Monday, September 26, 2011

Other things DO change

And thank god for that too.

Quick post tonight to build a little extension on last week's post. I mentioned that Hires' fries didn't measure up favorably to modern competition. This week, I'm briefly spotlighting some of that competition.

Bruges is located just north of Pioneer Park, and it makes a strong entry in the contest for best fries in the valley. Their menu is admirably focused; during the summer, you can only get waffles, fries, and a sandwich called The Machine Gun. This would likely be a foolish business plan, but everything they do is just *so* good. The waffles have vanilla or cinnamon crystals (your choice) inside that add amazing texture; the toppings, particularly the crème fraîche, are simple, fresh, and delicious. The frites are fried twice, and are offered with any of a number of homemade mayo-based sauces. They are as close to perfection as I believe I've encountered; I look forward to suggestions for other places to find perfection in the comments below.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Some things never change…

Thank God.

Hires Big H has been making fantastic burgers, root beer, shakes, and onion rings for more than fifty years. I was practically weaned on their Big H burger; consciously or no, I’ve measured every burger I’ve eaten since then against that lofty standard, and most have fallen short.

The Restaurant

Their flagship location, at 425 South 700 East in Salt Lake City, operates as a hybrid drive-in and dine-in establishment. The whole place (still!) has the feel of a 1950s diner, with simple black-and-white checkered decor and various Utah Utes sports memorabilia mounted on the walls. The menu is surprisingly expansive for a burger joint, with a wide variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches to go along with the traditional burger fare.

I recently decided to get in touch with my roots by visiting that flagship location for the first time since I was in high school. My initial apprehensions that something may have been lost in the interim were immediately put to rest when I saw that virtually nothing had changed since the last time I’d visited; the manager was even the same guy who was there fifteen years ago. I sat down and placed my order without needing to look at the menu; a Big H burger, a frosted mug of root beer, and a side of fries.

The Food

After a reasonable wait, my food arrived. The burger was exactly as I remembered it; the patty was juicy, cooked just to medium well, and arrived nestled in a soft bun with fry sauce, tomato, and lettuce. The first bite affected me on a primeval level. *This* is how food is supposed to taste. I may have shed a tear or two because of the unassailable perfection of the burger. The root beer is crafted to similarly laudable standards; I quickly downed the first mug, and was well into my second before I’d even finished the burger.

The fries, unfortunately, don’t hold up as well to modern competition. I found them mushier than I’ve grown accustomed to, and though the included fry sauce still represents the standard against which all condiments should be measured, even that was not enough to rescue the side. Next visit, I’ll give their onion rings a try instead.

The Happily Ever After

Hires Big H provides a comforting reminder that some things never change. I may not need a Big H burger and root beer every day, but the simple knowledge the option exists is enough to make the rapidly changing modern world a little less frightening.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Mid-afternoon Ride Going Somewhere

One thing that has inarguably changed for the better in Salt Lake Valley is public transportation. Compared to ten years ago, it is now much easier to get around the city without a car. With the upswing in traffic headed downtown, not having to worry about parking your vehicle is a very, very good thing. To that end, there are now three light rail lines crisscrossing the valley that form the backbone of public transportation in the greater Salt Lake area.

The number of bus routes has also significantly increased. Most bus routes now start and/or end at a Trax (light rail) station and are designed to carry passengers from the Trax backbone out to less centralized destinations. If you need to go anywhere in the valley, chances are very good that there’s at least one bus that can get you there. Bus routes are generally fairly well-laid out, and as long as you know which bus you need to ride, it’s seldom difficult to get somewhere within a horseshoe’s toss of where you want to be. Why a horseshoe's toss? Because, as the adage says, "close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades", and it's most likely that you will need to walk a little bit to get to your destination.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t still significant challenges facing UTA. From the commuter’s point of a view, a few places that some further development would be welcome include:
  • Most of the Trax stops are adjacent to large public parking lots, which seems like a tacit admission on the part of the Utah Transit Authority (UTA, the organization in charge of the entire system) that they will not be able to solve the “last mile” problem of public transportation anytime soon. 
  • More coverage for early morning and late night commuters. It can be difficult to use public transportation if your commute schedule varies much from the traditional commuter norm.
  • Better informative displays at bus stops. Many bus stops only list which buses stop there, with no indication of those routes’ schedules or paths.
  • Better support for mobile devices. A mobile site exists (, but it seems to ignore smartphones entirely. Adding support for some common smartphone features like high-resolution displays and location services would make a tremendous difference in ease of use for tech-savvy customers.

I’ve been testing it out personally, and I’ve come to the conclusion that with a little extra effort and patience, owning a car is no longer required to get anywhere in Salt Lake City.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Start at the Beginning

An Introduction to the Author

So, I was born in Utah. And that was alright. And then I grew up in Utah. That was also okay. Then, somewhat unexpectedly, I found myself living in South Korea. And not for a short little stint, either. 

When I arrived in South Korea, I was just barely an adult. My Korean was just barely sufficient to get around. I had a lot of growing up to do. So that’s what I did for the next ten years; I grew up. Outside my mother country. Five thousand miles from Utah geographically; a quadrillion miles removed from Utah in every other way.

To make a very long story very short, now I’m back in Utah, and either I’ve changed, or Utah has changed. I want to figure out which is which, and this blog is going to help me chart my progress.

An Introduction to the Blog

Like I said, something has changed. Over the next sixteen weeks or so, this blog will be a platform from which I explore, and expound, and expand, all to try to discover what has really changed.

To a large extent, I’ll limit my musings to events and venues in Salt Lake City, because that’s where I’ll be spending the bulk of my time for the foreseeable future.

In its simplest form, this will mean posting a picture and a description of some new restaurant or shop that I’ve discovered. In other posts, I’ll analyze some of the larger systems that shape my daily experience here. UTA and UDOT are both likely to feature in that type of post. And finally, I expect to have a few longer posts in which I attempt to stand back a bit from the day-to-day grind and reflect on some of the larger differences between life there and life here.

An Introduction to the Reader

Hopefully, you’re here because you’ve had the chance to see your world through someone else’s eyes, and you enjoyed the experience enough to seek it out again. Whether your daily world includes Utah or not, I hope that I’m able to provide some insight on what makes this area so unique. Thanks for your patronage.