend it to future diners, when it is available.

The bill: I did not pay, but I believe it hovered somewhere around $27-$30 with tax and tip. Their prices are extremely reasonable, particularly for the amount of food you get, but if you want to make sure you keep it inexpensive, go for lunch rather than dinner (a good tip at generally any restaurant that doesn’t share a lunch and dinner menu).

Total score: 7/10. This restaurant was certainly above average; I ate some really delicious things and would definitely return to try other menu items (plus, I love to support local businesses and the fact that it’s in a historic building is novel). However, the uncomfortable service and discrepancies between menu and what was served did tarnish my first visit, leaving me less inclined to return sooner than later.

Cravings Bistro

The place: Cravings Bistro, next to a funky little boutique, at 63 East Main Street, American Fork, UT 84003

Contact info: On Facebook, by phone at (801) 756-3333

Hours:

  • Lunch/Dinner: Mon – Thurs / 11 – 7
  • Lunch/Dinner: Fri / 11 – 9
  • Lunch/Dinner: Sat / 11 – 8:30

About: Gourmet Grilled Cheeses for Grown Ups! Source: Cravings Bistro on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cravings-bistro/171917332895886?sk=info

The ambiance: Cravings is a funky little bistro with only a handful of tables, with mismatched chairs, and a homey, warm, welcoming feel. You’ll find the menu written fancifully on chalkboards on the wall and sandwich boards, with full descriptions of each sandwich, soup, entree, and dessert. The only downside I found to the entire restaurant was the several grammatical errors popping up all over the menus — I believe I found about four iterations of the word “avocado,” and only one of them was actually correct. But this is the Creative Writing major/grammar snob in me, and I should state that if that’s the only thing I can find wrong with an entire establishment, then you really have nothing to worry about.

The Munch: I am a real sucker for grilled cheese sandwiches. (Indulge me for a second): when my nephew ended up having emergency plastic surgery this summer, my brother-in-law insisted the hospital cafeteria’s grilled cheese sandwiches were actually pretty good, and I have to say he was right. I had two that weekend, just to make sure.

But Cravings doesn’t serve up anything even sort of like a hospital cafeteria grilled cheese sandwiches. In fact, I am quite certain Cravings’s sammies would point and laugh at those hospital sandwiches if they weren’t so gosh darn nice. A friend and I each ordered our own, then shared half with the other. Those two were so delicious, I naturally had to then get a third half. I ordered:

  • the abc — granny smith apple, candied bacon, and cheddar on french bread
  • the tba — fresh turkey, candied bacon, avocado, tomato, and cheddar with a caramelized red onion mayo on french bread
  • the french dip grilled cheese — homemade pot roast, swiss cheese, sauteed, grilled onions, and mayo on french bread with a side of au jus

In writing the description of each sandwich, I feel as though I could simply close this blog post right here, and that would be entirely sufficient. These are not the grilled cheese sandwiches you will ever be able to make at home. Oh, you can try. You can buy yourself a cast iron skillet (I’m speculating that’s what they use at Cravings) and a sandwich press. You can purchase all the ingredients and make yourself a pot roast and a roasted turkey in the oven or crockpot, and you can try to put together all the things that make these sandwiches so idyllic. But you won’t quite get it right, and you won’t know why.

Of the three, the TBA takes the cake for me. I can’t exactly pinpoint what it was about that particular sandwich that was so sky-high delicious to me, more than the others. The turkey was fresh, not sliced or deli meat, and it was piled on. The cheese melted perfectly, and if you haven’t eaten candied bacon, you will want to start this afternoon. The avocado was smooth and creamy, the tomato was a perfect, acidic accoutrement, and the caramelized red onion mayo was slathered on just enough to add a good, rich flavor without overpowering the rest of the sandwich.

The french dip grilled cheese, too, proved to be a near perfect sandwich. The pot roast was remarkably tender and juicy, and had they said, “Oh dear, we’re out of cheese and bread,” I probably would have settled for it just fine. The swiss cheese was a perfect culinary decision on the owner’s part — cheddar would have been too sharp and would have taken away from the flavors melding in that sandwich, but the swiss cheese added just enough bite and good flavor to simply enhance. I love sauteed, grilled onions, and they, too, were exactly what the sandwich called for. The au jus was rich and dark and delicious, and was not, as with many others I’ve had in the past, too salty.

While I will admit to the ABC being my least favorite of the three, I am in no way indicating that it was not a completely delicious sandwich. It just fell a little short of the other two, but I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves food. While granny smith apples are relatively difficult to eat on their own, thanks to their especially tart properties, they pair very nicely with cheddar cheese. Add to that the candied bacon, for extra sweetness, and you have a well-balanced marriage of sweet and tart and savory and salty. I would absolutely order this (or any) sandwich again.

The bill: Because my friend had a buy one, get one free coupon via text, the total for my one and a half sandwiches totaled around $7. Their prices are extremely reasonable, and if you follow them on Facebook or join their text club, you can manage getting out of there only spending a few dollars at a time.

Total score: 9/10 — you’ll want to go hungry and wear loose-fitting pants because the selection of grilled cheeses is vast and the cupcakes and cookies for dessert looked divine (although I was too stuffed to even try one).

Black Sheep Cafe

The Place: Black Sheep Cafe, at 19 North University Avenue, Provo, UT 84606

Contact info: online at http://blacksheepmenu.com, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 607 2485

Reservations: Yes

Hours: 

  • 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

Photo courtesy of tumblr.com

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:

  • frybread
  • 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.

Photo courtesy of Marcus Wickes on Urbanspoon

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.

Photo courtesy of Black Sheep Cafe on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/blacksheepcafe

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.

La Jolla Groves

The Place: La Jolla Groves, in the Shops at Riverwoods, at 4801 N University Ave #610, Provo, UT 84604

Contact info: online at http://lajollagroves.com, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 224-5111

Reservations: Yes

Hours: 

  • Lunch/Dinner:  Mon – Thurs / 11 – 9
  • Lunch/Dinner:  Fri & Sat / 11 – 9:30

About: Our first inspiration for La Jolla Groves came to us, late one evening, while visiting the Isle of Capri. We found ourselves dining under the canopy of a lemon grove, drinking garden-fresh lemonade made from the very trees we sat under.

Upon returning home, we longed to again visit that magical place, enjoying the vibrant tastes and alluring atmosphere of Capri. It was then that we determined to create such a place of our own. We partnered with a world-class chef and started on the adventure of building La Jolla Groves.

We worked tirelessly to achieve INSANELY GOOD FOOD using HEALTHIER INGREDIENTS, all at an affordable price. With our garden-fresh, wholesome food, kind staff & charming atmosphere among a grove of lemon trees, we’ve created a dining experience that transplants you to a starry night-out on the Isle of Capri. Source: La Jolla Groves website, http://lajollagroves.com/about.html

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Groves on Facebook
(https://www.facebook.com/lajollagroves)

The ambiance: Sitting underneath a grove of lemon trees (artificial, of course) is actually a really lovely dining experience. It makes things feel a little more al fresco, a little more intimate. Everything about La Jolla Groves, from the flooring to the menus, indicates it will provide for you an excellent fine dining experience. I’ve been twice; the first time underneath those lovely trees, the second time in a back room without lemon trees (I preferred the first visit for a number of reasons). The back room admittedly felt a little like Olive Garden or Romano’s Macaroni Grill, since it didn’t have the personalized, unique touch of the front dining area.

The Munch: My husband and I went to La Jolla Groves with my parents; I’d been one other time and was so pleased with the experience that I felt certain my family would enjoy it just as much as I had. Knowing the pasta dishes and desserts were remarkably tasty, I stuck with that. For this review, I’ll extrapolate on all four orders, since I was lucky enough to taste each. We ordered:

  • balsamic marinated stuffed mushrooms
  • mushroom soup
  • cheese tortellini with bacon and garden peas
  • pair of beef tenderloin and chicken marsala sandwiches
  • chicken pot pie
  • lemon roasted chicken

We’re not really a family who orders appetizers, but when it comes to stuffed mushrooms, we’re generally more than happy to make an exception. While most stuffed mushrooms are smallish and filled with some sort of seasoned pork sausage, these were vegetarian-friendly, literally stuffed with fresh herbs, oodles of gorgonzola cheese that oozed with every bite, and served atop fresh greens tossed in a pesto oil, balsamic vinaigrette. These were the stuffed mushrooms to beat all other stuffed mushrooms. The cheese to mushroom ratio was probably about 2:1, which is entirely appropriate when it comes to … food, and the pesto oil, balsamic vinaigrette was light, fresh, and provided just enough sweetness to cut through the salty cheese and herbs.

Unfortunately, for the cost, we weren’t really provided with enough appetizer to feel anything short of slightly robbed. For $7.95, we got three stuffed mushrooms, and for that priced I’d hoped for at least four (since there were four of us) or, say, eight.

The mushroom soup was undeniably delicious and could probably make a believer out of any mushroom hater; it was thick, luxurious, and had an excellent mushroom taste. It was garnished with a basil oil, which added a good richness, and to top it all off, it was served in the most delightful little porcelain pot with a lid. If I return, I’ll order the mushroom soup.

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Groves on Facebook
(https://www.facebook.com/lajollagroves)

All of the entrees were very good, although some were far better than others. The lemon roasted chicken, ordered by my father, was everyone’s favorite. The lemon sauce was nice and bright, clearly made with fresh lemon juice, but it wasn’t so acidic that you were left puckering your lips. The tender, succulent chicken was served atop some of the creamiest whipped potatoes I’ve ever had and alongside steamed vegetables. I think by the end of the night, the rest of us wished we’d ordered the exact same thing.

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Groves on Facebook
(https://www.facebook.com/lajollagroves)

The chicken pot pie was less of a pie and more of a creamy chicken and vegetable filling topped with star-shaped phyllo dough cut-outs and came with a side salad. The filling was very homey and comforting, and the phyllo was crisp and light. The salad was fairly non-descript, but it was a side salad, so we didn’t expect much.

My cheese tortellini left something to be desired. My first few bites seemed extremely delicious; the applewood smoked bacon paired nicely with the sharp, salty fresh parmesan and the fresh garden peas, but the creamy tomato sauce had an odd aftertaste, and the cheese tortellini was akin to something you might buy out of the refrigerated case at the grocery store. I ate everything but wished I’d ordered something different (like, say, the lemon roasted chicken).

Husband ordered the sandwiches, which were the equivalent of fine dining sliders, and the flavors were intense and delicious. They came with a side of crispy, well seasoned hand-cut fries, which were probably the highlight of the entire meal. Sliders are, after all, just sliders.

For dessert we shared two; the orange creme brulee and the chocolate bundt cake. Admittedly, I’d eaten the chocolate bundt cake before, and it’s one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever had. With a dark, rich molten center and a few drops of sweet (but not cloying) vanilla sauce on the side, it is the epitome of dessert perfection. The orange creme brulee had a sweet, citrus flavor and smooth, creamy texture. Both are must haves if you eat at La Jolla Groves.

Unfortunately, one thing overshadowed the deliciousness of the meal and the enjoyment of the ambiance: our server dropped a couple plates on my father’s arm. That, in and of itself, wasn’t too problematic (although salad dressing ended up all over his shirt sleeves and lettuce all over his side of the table). What left a bad taste in our mouths afterward was the lack of compensation. No discount on dinner, no free dessert, no certificate for a return visit. Although the server was extremely apologetic and attended to the situation very quickly, it didn’t entirely make up for what Husband and I considered to be bad customer service. If you drop dishes on one of us, we’d like a free dessert at the least. I don’t think this is unreasonable or out of the ordinary; I daresay most people would expect something similar.

The bill: Undisclosed to Husband and me, although I believe with tax and tip it hovered around $100. To cut down on costs, you can skip the appetizer and only order one dessert to split.

Total score: This is two-part for me. Had the evening gone flawlessly, I would have given them an 8/10, but given the accident, I have to rate them at around 6/10. I am undecided as to whether I will return.