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Dining out: Sweet Tomatoes

Published: Friday, Jan. 21 2005 7:12 p.m. MST

I've suggested to my husband several times that we visit Sweet Tomatoes, which dubs itself "the salad-buffet restaurant."

He's declined every time — until the recent weeknight when I dragged him in for a family dinner. I cajoled him with the news that I'd heard you could now visit the salad buffet more than once, and coaxed him with tales of the pasta and bread and soup and desserts.

I don't think I made a convert out of him. The unofficial husband review of Sweet Tomatoes: "It is what it is. I think this is a place that appeals more to women."

He might have a point. There were several men there the night we visited, but every one of them was with a woman. There were none of the groups of teenage boys and grown-up dudes you see at a buffet like, say, Chuck-A-Rama.

This should have been obvious to me. The things I tend to like about Sweet Tomatoes — a variety of salads, good breads, lots of soups — are things you're likely to find on the menu at, say, a bridal shower.

You walk in and come face-to-face with the massive salad bar. Sweet Tomatoes is big on providing information to customers, although it's almost entirely in the form of pamphlets and detailed signs posted above the menu items; the counter staff working on the night we visited seemed actively trying to avoid talking with us, even conversing with one another as they totaled our bill.

There's a big area for make-your-own salads, which has salad-bar staples and more unusual items, such as julienned banana squash and shredded jicama. There's lots of dressing, including low-fat and low-carb varieties.

Sweet Tomatoes' real attraction for salad lovers, however, is its specialty salads. My husband had the asiago Caesar, which has fresh, high-quality ingredients but soggy croutons. Why not offer them in a bowl on the side?

Another thing I found irritating is the fact that small containers of sliced chicken were available as add-ons to the Caesar salad, but they cost extra. When I'm paying nine bucks for salad buffet, I think the chicken should be included in that price.

The crouton problem also was present in the "wonton chicken happiness," a decent Chinese chicken salad with soggy wonton strips. I just don't get why the restaurant doesn't offer them on the side. It would vastly improve the salads.

I did thoroughly enjoy Joan's broccoli madness, a refreshing blend of uncooked broccoli florets, raisins, cashews and bacon in a sweet dressing, and I liked the German potato salad and roasted-veggie salad with feta and olives.

After the salad bar, you go to your seat and also find the soup/pasta/potato bar, the bakery and the dessert area, which are all in back. My husband liked the chili, which was textured more like soup but was nicely spiced. I liked the albondigas locas, an unusual Mexican soup with little meatballs, cilantro, tomatoes, rice, potatoes and peppers.

The "big-chunk chicken" soup, on the other hand, was a big disappointment. The broth was virtually clear, an indication of its extreme lack of flavor. It was obvious it was fresh homemade broth, due to the breath of chicken flavor, but it completely lacked the depth provided in a homemade broth that contains vegetables, herbs and spices.

There's a great bread selection at Sweet Tomatoes. I liked the crispy, chewy garlic asiago sticks and the sourdough bread but passed on the focaccia, which was basically cheese pizza.

Our kids liked picking things from the buffets, but they really liked the dessert selections. There's soft-serve ice cream and yogurt, plus well-made cookies and brownies, fruit, and such items as cold rice pudding with raisins and pineapple, and warm apple cobbler. Nothing was fantastic, but everything was good.

I should note, too, that the place was clean and the serving areas remarkably undrippy for a buffet. It wasn't enough to make my husband want a second trip to Sweet Tomatoes, but I appreciated it.

Adults, $8.49; children ages 10-12, $4.49; ages 6-9, $3.49; ages 3-5, 99 cents; 2 and under, free.


Sweet Tomatoes

Rating: **

Where: 7455 S. Union Park Ave., Midvale,

352-9980

10060 S. State, Sandy, 352-9001

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Payment: Cash, credit cards

Web: www.sweettomatoes.com


Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com