On an excursion to the Salt Lake City area, I had a chance to visit the Provo Municipal Airport (KPVU) and sample the culinary exploits of cosmopolitan Utah.
Allegiant Air flies MD-80s to and from San Francisco, LA and Phoenix/Mesa. General aviation pilots use the airspace to practice their mountain and backcountry flying skills. Utah Valley University's Aviation Sciences program and the Utah Fire & Rescue Academy are based at KPVU. On the east side of the airport, TAC Air offers a range of FBO service including a pilot lounge with flight planning space, de-icing, fuel, complimentary crew car, on-site car rental and free WiFi.
Despite having the reputation of being Salt Lake City, Utah’s little brother, Provo has a great deal to offer. For conservatives, Brigham Young University, a private higher education institution operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their largest Missionary Training Center are based here. For the more artistic and liberal in nature, the Covey Center for the Arts is a multi-use performing arts center. Its 42,000 square feet consists of a 670-seat performance hall, three fully furnished dance studios, a 100-seat black box theater and three art galleries. And for those that gravitate to hip waders and multi-pocket canvas vests, Provo offers world-class fly-fishing on the Provo River.
Provo, Utah is also home to the Hines Mansion Bed and Breakfast. This historic Victorian mansion was built in 1895. Current owners Sandy and John Rowe fell in love with the property and purchased it in 2002. Its luxurious nine rooms offer comfortable overnight accommodations and is the perfect launching pad for either a single day or weekend excursion. They even have a shuttle service to pick you up at the airport.
A quick 10-minute walk around the corner from the B&B is Communal. Chef/Owners Colton Soelberg and Joseph McRae of The Heirloom Restaurant Group combine a sense of community with their philosophy of keeping it simple, local and inspired. Along with Communal, The Heirloom Restaurant Group encompasses Heirloom Catering, a number of Mountain West Burrito restaurants, a corporate dining division called Heirloom Cafeteria Company and Pizzeria Seven Twelve. In a 2012 Menu Who Like To Travel article, food journalist David Lett extoled the virtues of Pizzeria Seven Twelve: “[They] have the same pursuit of quality local ingredients as Communal but in the casual setting of a pizzeria. This is [wood fired brick oven] pizza raised to a higher level with Alice Waters-style toppings like the roasted corn, red onion, chile, gran padano and preserved Meyer lemon gremolata or the roasted cauliflower, bacon, caramelized onion, fontina and sage.”
Communal is a restaurant that typifies sharing on a number of levels. The communal seating is more cozy than cramp. The open kitchen and friendly staff gives the place a hipster vibe. The atmosphere, complete with a reclaimed wood floor and local art, projects sustainability without too much pretension. All the elements encourage conversation and exude conviviality. This place feels comfortable.
Wait staff will remind you that the ever-changing, locally sourced menu is designed for sharing. The problem is what Pete Wells of the NY Times calls the myth of small plates meant for sharing. As Mr. Wells reiterates, “In my experience, very few small plates really lend themselves to sharing. … many dishes served at allegedly tapas-style restaurants simply don’t split well. Either they look like a car crash by the time you’ve divided them in four, or your portion ends up being so small you hardly get to know it before it’s gone.”
Don't get me wrong I love the concept, in principle. I was a chef/owner of this style of restaurant a number of years ago. My problem is like many restaurants designed around a group experience, the perceived value to price ratio is not always balanced. A few examples from recent Communal menus include crispy polenta with herbed aioli Parmesan ($9); mushroom flatbread with prosciutto ($11); the Communal burger topped with a farmer egg ($14.50); a plate of hummus and pita with marinated feta cheese and olive oil ($9) and a roasted Sweet Valley Organic chicken with braised leeks and orange butter ($24). All are a bit over priced for the taste, flavor and quantity on the plate
Communal is a good restaurant. As Matthew Yglesias wrote In Defense of Small Plates in Slate Magazine, “you get to try more stuff…” The food here is balanced, flavorful and built on a concept of seasonality. The combinations are not exactly inspired but are classic and work. However, a number of dishes feel a bit heavy for the time of year. An early summer menu contained braised lamb shank with ratatouille, lamb jus and arugula ($27) and a marinated beet salad with pistachio and dill dressing, goat cheese, arugula and fennel ($10).
Techniques were executed with care and precision. The cooks know when and how to use the saltshaker. The flavor affinities allow the products to taste of themselves. But they do like to overuse ingredients on occasion. One visit had arugula appearing on almost one third of all the items listed. Charming Beard single origin French press coffee ($6), raspberry lemonade ($3) and a rich, gooey, decadent chocolate lava cake with bacon flavored ice cream for dessert ($7) does go a long way to make sure your experience ends on a high note. Not sure what this place is doing in Provo but you’ll be be glad it’s there.
Provo Municipal Airport, Provo, Utah (KPVU)
Elevation: 4,497 ft.
Sectional chart: Salt Lake City
ARTCC: Salt Lake City Center
FSS: Cedar City Flight Service Station
Runway: 13/31 – 8,599 x 150 ft.
18/36 – 6,614 x 150 ft.
ATIS: 135.175 (AWOS-3: 801-373-9782)
Provo Ground: 119.4 [0700-2100]
Provo Tower: 125.3 [0700-2100]
3421 Mike Jense Parkway
Provo, Utah 84601
Phone: (801) 356-3535
Hines Mansion Luxury Bed & Breakfast
383 West 100 South
Provo, Utah 84601
Phone: (801) 374-8400
102 N. University Avenue
Provo, Utah 84601
Phone: (801) 373-8000
Lunch: Tuesday through Friday 11:30 am - 2:30 pm
Brunch: Saturday 9:00 am - 2:00 pm
Dinner: Tuesday through Saturday 5:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Closed Sunday & Monday
Chef Stuart Stein is a graduate of the University of Illinois Business School and the culinary arts program at Chicago’s Kendall College. He has worked in France and the all over the US as a cook, executive chef, culinary instructor and restaurateur. Chef Stein is the writer of the book, The Sustainable Kitchen: Passionate Cooking Inspired by Farms, Forests, and Oceans (New Society Publishers), and has written in countless culinary and aviation publications. Stuart is also a private pilot flying in southern California.