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Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Kid-friendly decor at Max & Cheese includes booster seats that look like phone books.

OREM — Heather Anderson is done with children's menus offering only hot dogs, hamburgers or chicken nuggets.

That's why the menu at Max & Cheese: A Kids Cafe, is broad enough to accommodate a picky preschool palate as well as the more mature parental preferences.

"I'm floored that there's nothing like this (in Utah County)," Anderson said of her new eatery at 1631 N. State in Orem. "Restaurants can be a risky business but there are so many kids in one community — it's a win-win."

During a recent lunch hour, parents and children filled the tables, eating Max's Cheesy Noodles, Octo Dogs and cheese quesadillas.

Some kids ate a few bites, then ran to the center play area to work a puzzle or play with blocks or wooden bead mazes — all education-based toys.

The restaurant is the brainchild of Anderson and her husband, Jeff, as well as co-partners Carlie and Mark Jones.

Jeff Anderson loves to cook and has worked with numerous restaurants, but never owned one until now — especially not one that promotes itself as a cafe for kids where parents are "tolerated," according to the shop's sign.

The shop caters to children, from Sippy Cups for juice orders to plastic Yellow Pages booster seats. Most food is served in kid-sized portions in shiny metal "dog bowls," and most of the dishes also carry the name of Max, a dog.

The most popular dish thus far is Max's Cheesy Noodles, followed by spaghetti-inspired Max's Red Noodles with or without meatballs or simply buttered noodles, Anderson said.

There's also grilled cheese sandwiches, mini chicken tacos, chicken on a stick and the always-entertaining Octo Dog, a hot dog cut into four tentacles and placed on the bun.

Kids dishes without meat add-ons run from $2.50 to $4, but if the child decides he or she doesn't like the meal, parents can always invoke the "picky eater guarantee" and get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for 75 cents.

So far, only one person has redeemed that guarantee, Anderson said.

Lest the adults feel left out, their meal options include penne rosa — noodles with mushrooms, spinach, spicy Italian tomato sauce and a bread stick — or the chicken ranch BLT wrap, chicken Caesar wrap or a Caesar salad in the $7 to $10 range.

Or just go with the kid's grilled cheese, like Bob Wily did, who came for lunch Tuesday with his wife, Pam, daughter Amber Arnold and three grandkids.

But 5-year-old Jacob and 2-year-old Kyle Arnold were more interested in playing than eating their cheesy noodles, much of which still sat in the bowls. Perhaps the special topping of crushed crackers was too much, said their grandma, Pam Wily.

But at another table, 2-year-old Bennett Horne devoured Max's Red Noodles with Meatballs.

"I'm always looking for somewhere to go, especially in the winter," said his mom, Lindsay Horne. "It's so nice to have normal food at a place where your kids can play."

Horne saw the store while it was under construction and has been eager for the restaurant to open. And in the past two weeks since it opened, she's been there twice.

"There's only been Chuck E. Cheese, and no adult wants to eat there," Horne said. "I'm ready to send mass e-mails about this. This is all the perfect kids food you could ever ask for."

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