The Simple Life | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Simple Life 

A delicious home-style diner lunch is the only high concept at Left Fork Grill.

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It seems apparent to me that Jeff Masten isn’t swinging for a grand slam; celebrity chefdom does not seem to be the reason or rationale for opening his new Left Fork Grill in Murray. I mean, just look at the location. It’s sandwiched in among a row of blocky commercial-industrial business buildings on 3900 South, just off State Street'not exactly Rodeo Drive. And, although the space has been gussied up some since it was the popular diner called Kramer’s, you certainly won’t mistake Left Fork Grill for the newest or trendiest concept eatery. Unless, that is, the “concept” is to dish out surprisingly good food and service at bargain prices. Now that’s a concept!

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You’d think, correctly, that Jeff Masten'former executive chef at Red Rock Brewing Company'would be relishing his freedom from corporate concerns and partners’ priorities. After all, his Left Fork Grill is decidedly a scaled-down operation compared to a juggernaut like Red Rock, and he’s completely in charge. On the other hand, with freedom and independence, come long, long hours in the kitchen and office. “I’m still getting used to not having a salary!” says Masten, who patrols his restaurant not like a celebrity chef wannabe but like a guy who actually cares whether you’re enjoying his chicken schnitzel or not. At a restaurant like Left Fork Grill, it really does all come down to one guy. Masten is the owner, the cook, the accountant, the guy in charge of payroll, builder and designer'not to mention a friendly face in the dining room. The buck stops with him and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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During my first lunch visit (Left Fork is only open for breakfast and lunch), Masten said, “If you’re interested in pie, you’d better order a slice right away. I only have a couple pieces left.” I had barely sat down to peruse the menu but I appreciated the heads-up, since I’d heard that Masten’s pies are legendary with the locals and tend to go fast. So I put in an order for a slice of strawberry pie before deciding on the fresh-cooked corned-beef sandwich on rye, served with a zippy brown mustard and Swiss cheese ($6.99). Masten begins making his pies and home-style soups from scratch early in the morning, before the 7 a.m. breakfast service begins. On any given day at Left Fork Grill, there are a handful of specials on the menu, a couple of soups and those incredible pies. My wife says that she’s never tasted a pie that reminded her so much of her grandmother’s. Both Grandma and Masten share a common pie-making secret, but I’ve sworn not to divulge what it is. I can report that these pies might change your life.

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When the seasoned server everyone affectionately calls Flo (you might know her from Salt Lake Pizza & Pasta) said that the soup special ($1.99 cup/$2.99 bowl) was butternut squash with Italian sausage, I thought she’d misspoken. Butternut squash and Italian sausage? I couldn’t quite imagine the combination. Well, it tasted incredible. Masten makes his own sausage and then cooks and grinds it finely before incorporating it into his baked butternut squash broth. The sausage gives the soup both texture and a fantastic flavor. The vegetable noodle soup I tried last week was every bit as wholesome and flavorful.

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When Masten isn’t cooking, he’s likely to be found fishing. He says that the name of his establishment came during a fishing outing with his pal Al Viny, manager of Grappa in Park City. They were fishing the left fork of the Huntington River when Masten asked Viny what he should call his restaurant. “How about Left Fork Grill?” Viny suggested, and the name stuck.

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At Red Rock Brewing, I always loved the simple ways that Masten prepared fish. I felt that Red Rock’s fish and chips was the best in town. Left Fork Grill’s the fish and chips ($10.99) are made from center-cut halibut which is coated in thick beer batter and fried just until flaky and golden brown. Even better is Masten’s Parmesan-crusted grilled halibut filet ($11.99), which you should enjoy with his home-style mashed potatoes. It’ll be a meal to remember.

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My wife says that someday she hopes to retire and become one of the old soldiers who grabs a stool at the Left Fork Grill counter for breakfast and doesn’t leave until well after the lunchtime liver and onions. She wants to tell the same worn-out stories and predictable jokes that aging well earns you. Meanwhile, her mom Jacque proclaimed in the midst of enjoying a predictably great grilled pastrami sandwich ($6.99) last week, “This is the best coleslaw I’ve ever tasted!”'and she’s a much tougher food critic than I. It’s not too surprising, though, that the coleslaw was so memorable, since like just about everything else served at Left Fork Grill, it is made fresh from scratch daily. “I’d never serve yesterday’s coleslaw to customers,” said Masten. “Most people use prepackaged cabbage out of the bag. But this is my mom’s recipe.” Every morning, he shreds his own fresh cabbage for the coleslaw. Among his slaw secrets is a smidgeon of finely minced green bell pepper in the slaw, along with a very light oil and vinegar dressing.

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To gloat about the bodacious braised lamb shank with thick pappardelle noodles I ate at Left Fork Grill for a spring equinox lunch would just be selfish. So I won’t do that, except to say that the rich reduction sauce served with the lamb was succulent and superb'like, lick the plate superb. It pretty much sums up the overall eating experience at Left Fork Grill: Simple food. Simple diner. Simply sensational.

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LEFT FORK GRILL
n68 W. 3900 South
n266-4322
nOpen Mon-Sat for breakfast & lunch

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