Bruce VanderWerff is a restaurateur with considerable success in Salt Lake City. He has a proven track record with EIBO's, Ferrantelli, Cafe Central and American Grill. Each has a loyal following.
Over the past 30 years he has done just about everything, from running a bakery to operating a French restaurant that included a cooking school. VanderWerff is daring and inventive and, as a result, is lionized in this hotly competitive business.But when I heard last winter about his hamburger chain called Eat-A-Burger, I thought perhaps that VanderWerff had spent too much time in a hot kitchen. Wasn't the marketplace saturated with too many places? Even the National Restaurant Association, consistent boosters of expansion, had editorialized about the crowded marketplace. And aren't burgers losing ground to chicken, fish and salad bars, with burgers battling each other using slick ad campaigns while ignoring the cholesterol counts?
Well, like an honest cynic, I have to admit that my initial prediction that Eat-A-Burger would go burger-up was wrong. Not only does it appear to be successful, but I actually liked the concept and the food. On our recent visit, we were impressed not only by the straight-forward, uncomplicated menu (six choices of burgers and two chicken sandwiches), but also by the essential style. There are no cutesy cartoon-esque seducers, refugees of Toontown, lurking about to lure our children. A real-life adolescent, dressed in a white shirt, black bow tie and paper hat greeted us with a simple "Hello." (This used to be the old-time greeting, before employees in hamburger chains began looking more like a flight crew bringing in Tom Cruise for a landing than some kids flipping burgers on the grill.)
The atmosphere is neither plastic nor underscored by gimmicks. The exterior is a reproduction of a 1950s drive-in - white walls and pink neon highlights beckon customers. The interior echoes with a Wurlizter juke box, playing tunes of the '60s, which resonate off the black and white checked porcelain floor with a nostalgic echo. It all conjures up memories of a baby boomer's adolescent rites of passage.
But even our 1980s goodie box-conditioned children enjoyed Eat-A-Burger. While their father did embarrass them by singing along with a high school favorite, "The Duke of Earl," in a lousy falsetto, they liked sitting on the old-fashioned style stools and eating at a counter. It also helped that the food was good.
The juicy burgers, served on a flour-dusted deli-style bun, were delicious. So was the lemon chicken sandwich ($2.69), complete with a tender grilled breast of chicken, sprouts, bits of fresh onion and mayonaise. The menu also has teriyaki chicken ($2.79) as well as the Eat-A-Burger special, cheeseburgers, double burgers and pastrami burgers, priced from $1.49 to $2.59. All are served in a plain white sack.
We also enjoyed a Heath Bar malt (89 cents) and real home fried potatoes, served with the skins (79 cents). The generous portions were fresh and flavorful. The fries left such an impact on my discerning 10-year-old daughter that she keeps wanting to go back, "just for the fries." This is not the kind of refrain one often hears about today's fast-food outlets.
VanderWerff's savvy and common sense about uncluttering the basic hamburger menu, which the larger chains have loaded with cutesy and diverse offerings, is an insight that might just pay off.
Rating: * * * 1/2
Eat-A-Burger. Four locations: 7065 S. Ninth East; State & Vine (Murray); 2900 W. 4700 South, and 2901 E. 33rd South. Open 10:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Sundays. No credit cards accepted. Cash or checks with guarantee card. Drive-thru windows.
* SUMMERTIME IS A SEASON more for the backyard grill and picnic basket than hitting the dining-out trail. But fellow adventurers should be aware of some recent changes.
The Afterwords has been purchased by the folks who own and operate the Park Cafe and Riverhorse Cafe in Park City. It will be reopening later this fall with a Northern Italian menu. For fans of the Afterwords, a trip to The Green Parrot might help. They purchased the menu.
Frody's on Third West and Second South in the Crane Building has also closed. Frody Voggler is currently working hard to restore the historic railroad depot on the south end of Main Street in Park City for an Austrian-style restaurant, scheduled to open in mid-October.
The Upper Crust closed its doors Aug. 1 at its old location in Foothill Village, but hope to be relocated in their new cafe-style and enlarged space within 10 days, just to the rear of JB's, also in Foothill Village.
Sid and Terri Seftel, owners of Viva La Pasta on Post Office Place, have recently hired son Steven, formerly chef at Fleur de Lys, to run the kitchen. Margaritte Gale and her son, Roman, are overseeing the Fleur with their customary care and affection.
The Marriott Hotel is in the midst of its "Italy on the Table" promotion. Allie's Pantry is now featuring an Italian menu, along with its regular bill of fare, priced from $3 to $10. Favorites such as antipasto, pizza, pasta dishes, veal picatta, scampi and spumoni are being offered. The special menu incorporates imported cheeses, pastas consisting of premium durum wheat semolina, and plum tomatoes. The promotion runs until Oct. 18. (And did you know that Italy is the No. 1 tomato-producing and exporting country in the world?) Buon appetito!