Some Tips on Tips

I think it’s time we talked about tips.

It’s you, not me. Trust me.

In the several years I’ve lived in Utah (from northern to central), I’ve heard the same thing — Utahns are horrible tippers. I’d like to give the majority of people the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s because they just haven’t ever been taught correctly rather than they’re tightwads or rude, so. A lesson in tipping.

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

First of all, the Why

Tipping is merely a reward for excellent service. I know, I know, you served a mission in Europe and you never had to tip anyone and that’s how it should be in America, etc. etc. I get it — sometimes tipping is what pushes the final cost over the edge. But the bottom line is that tipping falls under proper etiquette, and if you’re not willing to follow through, better to stay at home and make your own meals. Remember that ofttimes, your tips are not merely for your server but also distributed amongst the hosts, busboys, and cooks. The more you stiff who you think is only your server, the more you stiff everyone who made your entire experience from start to finish a good one.

Let’s Talk Percentages

If you were to a server right now who really thought he/she was hot stuff, you’d probably hear something like 20% or 25% rolling around in the conversation. And there’s entirely the possibility that you will be provided with excellent enough service to warrant that, but the national average is somewhere between 15% and 18%. Typically, restaurants will automatically add an 18% gratuity to large groups, and that’s simply because a large group requires a lot more attention and can often take away from the server’s other tables, even inadvertently. Taking an order and making sure glasses are always full for two people doesn’t really take that much mindpower, but for nine? Plus four other tables? Now we’re talking real, hard work.

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

I personally like to tip on something of a sliding scale. There has only been one instance during which I did not leave any tip at all, and I later called the manager to discuss the remarkably poor service I received. Most of the time, I’m a 15-percenter, but depending upon the quality of food, the niceness of the restaurant, or the amount I order, that number can easily fluctuate. If I go somewhere and only order a dessert, for example, that server might be looking at a very measly 50 cent tip off me, so I’ll usually do $1 or $2.  The largest tip I ever left was probably about 200%, but I ordered something really, really cheap and the other people with whom I was spending time at the restaurant ordered water.

[An aside: seriously don’t ever go somewhere and just order water. Don’t. Ever.]

If the service is impeccable — we’re talking our water glasses were never empty, but we didn’t feel bombarded by beverage (it’s like they’re encouraging you to use their toilets or something, right!?), the food came out in a timely manner (and I’m not just talking fast — that also refers to entrees that didn’t come out seconds after the appetizers so our table is littered with plates), it was fresh, hot, and the server was attentive to our needs, then I’m apt to tip 25% regardless of how much we spent. Good service deserves good reward.

Under very few circumstances is 10% an acceptable tip. We’ll get to that later.

Something to consider

At this point, you’re probably saying something about how the servers are paid normal wages and your tips aren’t really that necessary. In Oregon, that’s mostly true (although there’s something about re-distribution and taxes that I don’t fully comprehend), and I imagine it’s that way in other states across the nation. In Utah, however, that isn’t true at all. In fact, the average starting wage of a server in the state of Utah is $2.13. Yeah, you heard me. About $2/hour — probably less than your parents made when they started working (or very close to it). The rationale is that these servers will make enough in tips to bring them up to the minimum wage requirement during the workday, and if they don’t, then they will be paid minimum wage.

Therefore, if only a few of you tip, or all of you tip really poorly, this kid is either going to end up working 40 hours a week barely making minimum wage or making nothing more than minimum wage for a job that is actually really difficult. I’ve been in the restaurant industry — it’s fast-paced, exhausting, dirty, and really frustrating, and it’s about ten times more difficult than any other job I’ve ever had (barring the tax processing job I had during tax season one year — that was slightly more stressful, although cleaner). You have to make everyone happy — the hosts are breathing down your neck to move faster so they can seat more customers that have been waiting, you’ve got the customers that have been waiting and are about ready to eat each other and want their food instantaneously, there are the cooks that are working at whatever pace they’d like, regardless of all this, and chances are your manager is also keeping an eye on you. It’s micromanaging at its best (and most finite).

When you have a coupon

Just because you have a coupon that gets you a free drink or dessert or buy one entree, get one free, you shouldn’t discount the overall original price. For example: If your dinner should have cost $40, but you managed to get it for only $25, still tip for the $40. The work was put in, the food came out, it was simply free to you. Your tip won’t be that much higher in the end, and you already got a discount to begin with. I feel like I should repeat this part till it’s really ingrained in your mind: Just because you have a coupon that gets you free food, you shouldn’t discount the overall original price. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it. If that’s how you’ve been living, paradigm shift and change.

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

Photo courtesy of gettyimages.com

When you’re at a buffet

Although you’re getting all the food yourself, there’s still a nice person coming around making sure your table isn’t covered in a million plates by the end of the meal. Tip that person $1-$2 per customer.

Hey, that’s some nice ambiance

Is there live music being performed that’s really adding to the mood? Tip the musician! I usually just do $2 or $3, but I’ve seen anywhere from $5 bills in the bowl to $20 bills. Whatever you think is appropriate for the service rendered.

Some General Rules of Thumb

If you eat out at a sit-down restaurant, where a server takes your order, brings you food, ensures your water glasses are always full, and then is your cashier at the end of the meal, tip 15% at the least.

If you’re somewhere that has only counter service and a tip jar, TIP THAT PERSON. Since they’re doing “less work” (although I’ve done counter service before, and that’s pretty debatable), you can tip 10% since you’re most likely in charge of taking the food back to your table, filling your glasses, and bussing your tables. Counter service is probably the most under-tipped job, and that’s a travesty. After all, they’re still taking care of the hard parts for you.

If you order something to go that allows you to pull up, park in a convenient location, and grab your hot, packaged food, 15% is quite appropriate, but you can leave it at 10% since it’s akin to counter service.

If you have terrible service, speak to a manager before doing something rude and leaving a few pennies from your linty pocket in retaliation. Often, you can end up with an apology and free food.

In some instances (this is dependent upon the state), the server can hold onto a larger percentage of his/her cash tips than credit card.

Other instances where tips are necessary

Hair salon (10-15%)

Nail salon (10-15%)

Housekeeping at a hotel ($5/night — after all, they’re essentially cleaning a studio apt. every day)

Valet service ($3-$5 each time you collect your vehicle)

Luggage assistance ($3-$5/bag, so generally I cart my own luggage around hotels)

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.

The Awful Waffle

The place: The Awful Waffle, in an odd apartment community smack in the middle of houses built in the 30s and 40s, at 602 E 600 N, Provo, UT 84604

Contact info: online at http://www.theawfulwaffleshop.blogspot.com/, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 655-4110

Reservations: No

Hours: 

  • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner:  Mon – Thurs / 8:30 am – 11 pm
  • Lunch/Dinner:  Fri & Sat / 8:30 am – 12 midnight

About: We are a young couple with a love for all things Belgium. We’ve brought home century old recipes, gourmet recipes, and genuine Belgian equipment – all to make a lovely little Waffle and Crepe shop, tucked in a corner down by BYU. We’ve been working hard for months to make this place amazing. Please, come down and taste a little piece of Europe! Source: The Awful Waffle website, http://www.theawfulwaffleshop.blogspot.com

Sometimes I take my own pictures.

Sometimes I take my own pictures.

The ambiance: I missed out on seeing The Awful Waffle’s first location in Campus Plaza, so I don’t have anything to compare their new location to. The new location, which I find to be oddly centered in an apartment community for students who apparently never want to venture out into the real world, with no street parking to speak of, has a fun, funky interior. Brightly colored chairs, lights strung around (although that might be a just holidays thing — we’ll find out later), chalkboard menus, and a weird alcove of groceries (again, they’ll never have to venture). There are also comfy looking couches in one corner, ready and waiting for larger groups to spend quality time together. And, pleasingly, there is outdoor seating when the weather isn’t frigid. It’s industrial and hip and looks like it belongs in a city rather than a college town.

The Munch: I went with a coworker friend, and we somehow decided between arriving at the Awful Waffle and getting ourselves seated that we would share everything. We’re friends, after all, and friends share things (a valuable lesson I have learned, even as an only child — it can only result in good things). I ordered:

  • the brussels waffle with vanilla whipped cream and raspberries
  • the frites with house sauce
That much whipped cream really did happen.

That much whipped cream really did happen.

She ordered:

  • the liege pumpkin pie waffle (a seasonal special)
  • a crepe with roasted chicken, spinach, pesto cream sauce, and other delicious things (I was so entranced by the food I failed to write it all down)
Oh, did I mention all the tables are chalkboards? Because they are.

Oh, did I mention all the tables are chalkboards? Because they are.

I cannot think of a single negative thing to write about either waffle or the crepe. Nothing. My brussels waffle, deliciously cinnamony and crisp, with fresh raspberries and probably about a cup of whipped cream, was food perfection. Although I was hoping for creme fraiche to make an appearance on their menu, I assure you, the whipped cream doesn’t fall short at all. It’s a house recipe and has a perfect balance of sweetness, so every bite will be delicious and not cloying. I look forward to trying the other fruit options with these waffles in the future. The liege pumpkin pie waffle is a must-have, so you’ll want to pop in before it’s gone. The difference between the liege and the brussels is the cinnamon — if you’re not particularly fond of cinnamon, you’ll definitely want to stick with the liege, which is equally crisp and delicious. I tasted pumpkin pie filling, pumpkin pie spice, some caramel syrup perhaps?, and, of course, that heavenly whipped cream.

We call this the quadrant of food. From bottom left: savory chicken crepe, pumpkin pie waffle, frites, and brussels waffle

We call this the quadrant of food. From bottom left: savory chicken crepe, pumpkin pie waffle, frites, and brussels waffle

I love to pair sweet with savory, so I’m glad we ventured to the savory crepe and frites. The crepe was perfectly cooked – thin (not fragile) and filled (stuffed) with tender chicken, fresh spinach, cheese, the aforementioned other delicious things, all topped off with a pesto sauce I could probably eat on a piece of cardboard. Even as full as I felt, I kept returning to that crepe till at least all the sauce was gone.

The only part of our meal that didn’t make me feel ecstatic were the frites. By definition, frites are what all french fries should hope to become; double fried. And, having done my fair share of frying and double-frying, anything that falls under that umbrella should be ridiculously crispy. And, unfortunately, they weren’t. This isn’t to say they weren’t tasty (and that sauce was so good, I considered taking it home), but I had hoped for a better texture than tender all around. This might be due to the fact that they don’t fry them long enough the second time or the thickness of the potato, but I’ll probably pass on them in the future.

This, of course, did not stop me from eating nearly all of them.

The bill: Mine alone came to $9.03 with tax and tip (always tip counter service, people. Always.) For as much food as I got, this was a real bargain. I believe my friend’s total came to around $11 or $12, which meant the two of us could stuff ourselves silly, leaving a pretty good amount of leftovers, for less than $20 altogether. Their pricing is reasonable, and when it comes to the waffles, generally up to you. The base price for each waffle is $2.95, and the additional toppings are price as marked. If you want to keep it simple and inexpensive, you could just order the waffle plain and be pretty satisfied. If you add the whipped cream, it’s a mere 95 cents (don’t tell them how much they’re undercharging people for what is probably a pint of heavy whipping cream), and my fruit was 75 cents. You can walk away, really satisfied, for around $5, and you’ll rest easy knowing it was all fresh.

Total score: 9.5/10 — I’m sorry to say the frites kind of bummed me out, but the rest certainly compensated. Had I not ordered them, Awful would be getting a 10. It’s a definite must-eat-at hotspot in Provo, and chances are, you’ll see me there.

Tucanos

The place: Tucanos Brazilian Grill, in the Shops at Riverwoods (across the way from La Jolla Groves), at 4801 North University Avenue #790, Provo, UT 84604

Contact info: online at http://tucanos.com, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 224-4774

Reservations: Yes

Hours: 

  • Lunch/Dinner:  Mon – Thurs / 11 – 10
  • Lunch/Dinner:  Fri & Sat / 11 – 11

About: Come to Tucanos Brazilian Grill, where a dining experience rich in flavor and heritage awaits you. The Brazilian tradition of grilling, or CHURRASCO (shoe-HAS-ko), is a fusion of South American and European cultures. From its birth in the Pampas or grasslands of Brazil, to the sparkling beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Tucanos now extends this festive tradition to you. At Tucanos, meats and vegetables are carefully selected to ensure that only the freshest cuisine is served. Our meats are tastefully seasoned and cooked on skewers over open-flame grills. The skewers are then brought to your table where sizzling portions are sliced onto your plate. You may choose as many different flavors and cuts as you like. The Salad Festival features both Brazilian and American specialties, providing a fusion of distinct flavors, textures and colors. Festival selections include the Tucanos House Salad, hearts of palm, shrimp, seasonal fruit selections, fresh mozzarella, quail eggs and many other items. Hot selections such as seasoned rice, pastas, potatoes, stroganoff, feijoada (a traditional black bean stew) and freshly made soups including lobster bisque are also available on the salad festival to accompany the meat selections. New Salad festival selections are continually added to ensure freshness and variety. Source: Tucanos website, http://tucanos.com

Photo courtesy of Tucanos on Facebook,
https://www.facebook.com/tucanosprovo

The ambiance: Bright, colorful, a little loud (depending upon what time of day you dine), and full of enthusiastic servers and employees ready to assist as you delve into the deep, dark world of sinful gluttony. The restaurant is set up a little like a maze, with the Salad Festival housed not quite in the center, and there is a large grill/rotisserie at which all the meats, vegetables, and pineapple are cooking, waiting for your arrival. You’ll receive a red, yellow, and green cue, which will let your meat servers know whether you want them to keep coming by or to stop for the time being (or permanently because you’ve had to embarrassingly undo the top button of your pants).

The Munch: Since it’s all you can eat (both the meat and the salad bar), your culinary experience can be different every single time you go. This review will go a little differently than others because of this, and, not to toot my own horn, but *toot toot* I am something of a Tucanos master.

First, there has to be a method to your madness. I once sat back and watched a young woman on an awkward first (or second) date who’d never stepped foot inside Tucanos and decided to opt for a very large plate of salad and a dinner roll. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you could see the growing terror in her eyes as her small meat plate kept getting fuller and fuller, till it was a small hill of beef, chicken, and pork. This is not to say you can’t go the churrasco and salad bar route simultaneously; you just have to be smart about it.

My favorite meats are the garlic sirloin, teriyaki beef (served only at dinner), brown sugar ham (generally only served at lunchtime), mango cod, and the pork loin (served only at dinner). It was a fairly difficult task, narrowing down my favorites since, at any given time, you might see up to 18 different meat/vegetable options, but these generally stand out from the rest. But don’t limit yourself to partaking of only these few — each time you visit, try something new or do what I do — try them all in one sitting and then feel like dying. It’s worth it in the end. The grilled pineapple is, I’m sure, everyone’s favorite, and it’s sweet, juicy, extremely flavorful, and very much like a dessert. Paired with any of the meats, it’s a delicious taste treat, or you can gobble it up on its own.

A good example of what happens when you focus more on Instagram than your plate. I see seven types of meat and one vegetable.

When it comes to the Salad Festival, don’t get too ambitious and try everything out there. There’s really no reason why you should even put together a green salad — it’s a waste of stomach space and eating time because, after all, you can get a green salad at essentially any restaurant. The salad bar is very fresh, but it’s also not particularly special. When you slide around to the hot foods, you’ll want to try the mashed potatoes (creamy, buttery, garlicky, and smothered in melted cheddar cheese) and the beans and rice. The collard greens are delicious if you like your collard greens a little on the bitter side, and the fried bananas are an easy target for overconsumption. If you’re not particularly in the mood to try the entire farm and would, in fact, rather stick with salads and soup, then check out the Tucanos Citrus Salad (spinach, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges) and the Tuna Pasta Salad. The Wasabi Shrimp Salad is good and not too spicy, although it’s something you’ll want to avoid if you’re not fond of the flavor of horseradish. And, this should be obvious, go ahead and skip the sushi altogether. You’ll be able to find better sushi at one of the many Japanese restaurants in the county, and again, you’ll be wasting precious belly room with it.

A very small sample of the many foods you can try from the Salad Festival. Keep the portions small and you’ll enjoy your night much more

My kryptonite is the Brazilian lemonade. With the option to have it flavored with one of their many fresh squeezed fruit juices (pineapple, raspberry, and guava to name a few) and with unlimited refills, you’ll want to try it at least once. Traditionally made with whole limes and sweetened condensed milk, it’s a beverage you won’t find anywhere else. Expect to get yourself full on the lemonade alone. The desserts are pretty subpar, which makes sense — they spend the majority of their time perfecting the meat to be the star of the show, so you should treat it thusly. Skip an appetizer, take it easy at the Salad Festival, and eat till you get the meat sweats.

I’ll try to avoid using terms like “meat sweats” in restaurant reviews in the future, I promise. But once you go to Tucanos, you’ll understand.

The bill: There are a variety of ways to get around paying a full bill at Tucanos (about $25 with tax and tip at lunch and $55 with tax and tip at dinner, no drinks or desserts during either meal). They often provide free Brazilian lemonade coupons in the mail (up to six at a time) and they have a Birthday Club, which allows you a free meal (lunch or dinner, and trust me when I say you should definitely go at dinnertime) during your birthday month. You can also arrive at the restaurant around 3:30 or 3:45 to pay lunch prices (as dinner begins promptly at 4:00 pm) and then still try all the dinner meats. Unfortunately, while this seems like a foolproof method, it’s not. The lunch meats are probably going to be a little on the “sitting out too long” side and there won’t be many patrons, meaning the meat servers will be hitting your table with only about 30 second breaks. This can get you feeling really overwhelmed (although you can request slower service) and far too full. The best time to go is usually right before or after peak time; there are still enough other customers to keep the meat service rotation at a regular pace, but the meats and vegetables are still very fresh. For all you receive, however, the prices are quite reasonable.

Total score: 7/10. You kind of hit a point (at about your 10th or 11th visit) when Tucanos starts to lose its appeal a little. After all, you’re bound to find your favorites and then, regardless of the fact that you can do otherwise, have the same thing every time. Sometimes the servers (who really only bring you beverages and take your plates on rare occasion) are not particularly attentive, and sometimes the meat servers are a little too enthusiastic for my liking (at my most recent visit to the Salt Lake location, which is actually lower in quality than Provo, the first meat server told me I could call him “Little Parker.” I did not.) If you find yourself with a less than ideal server but really excellent meat servers, you can tip them separately with cash, which I am more apt to do the more often I visit. Tucanos is a fun, novel restaurant with good food and generally good service, and you’ll want to try it at least once before you leave the county.

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.