My dear friend Anita said it best when she told me that "fry sauce alone is reason enough to avoid Utah." For those of you who have been spared this atrocity, fry sauce has been described as "thousand island dressing without the islands." More simply, fry sauce is nothing more than ketchup mixed with mayonnaise, with the occassional addition of pickle juice. This concoction was brought to us by a Utah-based restaurant named Arctic Circle.
When I was young, my family lived down the street from the national headquarters. We grew up on food from the AC, and fry sauce was common in our household. As I grew older, and I began to grow chest hairs and tastebuds, I realized that I really didn't like fry sauce. In fact, I thought it was absolutely disgusting. I still liked the burgers, especially the bacon double cheeseburger, which is no longer on the menu, though you can still get a double cheeseburger and ask them to add bacon.
Back to the fry sauce. So I don't like it anymore. Big deal, right? The theory is that when they ask me if I want any sauces, I either say no or just get ketchup. This doesn't happen at Arctic Circle. You get fry sauce no matter what, unless you actually reach in the bag, pull it out, and give it back to them. I have done this on a number of occassions. Then I ask for ketchup. I always have to ask for it. Every other fast food restaurant I go to (not that there's many these days) asks if I want ketchup. In Utah, most of them ask if I want ketchup or fry sauce. Kudos to them for actually bothering to ask.
Several years ago, Arctic Circle got the bright idea to start selling burgers made with Angus beef. Just about any burger on the menu could be requested with Angus beef. Now you don't get the option. You get Angus beef or you go to another restaurant. Here's the thing about Angus beef: when was the last time you met somebody that could tell it apart from regular beef? Especially considering the charcoal that they have to turn the beef into in the first place just to be safe. While the taste may be no different, I did notice early on that the texture did suffer. Let's face it, Angus beef just isn't meant to be used as burgers.
Arctic Circle's new thing is their new yukon gold fries. We stopped by today because it was time for my yearly craving for an Arctic Circle burger. My wife ordered a combo meal, and was asked if she wanted to upgrade her fries to yukon gold fries for free. They told us that yukon gold potatoes had a naturally buttery flavor. Now, this is true, if you get "yukon gold butter potatoes", which I have only seen a couple of times in the grocery store. This is not true of regular yukon gold potatoes. Still, we went for the yukon gold fries. They did have a slightly buttery taste, and had a little more yellow to them than regular yukon golds. Apparently they're using the right variety. They also tasted largely undercooked and undersalted, even for me, and they were of course soggy.
Arctic Circle is largely located in Utah and Idaho, which are not two states that are known for their cuisine. The highest score a restaurant can receive on the Zagat Survey is a 30. Three restaurants in Utah (the whole state) have a food score of 27, and none higher. Compare this to New York City (just the city, not the whole state), which has ten restaurants with a score of 28, and thirty restaurants with a score of 27.
It makes me sad that what was once an occassional treat from my parents has taken it upon themselves to convince themselves that they're improving their menu, while they continuously allow it to degrade. It also makes me sad that this seems to be perfectly okay with the majority of the locals.
As I'm typing this, I have the Travel Channel turned on in the background. I just happen to glance up in time to see footage of my beloved downtown Salt Lake City. As I turn up the volume, I see the host standing in a very Utah-looking kitchen, talking to a very Utah-looking woman. I blame my wife and her hairstyling training that I take note of the woman's bad hair. What is the focus of the segment? Jello. This women has made lime Jello, filled with carrot shavings, inside a pineapple mold. This is wrong on so many levels. The combination of green mixed with orange is entirely unappetizing. The host is gushing about how limey it tastes. I'm thinking, "she made it from a box of lime-flavored Jello! Of course it tastes like lime! They sell the stuff in every other state in the union!" As if that isn't enough, the women has invited several friends and family members to bring their own Jello dishes, so that they might have a Jello fest. There is a line of people outside her front door, and each one describes their dish to the host as they walk in. One of the Jello dishes has spinach mixed into it. The host is acting as if he has just walked through heaven's doors and still can't believe it. Something about him seems just a little fake, but everyone else seems to be buying it.
Utah, you're giving yourself a bad name. Knock it off. Yes, I like Jello. It definitely comes in handy whenever I have oral surgery and have to stick with soft foods. But I don't make it every day. I don't even make it every month. In fact, I have only made it once in the past several years. There are so many foods out there for you to explore and enjoy. Maybe you should think about trying them out occassionally. Go check out that Thai restaurant sometime. Maybe you won't end up liking that tom yung kung soup. At least you will have tried it. And who knows? Maybe you will like it. And maybe, just maybe, when you expand your culinary horizons, you can break out of the molds that you have convinced yourself are good enough, and maybe your standards will go up just a little. And maybe, just maybe, some day I'll be able to proudly declare to my out-of-state friends how great the food in Utah is.