Saturday, May 1, 2010

Moochie's

SALT LAKE CITY -- Moochie's is a dump, in all the ways that term can be endearing, comforting and a signal for authentic. It's clean, mind you, but, well, it used to be a pottery place.

Made semi-famous by Guy Fieri's Food Network show, "Diners, Dives and Drive-ins", Moochie's is becoming something of a Salt Lake landmark by selling Philly food -- cheese steak and meatball sandwiches, in particular.

Let us be clear -- despite several visits to Philadelphia, I have never had a cheese steak sandwich there. My experience with cheese steak goes back to 1973 when I met and fell in love with the Italian Place in Provo (a strong drive from Philly), which serves its version of the cheese steak, which is to say it's nothing like what sticklers for Philly authenticity would recognize, or so I'm told. Among the differences is that a real Philly has runny orange American cheese, while my familiar Italian Place steak and everything has provolone.

So, when Kathleen suggested a stop at Moochie's on our last visit to Utah, I was all in. For those who know Salt Lake at all, the place is easy to find. It's one block north and one block east of Randy's Records. If you don't know Randy's Records, then read no farther and Google Randy's for a complete history of music on vinyl in Utah.

Moochie's is on the corner of 800 South and 300 East in Salt Lake in a converted house that used to be a pottery shop owned by Don MacDonald, who is married to Joanna "Moochie" Rendi. See where this is headed?

So, fast forward. Kathleen and I each ordered the 12-inch cheese steak with onions, peppers and mushrooms. The main eating area was full, so we headed to the overflow seating area, which is the house next door. (No, really.) On the way, we ran across a picnic table and settled there. Kathleen had nabbed a bottle of Moochie's jalapeno sauce, which we dribbled on our sandwiches (we each ate half, stashing a whole sandwich in our cooler for the ride home and dinner that night).

Here's the scorecard: Meat, tender and flavorful. Onions, peppers, mushrooms, perfectly cooked and delicious. Bun: Soft on the inside, chewy on the outside and very fresh. Cheese: Frankly, I really don't like American cheese, but on this sandwich it was splendid. Calories: Do not even ask. Overall: Not over-hyped -- really, really good. It doesn't envelope me with the same warm nostalgia as the Italian Place, but the food experience is great and the setting is funky.

MacDonald was in the kitchen when we visited and, upon noticing that I was taking pictures, asked what the hell I was up to. I explained that I was a professional blogger and food critic (I sometimes stretch the truth, particularly when talking to strangers I'm unlikely to meet again), so he came by later and gave us some of Moochie's homemade potato salad. This, it turned out, was as good as the sandwich, and I do consider myself a connoisseur of potato salad. It's unlike any potato salad I've ever had, with a nice kick on the finish. This, too, is highly recommended.

Don't tell Don and Moochie I called their place a dump, even in a loving way. You know how they can be in Philly.

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