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Dining out: Take advantage of transitional food

Published: Thursday, Sept. 2 2010 3:58 p.m. MDT

Every morning the past week or so, as I've driven my kids to school, I've noticed the mornings getting progressively chillier.

I'm sure — or nearly so — that things will warm up again and we'll have some of those glorious golden days that make fall in Utah one of my favorite things. But the cool whiff of change in the air has me thinking about a couple of eating opportunities that I'd describe as transitional. Get 'em while you can!

The first of these is African Ice (www.africanice.net), a chain of shave-ice shops with five locations around the southeast Salt Lake Valley and one in Lehi. African Ice caters to Utahns' love of shave ice in the best possible way and in every sense of the word.

The ice is just fabulous, well and carefully made with a silky texture, balanced flavors and a menu of combinations that have, so far, been intriguing enough to keep me from reflexively falling back on my default order (peach and red raspberry, side by side, with unsweetened cream on top, in case you were wondering).

I've never had bad service at an African Ice stand, and there are a lot of options for kids. African Ice is one of the few shave-ice stands in Utah that offers an extensive menu of sugar-free and agave-sweetened syrups in addition to the regular kind. There's even an innovative "99 Anytime" shirt that guarantees customers 99-cent shave ice all summer long, as long as they're wearing the shirt.

But possibly my favorite thing about African Ice (the tastiness is hard to beat) is that it funds small entrepreneurs in Africa. African Ice funnels its profits to these people through Kiva, a nonprofit micro-loan organization that has distributed almost $158 million and boasts a 98.85 percent repayment rate.

The company's gaily decorated stands feature heartwarming photos and descriptions of the business owners who have benefited from my kids and me slurping down frozen treats. But shave-ice stands are summer-centric, and this is summer's last gasp. So don't delay a visit!

The situation at Johnniebeefs (www.johnniebeefs.com) is a little different.

After my first visit a couple of years ago, the place quickly made it onto the short list of "Restaurants at Which I Spend My Own Money." More than that, this Midvale purveyor of all tasty things Chicago made it onto the even-shorter list of "My Regulars."

So you can imagine my horror when I arrived at Johnniebeefs for a Chicago dog one evening to find the place closed up. And imagine my delight when, a couple of weeks later, I saw a Johnniebeefs banner fluttering outside a gas station at 7360 S. Union Park Ave.

This location is temporary, as Johnniebeefs owner John Carrasquilla searches for another home. But in the meantime, customers can still enjoy one of John's fabulous dogs, get a fill up and buy a pack of Hostess cupcakes for dessert.

I've mentioned this last seasonal item before this summer, but I don't want you to forget to mosey on down to the State Fair (www.utah-state-fair.com/home/index.php) on Sept. 17 for the Utah Cattlemen's Beef Feast.

My kids and I like to spend the afternoon at the fair the day of the beef feast, strolling through the livestock and 4-H pavilions and ignorantly rating the calves based on which is fattest or which has the prettiest eyes.

We enjoy a few rides, listen to hot tub salesmen hawking their wares, get free stuff from the Utah Educational Savings Plan booth, examine cheesy blankets with Bob Marley on them and buy 10-for-a-dollar hair clips.

Then, for about five bucks, we have one of the fair's best meals, shoot the breeze with the cattlemen who made our sandwiches and go home from the fair feeling that, though summer may be over, it tasted great while it lasted.

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News.