Lately, I’ve become bored to tears with precious food, overwrought concoctions and precocious chefs. Often I find myself longing for a simple roasted chicken, or a well-made ham, egg & cheese sandwich. You know, something without edible flowers or smothered with truffle oil. Good, cheap food—that’s what I want.
Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve located not one, but three candidates—spots where the food is straightforward, comes quickly and is served with friendly smiles, zero attitude and no garnishes.
Up first is a moveable feast: The Better Burger (BetterBurgerTruck.com) food truck. I last spotted it in the parking lot at Trifecta floral and design shop, in Sugar House. When it’s at that location, you might want to consider grabbing a burger and heading down the block to Sugar House Pub to enjoy it with a cold brew or cocktail. Bartenders like Sarah and Ranna couldn’t be friendlier. Ditto for the guys on the Better Burger truck—really nice dudes, these, and ready to take your order on an iPad. They even sent me a sales receipt by e-mail via the iPad. Cool.
Better Burger makes their burgers from scratch using grass-fed cows raised near Moab. They are thin, quarter-pound patties, served on Stoneground Bakery buns with a choice of cheddar, Swiss or pepper-jack cheese, and come with tomato and pickles. The burgers ($6) have excellent flavor, but aren’t exactly juicy, due to their thinness. Still, it’s a very good burger, especially with crispy sweet-potato fries ($2.50) alongside. Burger variations include a blue-cheese burger, bacon burger and garlic burger. There is also a veggie burger, specially made by Ian Brandt of Sage’s Café and Vertical Diner. But maybe the best option is the delicious and lean turkey burger ($6.50), made from local, all-natural turkey and nicely seasoned.
Up north, Moon Dog’s Café (792 W. Hill Field Road, Layton, 801-498-7256) recently opened, offering Laytonians an alternative to franchise and chain food. For breakfast, how could any meat lover resist a brisket omelet ($7.25)? It’s slow-smoked, chopped beef brisket, mushrooms, green peppers and cheddar cheese, all rolled into a three-egg omelet and served with housemade barbecue sauce on the side. Moon Dog’s specializes in barbecue; there is a big, mobile barbecue pit out back. Inexplicably though, most of the barbecue options don’t appear until dinnertime. For lunch, however, there is a very good pulled smoked-chicken sandwich ($7.29) on the menu. And the burgers are quite respectable, as well, the recipes said to have been “gathered on a cosmic journey taken with the original Captain Morgan to Area 51.” For now, soft drinks, coffee, cappuccino and such are the only options for imbibing at Moon Dog’s Café, but I’m told that a beer and wine license is in the works.
The new eatery I’m most fond of, though, for its stick-to-the-ribs, inexpensive, no-fooling-around eats is Penny Ann’s Cafe (1810 S. Main, Salt Lake City, 801-935-4760, PennyAnnsCafe.com), located in the space previously home to Spoony & Nada’s on the ground floor of the Terrace Apartments. This is truly a family affair. Penny Ann, the restaurant’s namesake, is a server, along with her sister. In the kitchen are Penny Ann’s brothers, including Warren Willey, former chef at Park City’s Westgate Grill. Dad also pitches in, and an in-law cooks the homemade pies. The banana-cream pie, by the way, is outstanding. Customers feel like they’re dining at Penny Ann’s home, so comfortable are they made to feel.
The prices are certainly comforting, too. There is nothing on the menu priced over $8, and that includes entrees such as chicken Marsala ($7.99), which comes with pasta and garlic toast. You can add soup or salad to any entree for a mere $1.99. Scanning the bargain-priced menu, I thought there must be decimal points missing.
There’s a great new Philly cheesesteak ($6.99) in town, folks. It’s made with thinly sliced, chopped eye of beef round and grilled just until tender, not overcooked and dry like at too many places. It comes with grilled peppers, onions and mushrooms—if that is your wont—and a choice of American, provolone or Cheez Whiz. There is also a chicken version. The winning touch is that the cheesesteak is served on an authentic Amoroso roll, straight from the City of Brotherly Love.
The corned beef, too, is cooked from scratch. The grilled Reuben ($6.99) is juicy, tender piles of chopped corned beef, topped with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing on toasted marble-rye bread. This Reuben really rocks.
Service is extremely friendly and accommodating. During one visit, a fellow in a wheelchair who lives in the Terrace Apartments came in to place a takeout order. Rather than making him wait, Penny Ann offered to bring the food up to his apartment when it was ready. It’s that kind of place.
I honestly don’t know how they can charge so little. A plate of fettuccine or spaghetti, with garlic toast and a choice of marinara, Alfredo or tomato-basil-cream sauce costs $5.99. And, get this: It’s fresh pasta, from Funaro’s, not dried. A plate of fettuccine with marinara sauce and five homemade meatballs (an extra $2.99) was really good, although I’d have preferred a little less of the tangy, thick sauce. Better still is chicken piccata ($7.99)—four thin, boneless, chicken breast pieces atop a choice of spaghetti or fettuccine, bathed in a zippy sauce of garlic and capers with lemon and butter. On one visit, two entrees with pasta, a Reuben sandwich, a slice of pie and beverages came to less than $30—the price of a single entree in many restaurants. Yep, I’ll be back.