Pizzeria Limone

The place: Pizzeria Limone, surrounded by other yummy eateries and close enough to Scheels you could probably throw a rock and hit a car in the parking lot, at 42 W 11400 S, Sandy, UT 84070.

Contact info: online at pizzerialimone.net, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 666-8707

Reservations: No

Hours: 

  • Lunch/Dinner: Mon – Sat / 11 – 10
  • Lunch/Dinner: Sun / 11 – 8

About:  Here at Pizzeria Limone our passion is to create for our customers the best Neapolitan style pizza on the planet and deliver these pizzas in a warm, inviting fine-casual dining atmosphere.  We began this journey by carefully creating our signature hand stretched dough that produces a lightly blistered crisp crust with a gentle crumb, and that’s only the beginning.

Then using only the finest ingredients we could find, we thoughtfully created sensational, mouthwatering pizzas that stay close to their Italian roots, but that are also innovative and delicious. We call this style of Pizza, “Neopolitan Revival”, where we believe we improve on an already legendary style of pizza.

Our journey to create the best pizzas in the world is far from complete as we continue to create exciting pizza combinations that will be sure to please the tastes of our discriminating clientele.  Please come in and enjoy our incredible pizzas and you will agree that our passion has made its way into every aspect of Pizzeria Limone.  Benvenuti! Source: Pizzeria Limone website, http://pizzerialimone.net/our-passion/

The ambiance: It reads a lot like a Chipotle for pizza — nice, open seating, loud music (that varies from Italian operettas to Pharrell Williams, which was weird, I’m just going to say that right now).

The Munch: Having now moved about 45 minutes away from our favorite pizzeria (Pizzeria 712, of course), I was really on a mission to find something that would be similar. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to find an exact fit, I’ll admit that I went into Limone with lower expectations. Shame, shame, shame on me. While it’s not as impressive with an ever-changing seasonal menu and a menu made up entirely of local and/or in-house made goods,  the pizzas and salads are innovative and delicious. We ordered:

  • Tre Sorelle salad (half-size)
  • Insalata Caprese
  • Margherita Pizza
  • Pera Pizza
  • Limone Gelato
  • Limone Brownie

Okay, so Mom was in town, which meant more food and more wild abandon because she was paying for it. That being said, the prices are so reasonable, it kind of makes you wonder upon ordering whether it’s going to be top quality. Don’t question it — just accept that some places don’t use fancy china and silverware and then pass those savings on to you, while serving up high quality, delicious food. <—- the snobbiest thing I’ll ever write in this blog, I promise.

The salads were fantastic — the Tre Sorelle features freshly shaved parmesan cheese atop a bed of fresh greens, blackberries, thinly sliced pear, and pistachios, all tossed in a lemon vinaigrette, which I can say pretty confidently was one of the best salad dressings I’ve ever eaten. The Insalata Caprese was very similar to those I’ve eaten at other restaurants — fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, but they also added pistachios to the top and the added textural difference was a nice change-up from the usual.

I love a good brick-oven baked pizza, and theirs did not disappoint at all. The crust had a good chew to it, while being extremely thin and crisp along the edges. The Margherita had mozzarella, basil, and halved grape tomatoes, and it was really delicious. The Pera (a difficult decision for me to make, since I wanted to try all of them) had five cheeses, thinly sliced prosciutto, pears, red onion, pistachios, and basil atop an olive oil base rather than sauce, and the sweetness of the prosciutto and pears was a lovely change from more savory pizzas.

Pera Pizza

Pera Pizza

The flavor of the gelato was akin to frozen lemonade, and was extremely refreshing, though I was disappointed that it didn’t have the usual thick creaminess gelato has (if it’s going to include that much butterfat, I want to experience it). I would order it again, however, based upon taste alone, but it read a lot more like a sorbet. The brownie was moist, rich, and fudgy, with a perfectly sweet/tart lemon buttercream under fudge ganache. I was at first skeptical about the combination of lemon and chocolate, but it was delicious!

The bill: ~$40, based upon the prices listed on their online menu (I believe the Insalata Caprese is a dollar more these days, however). For all the food and different tastes we experienced, it was a fantastic deal!

Total score: 8/10 – I do wish they had a more seasonal menu (I’m curious what the offerings with blackberries are like in, say, November), and as aforementioned, the gelato could have been creamier, but I’m excited to return to try out the rest of the menu!

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.

The Chocolate Dessert Cafe

The place: The Chocolate, in a large, old house near the unfinished condo complex, at 212 S. State Street, Orem, UT 84058

Contact info: online at http://www.thechocolatedc.com, sort of on Facebook, by phone at (801) 224-7334

Reservations: No

Hours: 

  • Dessert: Mon – Thurs / 11 – 10
  • Dessert: Fri – Sat / 11 – 11

About: We love chocolate and the word “chocolate” is synonymous (in our minds) with dessert. So for those of you who don´t share our cocoa passion, we have other offerings. But if we had it our way, the heavens would rain chocolaty brown goodness. Source: The Chocolate website, http://www.thechocolatedc.com/faq.php

The ambiance: It’s a lot like walking into a large, old house that magically has two small dessert cases, four cake plates, and a heavenly scent of warm sugar. There are a couple smaller tables on the ground level, along with a couch and easy chairs on which you can relax. There is also a second level that I didn’t visit because I was quite content sitting at my table and devouring my dessert. It’s homey (of course) and comfortable and fosters a real sense of friendship and family. Am I getting too mushy on you? I can’t help it — dessert makes me content.

Photo courtesy of The Chocolate website photo gallery, http://www.thechocolatedc.com/

Photo courtesy of The Chocolate website photo gallery, http://www.thechocolatedc.comI /

The Munch: I wanted to try all the things, trust me. It’s very difficult for a girl like me walk into a strictly desserts restaurant and use self-restraint, but I’d just eaten a large meal of delicious Thai food and was quite sure I wouldn’t be able to hold much more. They were sampling out their Turtle Brownies, which were decadent, dense, moist, fudgy, with crunchy pecans and creamy, sweet caramel, and I considered purchasing the rest. But I felt determined to try as many items as I could, so I passed and then made the difficult decision between what looked like the world’s most perfect fruit tarts, large, frosted sugar cookies, cupcakes, or a slice of three (four?) layer cake. I finally chose the latter. And because I’m a nice wife, I purchased one cupcake for Husband, who ate it in probably thirty seconds and one inhalation. Really — I brought it home, stepped into the bedroom to hang up my jacket, heard the rustling of the bag, returned to the kitchen, and it was gone. I ordered:

  • The Brooklyn Blackout
  • German Chocolate cupcake
The presentation was beautiful as well.

The presentation was beautiful as well.

I wanted to love my piece of cake, a “luscious, sweet chocolate cake paired with a dark chocolate filling and rich dark chocolate frosting” (source: The Chocolate website, http://www.thechocolatedc.com/menu.phpin the sort of way that would drive me to purchase a whole cake for $48 to enjoy for the rest of the week. I didn’t, which isn’t to say it wasn’t completely and utterly delicious, and that made me just a little disappointed. To date, however, I’ve found only one chocolate cake that was the epitome of what I want chocolate cake to be, and it was at a bridal fair I attended (when I wasn’t planning on getting married), so it was a little moot. I prefer cakes to be on the lighter side to cut through the richness. If you like a dense, rich cake, then The Chocolate will absolutely deliver, and I’d say my lack of pure elation was due entirely to my personal preferences. The filling and frosting, however, were divine — not too dark and bittersweet, but not so sweet that I felt the need to run to the dentist afterward. I was encouraged by my hairstylist to order the Kitty Katrina, a vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream, but I don’t believe in vanilla desserts and opted against it. However, I had a bite of my friend’s, and I felt as though it was a really delicious dessert if you’re not morally opposed to a vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream. The flavor was like eating a vanilla bean rather than an ambiguous sweet, white taste, and it was quite rich, certainly something I’d recommend to others.

Husband didn’t have a lot to say about the cupcake beyond “Yeah, it was good,” but if he’d taken time to savor it, I’m sure I could have coaxed out a little more review. I chose it because that’s one of his favorite flavors and the frosting to cupcake ratio seemed perfect — although I am a huge fan of frosting, I’ve been to cupcakeries that had as much frosting as cake, and that was too much to handle. I’d certainly return and try their other cupcakes as well, which are more traditional cake flavors as opposed to their signature cakes, which are Fancy. With a capital “f.”

Photo courtesy of The Chocolate website, http://www.thechocolatedc.com/menu.php

Photo courtesy of The Chocolate website, http://www.thechocolatedc.com/menu.php

The bill: Sitting somewhere around $8.50 with tax and tip — I can’t locate either the receipt or the transaction online, so I’m giving my best guesstimate. While the prices may seem a little steep, they’re definitely worth it for the quality of product you receive. Also keep in mind that if you go to a restaurant, a three layer cake can set you back up to $9 or $10, so $4.89 per slice is quite a bargain.

Total score: 8/10 — the desserts were delicious and the atmosphere comfortable, plus the staff was so sweet and friendly (as you’d expect at a cafe that probably goes through a ton of sugar a month). I’m looking forward to returning so I might sample their other tasty offerings — after all, I’ve got my eye on that fruit tart.

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.

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.