FOOD: The Californization of Utah Valley

Written by Chance Clift on . Posted in Food

Inside the belly of the California beast.

Inside the belly of the California beast's brand new location in the heart of Utah Valley.

November 19, 2009, will forever go down in history as the day Utah County got “hella chill.”

Today, I decided to witness the Californization of Utah with the grand opening of Orem’s In-N-Out Burger. I wasn’t really that hungry, but it was a local cultural event. Besides, I already slept through the meteor shower earlier this week, so I had to get my shared experience fix for the week — and I knew there would be some prime people watching to be done at the In-N-Out opening.

When I arrived at around 3:15 p.m. on opening day, the line went about 20 feet outside the door. “Oh no,” I thought. “I’ll definitely be late for class.” But, to my surprise, I got my order taken within 15 minutes, with only a 10 minute wait afterwards to get my food.

While waiting in line, there was already an excitement in the air. Employees stood by the door, greeting both Utah natives and transplants alike. They handed out pamphlets about In-N-Out, including nutritional information. Two bro-esque gentlemen in front of us smugly declined the pamphlets when offered, as if to say, “It’s cool. We’re from Cali. We’re In-N-Out vets. We just longboarded here uphill from Raintree; we don’t need your pamphlet!”

As I entered the doors of this hallowed, still spotless building, I saw the army of employees behind the counter, a machine as well-oiled as their fries. For many of the employees, this discipline and business sense no doubt comes from their years in BYU’s MBA program. I didn’t know who to feel more sorry for — the college graduates wearing the red, white and yellow hats, or me, for not scoring their job.

I expected this event to cater to two kinds of people: California natives that wished they were still in California, and Provo natives who wish they were born in California. While looking around at the crowd inside the restaurant, though, I realized something: this was the most diverse, yet unified group of people I had ever seen in Utah County.

Here was every social group in the valley, and yet they were all equals. Yuppie grandmas and hooded hardcore kids were eating the same fries. The condiments used may have been different, but they were essentially eating the same thing.

Unlike most clubs, cliques or cults, everyone feels welcome at In-N-Out. No cryptic handshakes are needed to order off of the “secret menu” and, unlike the band you discovered before anyone else, the more people that enjoy an animal-style Double-Double, the better.

In-N-Out is also a final frontier of burger joints who call a spade a spade, and admit with pride that they are, in fact, just a burger joint. Like a Facebook profile, void of the HTML customization of its social networking predecessor, In-N-Out is one of the few restaurants in this complicated world that still teaches us this universal lesson: no matter what the content of our personal profiles, we are all more alike than we really think.

Chance Clift is Rhombus’ newest contributor. He is NOT from California and is NOT “chill,” “random” or “spontaneous,” — and neither are you.

MUNCHMOBILE: The Thai Kitchen

Written by Jake Welch on . Posted in Food

WEEK 9 — THE THAI KITCHEN

After a week in which our Munchers snacked on the burgers of the giant fast food chains, they decided to go back to their roots and hit the streets of Provo in search of some good grub. Instead of going for the usual burger and fries on a Saturday night, the Munchmobile crew of Jake Welch, Ben Wagner and Steve Pierce desired some flavor from the Far East, leading them to The Thai Kitchen.

The Thai Kitchen, located on the corner of 300 South and 300 West in Provo, is a locally owned and operated business that doesn’t have a lot of pizazz. The place was recommended to a few of our Munchers on the fact that it was fairly decent Thai food for a reasonable price. For a long while, our Munchers really only had these two things on their radar. If a place offered quality food that wasn’t going break out bank, then it was a winner.

This was the situation until their experience at The Thai Kitchen, where the element of service was called to their attention. In the restaurant business, the service can be the deal breaker. An honest and timely serving staff can give the costumer that extra motivation to return, while a lackadaisical or difficult one can scare off the costumer, no matter how good the food may be.

In the case of The Thai Kitchen, our munchers didn’t have good things to say about the service. Maybe it had to do with the food being served almost an hour after they ordered. It might have been longer if they didn’t speak up and mention how long they had been waiting. It turns out there was only one chef working in the kitchen on that particular Saturday evening. This might be normal protocol for a Tuesday afternoon, but should never be the case on a Saturday night.

There were other things that took place during the Munchmobile’s stop at The Thai Kitchen, but we’ll let the crew speak for themselves as they discuss and rate their meals.

Jake Welch — Pad Thai

I am not super familiar with Thai food with the exception of the dish Pad Thai. I usually go with this selection because it is usually a safe bet for a good meal. In the case of The Thai Kitchen, the Pad Thai was too safe. I can understand that sometimes certain restaurants want to cater to the community by “Americanizing” their foods, but the lack of flavor in their Pad Thai is truly a disservice.

I thought the noodles and chicken were well prepared, but there wasn’t much else to it. I found it sad that this “authentic” restaurant was not able to compete with a Thai chain out in California called Thai Spice that offered very flavorful food at about half the price. I would even go so far as to say that my dad’s homemade Pad Thai was on par with this stuff. Just for the record my dad has never set foot in Asia and was raised in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Sure, Costco might have helped with the meal, but still, I expected more from The Thai Kitchen. 2 out of 5 elephants

Ben Wagner — Chop Chop (sort of)

I too am not overly familiar with Thai food, but I have had mostly positive experiences every time I have partaken. That was not the case at The Thai Kitchen. I was in the mood for something with noddles so I ordered a dish whose name escapes me at the moment. Up till this point, I was not as wholly dissatisfied with the service at The Thai Kitchen as some of my fellow munchers: the waitresses were friendly (perhaps overly so, but that’s another story) and courteous. The food did take quite awhile to arrive and would have taken longer if Mr. Welch hadn’t spoken up, but I was enjoying myself.

The waitress brought out a dish announcing it as being the “chop chop”, which was the dish ordered by Rhombus’ illustrious editor Steve Pierce.  He, of course, took the food and began to eat it. A few minutes later, another waitress arrived with a dish that was also announced as being the “chop chop.” Of course, this was the real chop chop and the first dish was actually mine. Unfortunately, it was long gone and, as we had already been there an hour, I wasn’t about to send it back; therefore, I ended up eating what I had not oredered. This is a deal breaker for me — the fact that I had to pay for something I did not order pushed my level of customer dissatisfaction over the top. The chop chop, in and of itself, was somewhat bland and not anything to write home about, but it wasn’t what I ordered so the experinece was ruined for me. Safe to say I won’t be returning to the Thai Kitchen anytime soon. 1 out of 5 Buddha statues.

Steve Pierce — Whatever Noodle-laden Dish Ben Ordered

I am a patient man. Really, I’m not one to get all uppity over small things. I generally take things as they come. However, I cannot condone waiting an hour for one’s food at some makeshift Thai restaurant, then having the orders be wrong and having it all taste like you’re eating moistened strips of cardboard.

Perhaps this is the influence of my wife (who works at a restaurant and is extremely conscious of these things), but poor customer service is inexcusable at an eating establishment — especially when it is as awful as our experience at The Thai Kitchen.

To be honest, I can’t even remember any specifics about what I ate that night. I suppose it was probably fine, but it certainly wasn’t anything memorable. But even it was, it wouldn’t matter. I could have eaten the world’s juiciest steak drizzled in edible gold and I would have still left profoundly disappointed. Memo to the staff at The Thai Kitchen: Service is king. Zero out of 5 solo Thai chefs.

In conclusion, if you ever consider opening up a restaurant, just remember that it doesn’t matter if you have the best food in the world; You will ultimately fail miserably if you don’t have an adequate service staff. Hopefully the owners of The Thai Kitchen can learn that in the future. 1 out of 5 misplaced orders.

For suggestions on where you’d like to see the Munchmobile head next week, leave a comment below, send an e-mail to rhombusmag@gmail.com or send a message on Twitter to @rhombusmag.

Ben Wagner, Jake Welch and Steve Pierce are correspondents for Rhombus. Follow them on Twitter @ben_wagner, @jraywelch and @steve_pierce, respectively.

MUNCHMOBILE: Big Mac vs. Big Carl

Written by Jake Welch on . Posted in Food

(A much belated) WEEK 8 — BIG MAC vs. BIG CARL

Big Carl and Big Mac

The contenders: Big Carl vs. Big Mac.

In the history of mankind, there has never been a bigger fast food chain than McDonald’s. That being said, the biggest and most famous burger in all world has to be the Big Mac. Ever since the days of our infancy, we knew the Big Mac to be the mother of all burgers. As teenagers, we knew we were almost reaching our adult years if we could finish a Big Mac meal with ease. Known for its two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun, this burger has been iconic for decades.

For years no one dared take a stab at the burger of all burgers — until now. Just recently, up-and-coming fast food joint Carl’s Jr. came up with their own version of the Big Mac, cleverly named the Big Carl. They have flooded the airwaves with direct competitive advertisements that poke fun at the McDonald’s powerhouse. They claim to have bigger patties, more cheese and a better price.

These audacious claims led our Munchmobile crew to question if Carl’s Jr. really had something on their hands. Could their new Big Carl duke it out with the reigning world champ? We sent two of our fiercest munchers, Ben Wagner and Jake Welch, to see which burger packed more punch. The results? Well, just read and find out.

Ben Wagner

This was the UMFC (the Ultimate Munchmobile Food Championship) and this week our two heavyweights duked it out in the octagon of my stomach. The contenders were McDonald’s favorite the Big Mac and the underdog, the upstart Big Carl. I’m not the biggest fan of McDonald’s, but I’m the first to admit that on some days a Big Mac can really hit the spot. Therefore, I was suspicious that the Big Carl could reproduce the success of the Big Mac, and I was right in thinking so.

While the Carl is certainly superior to the Mac when it comes to the size and quality of the meat, the Big Mac has it in a submission hold on taste. The patented special sauce of the McDonald’s specialty is its strong point, giving it flavor that sets it apart from other fast food burgers. The Big Carl had no chance; In trying to recreate the special sauce, you’re Big Carl comes complete with a sauce that tastes like a bad batch of fry sauce from Arctic Circle. Without the flavor of the special sauce, the Big Carl just can’t compete with the Big Mac — or even the other excellent burgers Carl’s Jr. has to offer. If you’re at your local Carl’s Jr., you’re much better off with one of their patented “Six-Dollar Burgers” than the Big Carl.

The winner by knockout: the Big Mac.

Jake Welch

Upon receiving the challenge to choose between these two behemoths, I made the very poor decision to take on both burgers at the same time. It was around 11:37 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten since 11 a.m., so I was pretty famished. At the time, it seemed like eating both burgers in one sitting was a good idea. Not so, my friends. No matter the circumstances, do not try this at home (or at any location, for that matter.)

After purchasing the two burgers, I found a place where I could sit quietly and digest in peace. I decided I would take a few bites from the contender, the Big Carl, because it looked the more appetizing of the two. I was pleasantly surprised to get a mouthful of delicious beef and cheese. These patties tasted like they were fresh off the grill and had something to prove. The sauce was lacking but, boy, did the beef bring it. After a few more mouthfuls I made my way over to the Big Mac. Upon lifting the burger out of the box (which was very classy) I couldn’t help but notice the diminutive nature of the patties. Those darn commercials were right — those pieces of meat weren’t pieces, they were bits. Nevertheless, I took a bite into the Big Mac and I received confirmation that there was very little beef. However, where the Big Mac lacks beef, it makes up for it in the special sauce.

From there I went back and forth between the two burgers, munching and nibbling, trying to decipher the better burger. On one hand, there was the Big Carl, who boasted some bodacious patties; and then there was the Big Mac that had all the flavor one could handle. Amid this difficult decision, I glanced over to my receipts for some help and there lied the deciding factor. The Big Mac was $3.87 while the Big Carl was $2.72. Case closed.

The winner in a knock-down, drag-‘em-out slugfest: the Big Carl.

In the end, our two munchers disagreed — but there was a lot learned on their trip to the land of big burgers. The Big Carl boasted some big flame-broiled patties, while the Big Mac held on strong with its special sauce. In this case, it looks like to each his own. Here at Rhombus, we want to know what you think about these two burgers. Feel free to take the challenge yourself and then tell us your thoughts. Just remember, don’t try and take on both at the same time, no matter how hungry you are.

Taken the challenge? Got an opinion? Have an idea for a future Munchmobile destination? Feel free to comment in the space below, send a tweet to @rhombusmag or e-mail us at rhombusmag@gmail.com.

Jake Welch and Ben Wagner are correspondent for Rhombus, who specialize in sports and tech, respectively. However, when their powers combine, they becomeCaptain Planet the Munchmobile crew! Follow their deep, burger-powered thoughts on Twitter @jraywelch and @ben_wagner.

MUNCHMOBILE: Stumpy Burger

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Food

WEEK 7 — STUMPY BURGER

This week, down one man, the Munchmobile headed to downtown Provo in search of a classic American favorite: a good old-fashioned cheeseburger. This noble crusade led our heroes to Stumpy Burger, located at 225 W. Center Street in Provo. Upon entering, we noticed that the restaurant is very minimalistic. The design was a simple, classic western motif; the only thing that really stood out was a variety of stuffed raccoons in the corner. We spoke with the owner for a few minutes who told us that Stump’ys specialty is just classic hamburgers. The menu was very simple as well, featuring essentially just a few different sizes of hamburgers, drinks and fries. Keeping it simple, we selected the burger size of our choice and  sat down at the simple wooden tables to snack on some buckets of peanuts while we waited for our burgers.

IMG_0177

Burger and fries, courtesy of Stumpy Burger.

Ben Wagner
I chose to munch upon a fine 1/4-pound. The beef was excellent quality, obviously freshly ground — the way a real burger should be made. None of these pre-fab patties from Costco at Stumpy Burger. The best part of the burger was definitely the cooked onions that were liberally applied. They were excellent and added that onion-y flavor I love so much to the burger.

Perhaps the best part of the meal was the fries that accompanied it: these were homcut and -fired potatoes, nothing from the frozen food section at Wal-Mart here. They were obviously cut and fried right in Stumpy’s kitchen, with a healthy dose of my favorite ingredient: salt. The accompanying fry sauce was also a special concoction. Completely different from any mayonnaise and ketchup combo at your local Arctic Circle this sauce had an unidentifiable taste to it, but it was something unique and quite good. The combo meal was $6.25 for the burger, fries and a drink. For that price, I guarantee you won’t find a burger of that quality anywhere else in the Utah Valley area. 4.5 out of 5 Raccoons.

Jake Welch
Of all the burgers that I have tasted in the past year, I would go as far as to say that this burger was one of the most original. It all starts with the patty. This thing was a whole half pound of legitimate beef ferocity. It looked nothing like those perfectly round or square patties you find at fast food restaurants. The Stumpy Burger looked like it was hand-crafted right before it was thrown onto the grill. Just think of any cliched adjective regularly used to describes burgers and this one fits the bill.

Don’t worry, the cheese, onions and even the bun were also on their game. One of my favorite parts about this meal was the hearty fries and sauce. They call the stuff fry sauce, but trust me, this isn’t your typical Utah concoction. It’s got a myriad of deliciousness that I can’t really put into words. When it comes right down to it, this place is original and, here at the Munchmobile, that’s what we’re all about. 4.5 out of 5 buckets of peanuts.

Overall, we found Stumpy Burger to be a very original, excellently put together burger joint, all at a very affordable price. We highly recommend it as one of the best burgers in the Valley. 4.5 out of 5 fresh-cut fries.

For suggestions on where you’d like to see the Munchmobile head next week, leave a comment below, send an e-mail to rhombusmag@gmail.com or send a message on Twitter to @rhombusmag.

Ben Wagner and Jake Welch are correspondents for Rhombus. Their editor hasn’t met anybody who loves a hearty burger more than these munchers — except perhaps himself. Share you burger love with the Munchmobile crew @ben_wagner and @jraywelch.

MUNCHMOBILE: Ninja Express

Written by Jake Welch on . Posted in Food

WEEK 6 — NINJA EXPRESS

In the latest ride of the Munchmobile, our fearless heroes of hunger decided to go oriental as they tried the grub of Ninja Express, located near the southeast corner of 820 North and 700 East. The Munchmobile first heard of Ninja express when one muncher received a flier on their door. They claimed to deliver their food in around five minutes, leaving the Munchmobile crew very intrigued. The munchers wondered if this claim of speedy delivery was legitimate and, if so, was it at the expense of quality? Red flags were further raised when the delivery boy explained that the restaurant was going to change the menu in the next two weeks. Hmmm…

The Munchmobile was hoping to find an alternative to the classic Chinese food favorite, Panda Express. The munchers knew they were taking a risk, because it is a well known fact there are few things better than good Chinese food; However, there is also nothing worse than bad Chinese food. What was the verdict? Let’s just say there was very little good, but a whole lot of bad and ugly.

Ben Wagner — Orange Chicken, Sesame Chicken
As a “fan” of Chinese food, I must say I was quite disappointed with Ninja Express. While the food did arrive as advertised (within an astounding 6 minutes), the food itself was subpar. The chicken lacked much flavor and the rice was probably cooked that morning and left out all day, thus giving it an extremely dry taste. The only thing that stood out was Ninja Express’ unique spin on an old favorite: white chocolate-covered fortune cookies. This was quite excellent and something I wish I could see at other Chinese joints. Overall though, an excellent cookie and blazing fast service didn’t make up for the low quality of food and, therefore, I’m forced to give it 2 out of 5 chopsticks.

Jamie Wood — Fried Tofu, Sweet and Sour Chicken
In a word: Weird. In nearly 22 years of existence, every serving of sweet and sour chicken has come and gone without a hitch. It’s chicken fried in tempura (or whatever fancy thing those darn foreigners call it) and some sweet pink sauce that gets a thin film over it if you leave it out for a few minutes. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less — and it never ever leaves me dissatisfied. What could possibly go wrong? Obviously a lot, in this case. The speed of delivery was ninja, but if you were to expect an army of stealthy killing machines to perform at any level above “sluggish” on a steady diet of this chicken, then you would be sorely out of luck. The sauce was tart, thick and weird, leaving me with a quasi “bitter beer face” after just a few pieces. My tofu was OK. Amen to the crusty sitting-out-all-day rice. This place would have a lot better chance at hitting it big in some other college town where half the campus population has the munchies and just wants anything to eat — now. 2.5 out of 5 weird-looking leftover microwaved gyozas.

Jake Welch — Teriyaki Beef, Sweet and Sour Pork
My mother (or maybe the movie Bambi) taught me that if I don’t have anything nice to say then I shouldn’t say anything at all. However, I feel it would be a great disservice to our readers if I didn’t speak the truth about this meal. I didn’t have very high expectations coming into the meal, because of my prior experience with cheap college town Chinese food. Needless to say, Ninja Express wowed me by going below and beyond my meager expectations. The teriyaki beef had the consistency of beef jerky, but not nearly the flavor. After a half hour of chewing, I was finally able to try the Sweet and Sour Pork, which didn’t fare any better.  I wasn’t sure if I was eating pork or some kind of mystery meat — and trust me when I say I know my mystery meats. This was about as bland and absurd as anything I have ever tasted. I give them props for trying. Our selection here in Provo is very limited and an effort is appreciated. Hopefully things will look up after the menu change. 1.5 out of 5 chocolate-covered fortune cookies.

The take-home message of this week’s Munchmobile is that Ninja Express will be able to deliver with speed, but not with quality. The combo meal was priced at $7.50, which includes two entrees, one side, a chocolate covered fortune cookie and a drink. Maybe our munchers will return in a few weeks to try the new menu but, as for what Ninja Express offers right now, it’s a no-go. 2 out of 5 grains of rice.

For suggestions on where you’d like to see the Munchmobile head next week, leave a comment below, send an e-mail to rhombusmag@gmail.com or send a message on Twitter to @rhombusmag.

Jake Welch, Ben Wagner and Jamie Wood are correspondents for Rhombus. They should learn that you can never trust a ninja — even with Chinese food.

MUNCHMOBILE: Diego's

Written by Jake Welch on . Posted in Food

WEEK 5 — DIEGO’S

It was back in Week 1 that the noble men of the MunchMobile went south of the border (or at least south of Center Street) to satisfy our Mexican food cravings. Once again our stomachs were primed for another round of spicy goodness, this time at Diego’s Taco Shop. Located on 22 East 200 North in Provo, this eatery lives up to its name by serving up a variety of tacos, but Diego’s prides itself on its burritos that range from the classic California burrito to the tasty chili relleno. This week Rhombus Magazine’s resident armchair economist Daniel Anderson joined Munchmobile regulars Jake Welch and Ben Wagner on their quest to find the best Mexican food Provo has to offer.

Jake Welch — Chicken Burrito
I can honestly say that this decision was purely economical. After having spent a good deal of money on gas, a flat tire and rent, I decided that I needed to resort to penny pinching. Even though the chicken burrito is only 57 cents cheaper than other options, I figured every little bit helps. If I could, I would go back on the decision because this burrito was average at best. There was a large portion of chicken, which always puts a smile on my face, but there was little flavor to savor. The meat was rather dry leaving me with the only option of dousing my burrito with chili verde salsa. Don’t get me wrong I love salsa, but part of me thinks that the burrito should be able to stand on its own two feet. The rest of the burrito was serviceable. The cheese was fresh, as was the pico de gallo. Overall, I was unimpressed. Don’t be alarmed by my low rating, because the rest of the menu will usually deliver. 2.5 out of 5 molcajetes.

Ben Wagner — California Burrito
Diego’s is an old favorite of mine and I chose my favorite meal: the California Burrito. This hearty burrito features a flour tortilla packed with carne asada, pico de gallo, sour cream, and fried potatoes. One of the best things about Diego’s is that they never cheap you. For exactly $5.25, the burrito is so packed with meat that it’s like eating a brick of steak. After adding some lime, salt and salsa, this hefty burrito was a pleasure to digest and, as someone experienced with la comida Mexicana, I can say this is the best burrito in Utah Valley. 5 out of 5 Tostadas.

Daniel Anderson — Beef Tacos
Mexican food is my favorite and Diego’s delivers the goods. As an impoverished newlywed, I particularly appreciated the low cost options at Diego’s, which allowed me to pick up two beef tacos and a pineapple soda for under five bucks. The crispy tortillas (delicious) were handmade, and the tacos were packed with juicy beef, cheese and fresh lettuce. I topped it off with a couple lime’s worth of fresh lime juice and, before I knew it, there was a fiesta in my mouth. Just some good, solid tacos. While Diego’s may not have altered my perspective on existence, it is quality Mexican food and the atmosphere is cool. (Did you know people play beach soccer?) I recommend it to anyone looking for a good night of inexpensive, good Mexican cuisine. 4 out of 5 jalapeno peppers.

Overall, the experience was on the positive side for our munchers, minus the chicken burrito. Other than that, Diego’s provides some quality grub that comes in pleasurable quantities. The prices are reasonable and you have a wide range of options with their tacos, tortas and burritos. Make sure you have time to spare when you head over to Diego’s, because it will take a little while to cook the food. But don’t worry, it’s worth the wait. 4 out of 5 Jarritos.

For suggestions on where you’d like to see the Munchmobile head next week, leave a comment below, send an e-mail to rhombusmag@gmail.com or send a message on Twitter to @rhombusmag.

Jake Welch, Ben Wagner and Daniel Anderson are correspondents for Rhombus. They have a promising career in beach soccer ahead of them.

MUNCHMOBILE: Taste Of The Valley

Written by Jamie Wood on . Posted in Food

WEEK 4 — TASTE OF THE VALLEY

Nothing says “pioneer” like gluttony.

For this week’s Munchmobile, Jake Welch, Jamie Wood and Ben Wagner took to the mean streets of downtown Provo to savor the selection of a variety of local restaurants at the “Taste of the Valley” festival, in conjunction with Pioneer Day. Nothing says “pioneer” quite like thousands of fair-skinned foodies standing in line for an itsy bitsy slice of BBQ pork from Goodwood Barbecue or a sliver of beef from Tucanos. The weather was scorching as the hosts of young and old meandered between the various vendor tents in search of the tastiest morsel in the park — and the Munchmobile was right there with them every step of the way.

In order to participate we had to pay $10 for a punch card and wristband. We were then handed little cardboard paper baskets to put the food in as we went from tent to tent. The general atmosphere was fun and lighthearted. The music selections in the background alternated between a recorded playlist and live acoustic sets, providing an upbeat setting for the afternoon. Utah Valley was well represented by a wide range of vendors from the well established Denny’s, Tucanos and California Pizza Kitchen, to the lesser known Down Under Oven, Pizzeria 712 and La Carreta. Now that we’ve set the scene, it’s time to get each of the crew’s bit on their top picks from the Taste of the Valley.

Jamie Wood
I’m always eager to get my “graze on.” The Super Bowl tends to be more exciting for me than Thanksgiving because of all the Lil’ Smokeys, Ruffles and french onion dip, and all the other finger foods to fit my fancy. “Everything tastes better on the end of a toothpick,” I always say. As such, the opportunity to put my affinity for small portions to good use for the benefit of all those who read this column seemed like a mighty exciting proposition. In the spirit of sampling, here are just a couple of my favorite tidbits from the event, the best and worst.

Best: La Carreta (Ceviche) — ceviche is a dish made of fish that’s been “cooked” by lime. There’s enough acidic content in lime juice that it, in essence, cooks the fish without it ever feeling a flame. (Thankfully, Nirvana taught us that it’s okay to fish because they don’t have any feelings.) I’m generally pretty leery of consuming seafood that’s 800 miles away from the ocean, but I hadn’t had ceviche in so long that it seemed like a shame to pass up the opportunity. It was a little bit fishy, but the flavors combined nicely with the sliced onions and cilantro to create a lively taste. Definitely worth a try of the whole dish.

Worst: Honey Baked Ham — Perhaps it was because Honey Baked Ham was the last place we went, but it gets my worst rating. Or perhaps it just wasn’t very good. I’m always up for a nice slice of ham (especially when coupled with a nice green bean casserole) and looked forward to the small plate with a slice of ham, a cookie, a mini slice of pecan pie and a spoonful of potato salad. The cookie: incredible. The pie: divine. The ham, on the other hand, was dry and cold, lacking that “baked in honey” flavor I was expecting. Kind of a bummer, considering the giant bee mascot parading around attracting hungry visitors. Oh well, stop in for a cookie and you’ll be very satisfied.

Jake Welch
Best: Tucanos (Grilled Pineapple) — This is a very bum choice for all of you who were expecting me to come up with something new. Granted, I have tasted the grilled pineapple before, but trust me: On this particular day, nothing was as tasty as this juicy fruit. It seems to be a lot tastier when you eat it as a chaser for grilled sirloin. I was also a huge fan of Melanie’s Sensational Gourmet. This is not a restaurant, but rather a company that sells sauces, rubs and dips. We were lucky enough to try their world beater of a barbecue sauce, “The Contender” — and contend it did. Let’s just say that the plate was licked clean when all was said and done.

Honorable Mention: Goodwood and Rooster

Worst: Denny’s — This really doesn’t deserve any explanation except for why I decided to get food from their tent. I saw that the line was very short and that the portions of food they were giving out were very large. I went into Hungry Man mode (when you willingly sacrifice quality for quantity) and hopped in line. They had chicken salad, which surprised me. I was expecting pancakes, which would have been a lot better. The chicken was dry and the greens were rather brown. They tried to make the experience somewhat enjoyable with a bit sized piece of cheesecake, but I still left embarrassed. There is a reason why Denny’s is open 24/7.

Dishonorable Mention: California Pizza Kitchen and Xango — Lord only knows why that elixir of death costs $40 a pop.

Ben Wagner
Best: Tucanos — Yeah yeah, everybody in Provo knows about Tucanos and everybody knows that it’s good. It was the best thing I had at the Taste of the Valley and Tucanos deserves its reputation. The grilled pineapple was excellent, as was the meat served alongside it. If you have the money, you owe yourself a tasty dinner at Tucanos.

Honorable Mentions: Pizzeria 712, Melanie’s, Down Under Oven — Pizzeria 712 gave us a sampling of its margarita pizza and it did not disappoint. I had the good fortune of getting the first slice of a pizza pulled freshly out of the huge brick oven they brought with them. Melanie’s “Contender” barbecue sauce was quite excellent and I can’t wait to make a trip there to pick up a few bottles for myself. The Down Under Oven was only offering a pavlova desert as its selection for Taste of the Valley. This tasty treat is an Australian favorite, a meringue dessert with kiwi and banana. I’m not sure what else the Down Under Oven has on its menu, but it’d be worth checking out just to get another try of that pavlova.

Worst: Denny’s — The chicken was dry, the lettuce was flavorless and they towed Rhombus Resident Armchair Economist Daniel Anderson’s car once upon a time. They’re on my hate list.

For suggestions on where you’d like to see the Munchmobile head next week, send an e-mail to rhombusmag@gmail.com or send a message on Twitter to @rhombusmag.

Jamie Wood, Jake Welch and Ben Wagner are contributors for Rhombus. They are true Hungry Men: they regularly choose quantity over quality in many aspects of their lives. Follow them on Twitter: @jamie_wood, @jraywelch and @ben_wagner, respectively.

MUNCHMOBILE: Chadder's

Written by Jake Welch on . Posted in Food

WEEK 3 — CHADDER’S

The Munchmobile went on a solo ride this past week, due to the absence of my dear friends Ben Wagner and Jamie Wood, who went on a search for quality barbecue deep in heart of Texas. Nevertheless, I decided to press on in their absence and bring you, the good people of the Utah Valley, the necessary dinning knowledge you deserve.

This go-around I decided to make my way over to the new burger joint in town, Chadder’s . I remember hearing about the place a couple months ago from one of my friends. She said that Chadder’s was basically a knock-off of the famous burger chain In-N-Out. Trust me when I say this: no matter the situation, you never want to be labeled as a knock-off.

But before I get into my opinion of this establishment, let me talk about the food. It didn’t take me long to choose what I wanted because I was familiar with the menu. That’s because it is identical to that of In-N-Out. (This will be a recurring theme throughout this review.) I was feeling pretty famished from a long morning and decided to order the Stubby Double, or double cheeseburger, and a side of French fries. I was surprised when the total came out just under $7. I don’t recall the exact prices at In-N-Out, but I’m pretty sure that it didn’t cost as much.

The burger was as advertised and for that, I guess, I really can’t complain. There was a bun, meat, cheese, onions, lettuce and tomato, which combined to make a marginally tasty burger. The meat patties were a lot smaller than expected, but when you are dealing with a knock-off you learn to expect to be unimpressed. The one thing I thought was noteworthy was the vegetables. Nothing turns me away from a burger more than defunct veggies. The freshness of the tomatoes and onions were noticeable, which is not customary at most fast food restaurants.

The fries were just like those of In-N-Out except smaller and not as crisp. But get this! Chadder’s has fry sauce, something I never saw at In-N-Out! Could this mean that the two establishments are completely different? I wish I could answer in the affirmative, but the fry sauce is pretty much the only difference in the two burger joints. Don’t think that this will last long: seeing as In-N-Out is opening a number of Utah locations, they will have to incorporate fry sauce if they want to pass the state inspection.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what Chadder’s is all about. It is clear from the get-go that they are not going for originality. So why does someone use the exact same business strategy that has been proven successful in other states here in Provo? To make a really easy buck. For who knows how long, the residents of Provo have heard the fervent requests of California, Nevada and Arizona transplants for In-N-Out to build a place close by. Even those who never lived in these areas were jumping on the bandwagon. Enter Chad Stubbs. Seeing the perfect opportunity to cash in, he comes up with the idea of Chadder’s. Apparently Chad’s intentions had nothing to do with money. I don’t want to tell his story, because I feel he does it best. Here’s an excerpt from the Chadder’s Web site:

“It all started with a Dream! A dream of having a Burger drive-in that would bring back the feeling I had when I was a kid. You see, to me a Burger drive-in is as American as Baseball and Apple pie!

I remember when I was a kid in Southern California my parents would take us kids to McDonald’s every Saturday after our little league baseball games. We would stand by the window and watch them make fresh cut fries from whole potatoes, while we waited for our food to be cooked. The menu was very simple and the only choices we had were a Single or Double and cheese or no cheese. But it didn’t matter to us because we knew exactly what we wanted before we ever gotten there. And I would always finish my lunch off with a Strawberry shake. And I want my kids to have those same memories as I did growing up.

So in early 2005, I set out on a mission to bring a 50’s and 60’s style Burger joint to Utah! Why, you may ask when there is already a Burger joint in every state across this great country including Utah! Because, to me they all seemed to be the same!”

Honestly, Chad? Do you expect us to believe that you brought us Chadder’s so youngsters could have fond memories of shakes and burgers? I think the story is charming, but seriously? If the place was 13 percent original, maybe I would grant you legitimacy. Then there is his comment about other burger places being the same. I always felt that the best way to be original was to adopt the ideas of someone in a different state and then claim them as my own. Works like a charm.

I guess I can’t expect Chadder’s to be upfront about this, because a truthful Web site would be rather condemning. I could go on, but I think you have the point by now. Chadder’s is a shoddy clone of In-N-Out. Do I recommend that you eat there? If the word “cliché” describes your lifestyle, then yes, go for it. If you really want a good original burger, then don’t. If you fall into the second category, go across the street to Stan’s and check out their menu. At least it will be something different.

For suggestions on where you’d like to see the Munchmobile head next week, send an e-mail to rhombusmag@gmail.com or send a message on Twitter to @rhombusmag.

Jake Welch is a sports and food correspondent for Rhombus. He has problems with Chad Stubbs’ allegedly disingenuous nostalgia. Tell him your thoughts on Chadders by sending a tweet to @jraywelch.

MUNCHMOBILE: Clint's Place

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Food

WEEK 2 — CLINT’S PLACE

For this week’s edition of the Munchmobile, our fearless munchers made their way to Center Street in Provo to find a place that would satisfy our sandwich needs. We looked no further that Clint’s Place, located on 42 W Center Street. Upon entering, we had the impression that the place was called Hickory Kist, because the window displays a large logo sporting that name. The cashier informed us that the name of the eatery was Clint’s Place and that they used products from Hickory Kist Deli in Spanish Fork.

After the confusion cleared, we searched through the menu to get a feel for what Clint’s Place had to offer. It was clear that the owner has a passion for classic rock based on the names of the food items, ranging from Zeppelin’s Coda and Abbey Road sandwiches to the Strawberry Fields and Rainy Day Woman smoothies. The options used to be limited, but just recently they beefed up their menu to over 13 loaded sandwiches. They also have five breakfast sandwiches that looked rather intriguing and an assortment of smoothies. As is customary here with the Munchmobile, we took a few recommendations from the house. Ben went with The Clintster, which they said was their most popular. Jake decided on Mojo Risin’, one of their new selections that is gaining popularity fast. What did the munchers think of their meals? Let’s see what they had to say.

Jake Welch — Mojo Risin’

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Mojo Risin'

I have to admit that I was a little wary of this sandwich because it had all the makings of a typical house favorite: chicken and bacon. However, I was rather impressed with this sanny, not because their chicken and bacon was superior to that of a deli. What got me was the little things. As soon as the sandwiches were served the waitress informed us that our bread was grilled with honey butter. Again, I was unsure of the gimmick but, trust me on this one, it works. The little touch of sweet balanced out perfectly with the cream cheese and avocado. I was also a big fan of the bread, which is baked on-site daily. It’s not hoagie bread, which gives this place a nice change of pace from other sandwhich shops in the area like Gandolfo’s. The only knock that I had with the place was the price. I was pretty hungry so I went with the whole sandwich, which came out around $8. Usually something has to be pretty darn satisfying for me to justify spending that much. In the end, I felt good about my purchase. It was definitely worth it. Four out of five dill pickles.

Ben Wagner — The Clinster

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The Clintster (right)

According to the waitress behind the counter, the Clintster is the most popular sandwich at Clint’s Place and rightfully so. The Clintster is a hearty sandwich comprised of breaded chicken, turkey, and bacon, with the usual trimming of lettuce, tomato and mayo. Then Clint’s Place adds in its cream cheese and signature honey-buttered bread to complete the tasty concoction. The honey butter bread was the biggest difference one would notice from a sandwich at any other deli. The sweet taste of the bread gave the sandwich a unique taste not found at your nearest $5 sub joint. While the Clintster is an expensive sandwhich at $8, it’s worth the money if you’re looking to expand your sandwich horizons. 4 out of 5 chip bags.

So looking back, the only thing our munchers advise you about with Clint’s Place is the price. Most whole sandwiches range from $6.75-$8.00 and the half’s go for around $4-$5. This might scare off most of the student readers because they can always get a five dollar foot long at Subway. Please don’t let that fool you. Subway offers you the lowest quality meats and cheese on the market for five bucks. If all you want is to get filled with meat that is 88% moisture and vegetables that were fresh weeks ago, then Subway it is. However, if you care about getting a quality meal and you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks then Clint’s Place is a safe bet. 4 out of 5 Clintster’s.

To learn more about Clint’s Place, visit their Web site.

For suggestions on where you’d like to see the Munchmobile head next week, send an e-mail to rhombusmag@gmail.com or send a message on Twitter to @rhombusmag.

Ben Wagner and Jake Welch are correspondents for Rhombus Magazine and they seem to have some issues with Subway. Let them know what you think by sending a tweet to @ben_wagner and/or @jraywelch.

MUNCHMOBILE: Hecho En Mexico

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Food

In an effort to expand the gastronomic vision of the inhabitants of Provo beyond that of Cafe Rio and Chili’s, Rhombus has enlisted the help of three of the most overqualified food critics from across the country. These infamous connoisseurs concocted a plan to explore a variety of local restaurants in the Valley and dissect their cuisine. Each week the Munchmobile Crew will report their findings so you can eat with confidence, broaden your horizons and tip the scales with delight. Please enjoy a unique take on our unique Provo food scene as tasted through the buds of Jake Welch, Ben Wagner and Jamie Wood. Let the munching begin.

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WEEK 1 — HECHO EN MEXICO GRILL

Located on the corner of 300 South and 300 East in Provo, owner Alfredo Torres has opened his doors and his fine recipes to the public through this little hole in the wall establishment well off the beaten path south of BYU campus. As you walk through the doors, you’re not overwhelmed with sombreros hanging from every corner, “It’s always Cinco de Mayo in here’ Corona posters or neon cacti with drunken neon amigos slouched over next to them. Instead you are greeted by a true Mexican touch of empty glass Coke bottles and a collage of Telemundo soap opera flyers on the wall.The menu is limited at Hecho En Mexico (Spanish for “Made in Mexico”), keeping things simple and sticking to what they do best. When we asked Alfredo for his advised dish, he quickly suggested the Tacos al Pastor: delicious, specially marinated spicy pork tacos topped with cilantro and fresh pineapple. He informed us that this menu item alone accounts for 65% of the restaurant’s sales, evidence of its mass appeal.

Next, he suggested we sample the homemade “horchata,” a traditional rice and milk drink that seems to elude the desire of the gringo pallet. He quickly pointed out that Hecho En Mexico’s horchata was made with coconut, not rice, and is therefore one of their specialties. Alfredo turned and quickly brought each of us a small plastic cup with a sampling of the drink. Each was immediately downed with significant satisfaction and subsequently ordered for a whopping $2.50 per glass. (A little steep, but incredibly worth it.) “As someone who was forced to drink Horchata almost everyday for two years and never liked it, this is the best horchata I’ve ever had,” Ben Wagner commented. Orders were made, chips and salsa (which rocked) were delivered, horchata was sipped,and our experience had officially begun. Here is the skinny on a few thick meals:

Jamie Wood — Torta de Carne Asada
As an established connoisseur in the realm of Latin foods and, more specifically, of the Mexican sandwich that is “the torta,” I feel completely justified in saying that this was hands down a technically sound sandwich. Bursting with marinated steak, avocados, onions, jalapenos and basted with seasoned refried beans, this torta packed a punch and hit the spot. This scrumptious sandwich from south of the border was surprisingly easy to manage as compared to other tortas. All the ingredients were comfortably situated within the classic Mexican bread, making it easy to enjoy without the mess. For those gringos out there, like myself, who want to ease into the spicy and often overwhelming sector of authentic Mexican food, the torta is your best bet for a smooth entry. It talks like a hamburger, but it’s swagger is puro mexicano. Be sure to ask for everything on it to get the full experience. 4.5 out of 5 tacos.

Ben Wagner – Tacos al Pastor
Mexico City is renowned for its tacos al pastor and, having lived there for two years, I consider myself an expert on the subject. I have tried just about every Mexican joint in town in an attempt to find that authentic al pastor taste. Perhaps it’s been the lack of dogs roaming the street or the contaminated air of Mexico City, but I have yet to find any taco that matches the ones sold in the streets of the D.F. However, the Tacos at Hecho En Mexico are as close as it gets. The meat on each taco almost overran the small flour tortilla used to contain it.  The marinades used on the meat were excellent and each piece of meat was cooked to perfection. The pineapple used was real, fresh (well, as fresh as it can get in Provo), and didn’t come out of the canned fruit aisle at Smith’s. Again, the flavor was as close to authentic Mexican tacos al pastor as I’ve seen;  Hecho En Mexico is indeed an appropriate name. If you’re never going to make it south of the border, at least make it south of campus and try out the most authentic tacos al pastor in town. 5 out of 5 sombreros.

Jake Welch – Tacos de Asada
You know you’re going into a legit Mexican restaurant when you don’t see burritos on the menu. Contrary to popular belief, burritos are seldom found in authentic eateries south of the border. I was pleased to find a very simple menu upon entering Hecho En Mexico. They have the basics: tacos, tortas, rice and beans. If you’re looking for a large elaborate menu of average dishes, this is not for you. This is a legit taco shop. Because I joined the crew a little late, I decided to go easy and just get two tacos. The taco de asada (or steak taco) hit the spot. They didn’t skimp on the meat and the salsa had the perfect amount of kick. I am not one for weak salsa and they follow the same philosophy at Hecho En Mexico. I also ordered one taco al pastor and it was everything a taco should be and more. The only downer about the restaurant is that it is only open in the evenings. The owner, Alfredo, said that should change once business picks up. He also said they might have certain days of the week where they will have Mole, God’s gift to Mexican food. Even without the dish, this taco shop gets my seal of approval. 4 out of 5 Horchata glasses.

There you have it: one full-blooded gringo and two honorary Mexicanos agree that Hecho En Mexico Grill is worth the drive down south and the small dent in your pocketbook. The full price for the torta and horchata came out to be a little over $8 — chump change for the seasoned veteran of Latin cuisine and well worth it for the fiesta that will ensue inside your mouth. Break out the pinatas and mariachi band, because Hecho En Mexico is “livin’ la vida loca” on the Provo food scene. Overall: 4.5 out of 5 churros

For suggestions on where you’d like to see the Munchmobile head next week, send an e-mail to rhombusmag@gmail.com or send a message on Twitter to @rhombusmag.

Jamie Wood, Jake Welch and Ben Wagner are correspondents for Rhombus Magazine. For more of their thoughts on Mexican cuisine and imaginary rock bands, check them out on Twitter at @jamie_wood, @jraywelch and @ben_wagner, respectively.