A Tale of Two Fry Sauces (Well, Three)

I have a bit of a backlog of fry sauce experiences (which makes me concerned for my dietary choices) so I decided to focus on two for this post because they were diametrically opposed. Both were restaurants I had eaten at pre-pandemic and both are locally owned (not a chain).

I had high hopes for Station 22 because I have had great experiences eating there. It has a fantastic energy and unique touches like a wall of specialty sodas. It has a wide array of sauces and was nominated for the fry sauce in particular, but it’s a long, narrow restaurant with little room for spacing out tables so we did the takeout option, which was not an option when I last ate at the restaurant.

Somehow on a Thursday night they were slammed. Understaffed, they didn’t even have time to attend to the folks who walked in, hoping to be seated (or pick up their takeout!). When one guy said he had been waiting for five minutes without anyone acknowledging him, I walked back to the server station to get an update. I felt bad pressuring them when they were so obviously distressed, but I had already paid for my food online an hour prior and we were starved.

We did eventually get sustenance (in about double the promised wait time) with unfortunate substitutions for the pie we ordered and missing biscuits, but the whole thing was a Curbside Cautionary Tale. Even the best dining experience, though, couldn’t have saved that fry sauce.

It was sauce. We put it on our fries. It wasn’t fry sauce. It was more of a honey mustard dressing mixed with a dab of ketchup. I had the fleeting thought that maybe they had made another unfortunate substitution, but I had double checked at the restaurant that this was what they were marketing as fry sauce.

It made me realize that the essence of fry sauce is the mayo. This is a mayo-based sauce and the best sauces highlight that, celebrate that. Station 22’s sauce ran away from its mayo roots and in doing so lost what make it distinctive.

Compare this to Taco Amigo’s extremely light pink sauce. It’s somehow more bland than TopGolf’s fry sauce but it’s also 100% better. This is because it leans in to the mayo. It knows it’s a mayo sauce. I had always thought it was a matter of getting the tang just right (and that can be a factor in fry sauce efficacy) but embracing the bland can be just as powerful. Utah, home of the fry sauce, is much the same way. Don’t discount the bland. The bland is the whole point. Love your pasty white condiments. There is beauty all around–even in the mayonnaise and the white picket fences.

But Taco Amigo isn’t actually the second restaurant in this Tale of Two Fry Sauces (it was a side epiphany in the avalanche of deep friend potato experiences I’ve been having of late). The second restaurant was Seven Brothers in Riverwoods.

I had eaten there once a few years ago and hadn’t fallen in love. I had ordered a burger built for a much larger mouth than I had. I hadn’t ordered fries. I hadn’t gotten fry sauce. So when I had an hour to kill in North Provo at lunchtime I decided to try again. I had lunch in the very socially distant dining area (it was a pretty slow day) at this locally owned burger joint. This time I knew to not let my order exceed my jaw capacity and I had a lovely conversation with my server about their saucing.

They make it fresh every day and go through 3 five-gallon buckets of it on weekdays (four or more on weekend days). It was just mustard, mayo, and ketchup with a chive garnish (unknown ratios). I was not a fan of their distinctive fries, which seemed like the love child of potato chips and potato wedges (forbidden love that is forbidden for a reason) but the sauce…hands down the best of the restaurant sauces. It was perfection. The whole plate was very pretty (the potato love child was nothing if not pretty) and the sauce had just the right amount of tang in just the right amount of bland.

What I am realizing with these local fry sauce adventures is that if a restaurant serves you pre-packaged fry sauce you should brace yourself for mediocrity (I’m looking at you: Chick-Fil-A, Culver’s, Arctic Circle etc). Fry sauce was meant to be mixed fresh. It is the ultimate “mix to taste” item and when it is standardized, it ceases to be fry sauce.

On the Road to Fry Sauce: Top Golf

I almost skipped this one. Not the fry sauce–the blog post. Pandemic protocol factored so largely in my first foray that this breech of protocol seemed like something to keep under wraps. But in the interest of being fully transparent I will tell you about this second stop on the road to fry sauce.

I ended up going out with a friend I haven’t seen in a while. She had a gift certificate and I was up for an adventure. All I knew was that it somehow involved golf. After about an hour’s (masked) drive we arrived at a massive structure known as Top Golf, located in Midvale, Utah. Having not been in crowds for about a year, my empathetic heart was momentarily stunned by the pure energy of it all. It wasn’t even that packed of a space, but business seemed to be booming (or so it felt to this hermit).

It was a 1-2 hour wait for a bay (semi-private golfing location–think of the layers of stadium boxes in a basketball arena or baseball field, but the seats are at the back and you get to launch projectiles out the front) so we went to their restaurant, which was as packed as local social distancing regulations would allow. Basically, we were still fairly packed in but we couldn’t overhear the conversations of our fellow diners as well. Though we were only maskless while actively eating, I couldn’t help but think of all of the stuff still hanging in the air was we were ushered to the booth less than a minute after the table (and only the table) was hastily wiped.

But enough of my pandemic panic. What about the fry sauce?? Fry sauce was the only option and the waiter was a little puzzled that I asked about it. I thought perhaps I had just revealed myself as the outsider I surely was, having last played golf as a unit in 7th grade P.E. Back in his day, nobody questioned the condiments. Or, more likely, his inner monologue was “Please stop talking to me. I have ten tables to serve in the next three minutes.”

In either case, the fry sauce was served shortly thereafter, alongside perfectly crisped tater tots. After the obligatory Napoleon Dynamite nod, I dug in. The tots were unparalleled. The fry sauce was the most bland version of fry sauce I have ever tasted. It is best described as lightly tinted mayonnaise. The most compelling reason to eat it is because it is there. As soon as I saw it, I understood why the waiter’s response to my inquiry was befuddlement. It was as ordinary and universal as ice water.

Is this what we have come to, Utah? Fry sauce everywhere and fry sauce nowhere. I prefer it when Utah is flat out weird.

Will Drive For Food

I can’t remember when we started the Bakery Quest. It wasn’t conceived as a road trip; it was a lifestyle. The pure Bakery Quest is this: we want to visit all of the bakeries in the world. To that end, when we see a bakery we haven’t been to the appropriate action is to immediately pull over. We order all things that look good and divide them between all members of the party. Vocal judgements are made and the wisdom of returning or not returning is established.

We have found some incredible bakeries this way, most notably when driving on a small highway in rural Utah after a weekend of hiking. We happened upon it in one of the few months it is open (during the high season of Zion National Park) and we haven’t found it open on any of our subsequent visits. That’s why you strike while the iron is hot: who knows when you’ll cross paths with this bakery again?

So when I started reading William Least-Heat Moon’s Blue Highways and felt the tug of the road, I immediately thought of food. There is a joy in finding obscure food that you love or that other people love. It creates an instant connection. And after a year of being mostly homebound we are itching to get back on the road. Because of the pandemic I didn’t want to stay overnight anywhere that wasn’t in my bubble so I limited myself to day trips and uniquely Utah foods (of which there are many). When a crowdsourcing post on Facebook got 47 replies in 10 minutes I knew I had hit a vein. So what food do Utahns feel strongly about? Fry sauce.

Until I moved to Utah, fry sauce was my own private concoction. I assume that at some point my parents (both native Utahns) taught me how to make it, but it feels like I have just always known that ketchup is a runner-up for fry accompaniment. If you have access to mayo and mustard you can turn that ketchup into a plate-puddle of the good stuff. It wasn’t until my freshman year at BYU that I ever had commercially prepared fry sauce. It felt like people were trying to shrink wrap my grandmother’s applesauce cookies.

Because of that, I’ve been more of a passive Utah fry sauce consumer. I don’t seek it out specifically, or, rather, I didn’t until now. Now I want to try them all. It won’t be the same as a carefully proportioned salmon colored blob with white and yellow at the edges on a melmac plate, but few things are.

I want to try all of the fry sauce within a day’s drive of the Provo area and I will evaluate them here as I go along. I have made the fry sauce survey form available on the cloud for downloading/printing here. Please fill it out and send it to me (email at the bottom of the form) if you, too, want to be mindful about your condiments (because I probably can’t hit all of the places personally and because your perspective is also valid). I’m also up for trying your personal recipes so send those along too (no house calls unless I know you personally and Covid precautions are in place).

The first place we went to is Arctic Circle. I know. Talk about fast food commercialism. But Arctic Circle lays claim to the title of First Fry Sauce in the U.S. Well, technically, they call themselves “America’s First Fry Sauce” but what they mean is the United States. The ketchup/mayo combination purportedly originated in Argentina in the mid-1920’s at a golf club and is know as “salsa golf.” Don Carlos Edwards, the founder of Arctic Circle, started marketing it here in Utah in the 1940’s (with no knowledge of golf sauce). This is the earliest documented evidence of the sauce in Utah so I had to start there.

I was unimpressed. It was perfectly ok, but not something to bring a person to Arctic Circle above all else and really just one click above ordinary ketchup. We finished the cup just because it was there and we had fries. I sure hope Utah, Idaho, and select portions of Arizona have more to offer. Also, I learned upon hitting up our first fry sauce joint that my youngest kid hates fry sauce, a fact that had never previously been voiced. She prefers the Bakery Quest. Of course. Everyone does. That’s why the Bakery Quest a lifestyle and fry sauce is a fleeting obsession.

Any bets on how long before we can turn her into a fry sauce connoisseur? Tune in for more in the next installment of On the Road to Fry Sauce.

America, the Beautiful(ish)

America, the Beautiful(ish)

Recently I decided to write a few poems in the style of a dear poet friend, Dennis Marden Clark. This one has stuck in my head as a bit of a prayer during this “election season” so I wanted to put it out there as a potential source of comfort for battle-weary voters like me.

Dennis told me it works better when you sing it so here it is, an untrained voice with no accompaniment so you can imagine we are all sitting at Enliten Bakery and I’m standing at the mic sharing my latest crazy first draft of a poem. Take comfort in the fact that I am more reliably on key than Dennis.

America, the Beautiful(ish)

Oh beautiful, for cloudy skies

for amber waves of gain

for mountains mottled brown and black

for houses on the plains

America, America

God shed His grace on thee

and wake thy soul to mercy’s role

and see as He would see

Oh beautiful, my patriot’s dream

may last not one more year

malignant cities cease to gleam

though washed with human tears

America, America

your peace and grace I seek

uncrown the rude, find brotherhood

from sea to lake to me

Oh beautiful, for immigrants

whose strong, impassioned feet

a thoroughfare for freedom’s want

was never stopped or beat

America, America

must mend its every flaw

look in thy soul, find self-control

make liberty the law

Oh beautiful, for heroes proved

in liberating vote

who more than self their country loved

and mercy more than dough

America, America

may God thy heart refine

till all success be nobleness

and every gain divine

Why I’m Voting for Biden/Harris and Why I’m Putting This on My Fence

Some of you may know that I curate a small outdoor gallery of poetry and art on the fence outside of my home. We call it the Plain Air Word Gallery and we put up exhibits at random times on random topics. They generally stay up until the weather brings them down. Our newest exhibit is all about voting, with information about how to vote in our area, how to judge the veracity of sources, and how to discern media bias. I’m also posting the following personal essay for reasons that will become apparent as you read. This is by no means comprehensive and I have no desire to argue with trolls, but I feel compelled to do all that I can to make sure our democracy survives. This is my small contribution to the fight.

Earlier this summer my neighbors hung several huge pro-Trump flags at their house. It wasn’t surprising as I already knew where their vote had gone in 2016 and I already know that I live in a conservative part of a Republican state. But it brought politics into my neighborhood (and my day) in a way that wasn’t really comfortable. My sister wanted to send me a similarly sized Biden flag but that felt retaliatory and I didn’t want to have a neighborhood war. I also didn’t want to poke at my Republican neighbors the way I felt poked at with the Trump flags. 

When it comes down to it, a political flag or sign is a blunt instrument in a social landscape that is quite nuanced. I love and respect my neighbors. I do not doubt that all of the potential Trump voters on my little block are thoughtful, caring people who are trying to do what is best. I simply disagree with them greatly about exactly what is best in this election. So, because we are all thoughtful people who care about each other, I am taking a moment to tell you more than just who I’m voting for. I’d like to tell you why.

There are two categories of reasons to vote for Biden/Harris: reasons to vote for them and reasons to vote against the current administration. I’ll address both but I’ll start with the latter because, for me, it’s such a slam dunk. For four years I have watched this administration tear down this country. Unqualified people have been given power to ignorantly and/or maliciously dismantle important structures, thinking not of the American people but of wealthy supporters. Corruption wasn’t routed out. This administration opened the front door and welcomed it in. Want a pardon? It’s for sale. No ethical considerations needed. And no need to separate personal business interests from the business of running the country. If it benefits Trump it benefits America, right? Nope. Not even close. And now he won’t even concede if he loses the election. In fact, he is actively seeking to disenfranchise voters and circumvent standard election procedures. These are not the actions of a person who loves democracy. These are the actions of a person who loves power.

This is to say nothing of how personally odious the man himself is. I’ve had people say to me “I don’t understand why you have such an irrational hatred of him.” I do have a pretty strong negative reaction to the current occupant of the White House. I hate to even say his name. Some of you feel that is extreme. Let’s walk through that.

When he was an inconsequential entertainer and potentially shady businessman (if you thought about it, which none of us really did) he didn’t make me this angry. He was ridiculous and crude and someone I wouldn’t have wanted to share space with, much less work with, but he didn’t make my head explode. His rise in the Republican primary was unbelievable but I remember the 2016 caucus and how even hardcore Utah Republicans in my district seemed disgusted by him. As more and more things came out about him during the presidential race it seemed impossible that the American people would stand for it.

In November 2016 I was deeply wounded when the impossible became reality. It was not just that my candidate didn’t win a high stakes election. I have experienced that with feelings of disappointment but not feelings of betrayal. This man had so blatantly told the world who he was—a liar, an abuser, a crook, a crude and cruel man—and my fellow Americans, my neighbors, had said, “No problem.” I know there are complex reasons for why people felt they had to vote for him but on that day it felt like people I love were saying, “Yeah, I know he’s abusive and horrible, but I just don’t care.” Actually, some people said that outright. This is what makes my head explode. And watching him continue to blatantly show his lack of fundamental decency and morals on a broader scale to the cheers and adulation of a segment of population that includes people I care about makes my head explode even more. 

Four years of relentless assaults on decency and compassion have turned me from deeply wounded to deeply angry. Because I’m a woman that translates to “hysterical” or “irrational” when I am critiqued but let me assure you that it is entirely rational to feel betrayed by my fellow citizens in these circumstances. I felt comfortable in this community because I felt like we had a foundation of shared ideals even if we sometimes disagreed on how to achieve them. I feel betrayed because it seems like that foundation has been tossed aside.

When the President assaults peaceful protesters and you say, “He dominates the streets!” it feels like you don’t share my belief in the right to free speech and the responsibility a President has to keep people safe. When he admits to sexual abuse and you laugh it off as locker talk it feels like you don’t think I should be safe from assault. And when pundits and Senators mock sexual assault victims and you laugh with them you make me feel like you are not a safe person to hear my own vulnerable stories. This is why I feel betrayed. Not hysterical. Betrayed.

“But what about Biden?” I hear many of you say. It’s true that my anti-Trump argument has a wider base than the pro-Biden section of my argument does. I’ve had four years to work on the former and only a few months to work on the latter. Biden was not my candidate in the primaries (not because he is a bad candidate, but because there were others I liked better). But he’s a decent human being who loves this country and who has a solid track record of not demolishing democracy. And he chose Kamala Harris as his running mate, someone I’ve been impressed with since early primary race days. She’s smart and well-spoken with a palpable excitement about making positive change. 

When I watched the Democratic National Convention I thought, “Here are people who will help heal this deeply wounded country.” When I watched the Republican National Convention I thought, “Here are people focused on retribution and personal gain. Here are people who baldly lie to the public and none of their supporters seem to care.” Read both of their acceptance speeches and see the contrast for yourself (Biden: https://www.npr.org/2020/08/20/901380014/fact-check-bidens-address-to-the-dnc-annotatedTrump: https://www.npr.org/2020/08/27/901381398/fact-check-trumps-address-to-the-republican-convention-annotated )

Biden has stood up against violence against women and gun violence. Harris has taken on corrupt corporations seeking to exploit vulnerable populations. Listen to what they actually say and read what they have actually written (without the filter of a conservative opinion-maker). You might find what I found: that these are fundamentally decent people that can work with people all across the political spectrum, that will be leaders who serve all Americans, and that will trust the experience and expertise of the many people who have dedicated their lives to this country and this people. I’m tired of every day being another gut punch to everything I hold dear. It’s time to start healing as a nation or, as Biden puts it, to build back better.