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From Kolaches to Korma

Downtown Provo's eclectic food scene.

Gail Newbold May 1, 2016

Even on cold winter mornings, long lines snake outside tiny Hruska’s Kolaches in downtown Provo, Utah, as hungry fans of the warm savory buns wait patiently to order. “It’s like someone took a bun and filled it with heaven and asked you to eat it,” says Provo City’s Business Development Coordinator Scott Bowles about the kolaches.

Hruska’s is only one of many eclectic and international food offerings lining Provo’s historic Center Street and adjacent University Avenue. Take a stroll down the tree-lined streets and you’ll be tempted by food from England, Japan, Mexico, Peru, El Salvador, America, Italy, India, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, New Orleans (Cajun), Belgium and more. There are more than 60 independently owned and operated restaurants downtown.

Unique Feel and Energy

No one is quite certain why conservative Provo sports such an eclectic food scene, but most agree it has a unique feel and energy. “You’ve got Indian next to Japanese next to Belgian, with a Fortune 500 business across the street,” Bowles says.

Provo Mayor John Curtis speculates the draw for many restaurateurs is the downtown’s mix of one-off retailers and blend of new and historic architecture. “The growing music scene downtown also helps bring people from all walks of life,” he adds.

Green Drinks and Coconut Korma

Ivie Juice Bar on 145 N. University Ave. is a bright space with a contemporary vibe, open since August 2014 and offering a healthy alternative to Coke or coffee. Try the Warrior — a blend of kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, apple, lemon, lime and mint that manages to simultaneously taste good and be healthy. In addition to juice blends, Ivie offers smoothies, shakes and acai bowls (pronounced aw-say-ee). The Brazilian acai, touted as a super fruit and antioxidant, is made into a frozen-yogurt type treat then topped with a delicious variety of fruits and granola.

Lovers of Indian food rave about India Palace on 98 W. Center St. and its popular lunchtime buffet. If you’re ordering off the menu spring for the amazing chicken coconut korma with a hint of curry, savory rice and a side of garlic naan. Or head west two blocks to Oregano Italian Kitchen on 223 W. Center St. for Coleman-Davis cacao-rubbed New York strip Marsala.

Fries Smothered in Chili and Cotija

On the corner of University and Center awaits an adventure in more than just eating. The antique Otis elevator with its sliding bar door is not for the faint of heart as it lurches its way to the basement home of Rocco’s Big City Deli. The addictive Beast Fries are served smothered with nacho cheese, chili, Thousand Island dressing, traditional wing sauce and cotija cheese. Décor is a mish mash of sports posters and memorabilia hung beneath a low ceiling strung with icicle lights. Twenty-seven years ago, Rocco’s was the original Gandolfo’s sandwich shop until it changed hands two years ago.

If you’re brave enough to take the creaky elevator up, you’ll be back on the street passing Gloria’s Little Italy on 1 Center St. with its gleaming case of gelato and Italian pastries. The baseball-sized tartufos made of chocolate cake pieces and a core of Italian cream, smothered in dark chocolate with a white chocolate drizzle, beg to be taken home. Warm one in the microwave for 90 seconds before eating for an exquisite blend of flavors.

Not Just an Employee Cafeteria

Spoon, inside the Nu Skin building on 75 W. Center, is a place a lot of people don’t know about,” Bowles says. “They think it’s just another employee cafeteria but it’s not. The food is super fast, fresh, delicious and sold at good prices.”

Another of Bowles’ favorites is Sensuous Sandwich. “It reminds me of growing up in the Midwest,” he says. “It feels like coming home. I love talking with the staff. The two-foot sub is totally awesome and if you eat it in 30 minutes or less, you get a free T-shirt and drink.”

Bowles claims Brassas Mexican Grill (brassas.weebly.com) on 238 W. 100 South is the best Mexican he’s ever had, and he should know as a former resident of the Phoenix area. “The Tijuana Burrito is so, so good,” he raves. “Come with an appetite because it’s enormous.”

From Artisan Chocolate to English Cadbury

Taste on 117 N. University has the elegant feel of an old-time European chocolate shop. Its owners are passionate about making artisan chocolate and educating patrons in how to eat and appreciate it during their two-hour tasting sessions. Order a hot chocolate, or if you’re brave, a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars for a taste sensation you won’t quickly forget. Next door to Taste (and viewable through) is the chocolate factory where Coleman & Davis artisan chocolate bars are made.

Not a restaurant, but notable for its dazzling array of British specialty food and Cadbury chocolate, is B&H Pharmacy on 286 W. Center St. Open since 1946, the shop sells among other things English biscuits, sauces, gravy, Heinz beans (different than the U.S. version) and marmite — “which I’m never going to try,” says one of the shop’s owners Kent Taylor with a smile. Marmite is a sticky, dark brown food paste made with a yeast extract.

For more of this story, head to downtown Provo yourself and fill in the blanks. Chances are you’ll find what you were craving and much more.

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