Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sweet Potato Fries, Oh My

The road to Zion Canyon runs through Springdale, Utah. Springdale’s elevation is 3,913 feet above sea level; it’s 2007 population is 551; and the major industry is the national park and the hotels, stores, and restaurants that serve the 2.5 million annual visitors. Finding dining options has been a challenge. Most of the restaurants are part of the independent and chain hotels that line Zion Park Boulevard, and our meals at these have been hit or miss. Nothing really bad (well, there was that Buffalo Burger that had a mushy texture like meat run through a food processor), but nothing really great.

So finding Oscar’s Café was a stroke of luck. Not that Oscar’s is upscale or gourmet--the menu runs to sandwiches, burgers, salads, steaks, and ribs. But the portions are huge (those hikers need to carb load); the menu lists a large number of vegetarian options; many of the vegetarian items can become, with the removal of dairy products and eggs, vegan options; and many of choices show a unique twist on the traditional. For example, there is the Pesto Quesadilla, which is two flour tortillas spread with pesto, layered with cheese, and topped with chopped tomato and pine nuts (piñon in the Southwest). But Oscar’s is best known for their garlic burgers, so garlic burgers we must have.

Oscar’s is small with about ten tables inside and maybe another twenty tables outside. As much as I enjoy al fresco dining, the day was somewhat cool and very windy. Since I do object to cold burgers and the grit of blowing dust with every bite, we ate inside. Décor is what I call Southwest Funky with copper topped tables, Mexican ornaments, and a large stuffed fish hanging from the ceiling.

The menu lists eight variations on the garlic burger, including the “Big A Double Burger” which is two half pound patties with melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and Oscar’s fry sauce and is accompanied by jalapenos and guacamole. But not even Big Chuck thought he could work his way through a pound of meat. So he chose the half-pound garlic “Murder Burger” topped with bacon, onions, provolone and cheddar cheeses, lettuce, tomato, and fry sauce.

As for me, could I resist anything called the “Whoopass Burger?” This was another half pound garlic burger with Monterey Jack cheese, jalapenos, green chilies, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and chipotle dressing. And, just in case more spice is needed, the plate included a small dish of extra jalapenos. And, I should note, I used about 80% of the extra peppers.

The burgers had great flame-broiled taste with those crisp tasty edges that give extra flavor to the meat. But, when I order a hamburger cooked medium I do expect a pink center. These had gone past the medium point and were verging on medium well. As a result, I thought my sandwich was a little dry – even with all of the toppings. On the other hand, the waitress brought Chuck extra napkins and he joked about looking like the baseball player Nomar Garciaparra* with his compulsive hand-to-napkin-to-mouth ritual after each bite.

All of the burgers are served with sweet potato fries as the only side option, a situation that did not make Chuck happy. As he stated while waiting for his food: “I am prepared not to like the sweet potato fries.” As I was finishing my burger and had maybe a dozen fries left, he queries: “Are you going to eat all of those fries?”

Now, I would like to tell you that they were hand cut in the restaurant’s kitchen--but I can’t. But delicious they were. Fried crisp and only slightly thicker than shoestring fries, they were the perfect and unexpected addition to the meal.

Not a perfect meal but the best Springdale food so far. Oscar’s rates 4.0 Addies and, if time permits, a return for breakfast.

In the past two weeks, Kate has had the opportunity to spend more time applying her own creative touches to some meals, and I have been very appreciative of her taking advantage of these opportunities.

Her most recent efforts resulted in the black bean soup shown here. Made from scratch with a judicious use of cumin, the soup was topped with spicy chipotle garnishing sauce.

Her black bean soup matched the corresponding half of Chef John Sharpe’s Signature black bean and cream corn soup served at the Turquoise Room of La Posada in Winslow, AZ.

Homemade black bean soup with a drizzle of chipolte--perfect when the temperature is in the low 40's.

*After every pitch, Nomar would pull on the batting gloves, alternatiing hands while holding the bat. Tap his left forearm twice. Twirl his bat while simultaneously tapping alternating toes into the ground (about 3-5 times).

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