Sunday, August 17, 2008

Alice Waters: Alice in Utah

Serendipitously, my flash failed to activate when I snapped this photograph, casting Maddox restaurant's "famous" spoon rolls in a golden nostalgic glow. 
Maddox, in Perry, Utah, was where we ate all ceremonial meals with my grandparents when I was growing up, and it has changed almost not at all in the intervening decades. Maddox is a grand steakhouse with a sprawling knotty pine-paneled dining room, and an adjoining drive-in. No liquor is served. As soon as you sit down your clean-cut waiter (this is a very Mormon community) brings a bowl of spoon rolls accompanied by tubs of whipped butter, both plain and raspberry. As soon as you have eaten perhaps a third of the contents, your clean-cut waiter brings another bowl.

The rolls are warm. They are fluffy. They are golden-brown. They are slightly sweet. They are memorably delicious.

Maddox also makes its own sasparilla soda. And in the late summer, an incredible peach pie (the last dish I ever ate with my grandmother) made using Elbertas grown in the old orchards right across the road. 

Maddox used to raise beef right on the premises.  Today they buy their hormone-free meat from a ranch in nearby Tremonton, then butcher and age it themselves. 

So: We have local natural meat, local peach pie (available only in season), homemade soda, homemade rolls.

Is this not a restaurant that would satisfy the exacting Alice Waters?

Well, yes, for all the reasons I mentioned above. 

And no, because Maddox is not self-conscious. And Alice Waters is nothing if not self-conscious. 

Maddox takes enough pride in its Utah beef that there's an essay on the subject printed on each paper placemat.

But there are also the packaged croutons that appear on your salad. The chicken fingers on the kids' menu. The frozen halibut for dieting ladies. The people at Maddox see no contradiction in serving fabulous local steaks then throwing a sliced canned beet on a dinner salad. Or offering you some pink raspberry whipped butter to slather on your rolls.

That raspberry butter really is rather tacky. Alice is frowning. One would never see such a thing at one of the darling little cafes in Provence. Or, for that matter, Berkeley.

After my Maddox lunch the other day, I took a drive around the area and was sort of amazed at the number of fruit stands. And they are the same fruit stands that were here thirty years ago -- Pettingill's, Nielsen's, Sumida's -- when I used to wait in the hot Oldsmobile reading a John Jakes novel as my grandmother bought her local cantaloupe and peaches. 

But. . . .wait. What's this?  Alice is still frowning. Though they accomplish roughly the same thing -- putting seasonal, local produce into the hands of consumers -- there is a big difference between farmer's market culture and fruit stand culture.

The fit young MILF with her mesh bag  and Michael Perse t-shirt at the San Rafael farmer's market will take her $3.50/pound peaches home and do something elegant and simple with them, perhaps out of one of Alice's own cookbooks. A galette. A tart.

Meanwhile, the plump lady in polyester pants buying the $.99/pound peaches at Pettingill's will go home and put her fruit in a flamboyantly artificial Jell-O salad. It will be her contribution to a potluck picnic welcoming some neighbor boy home from Iraq. Her fondness for Utah peaches is unattached to a larger political/ecological/gastronomic/aesthetic agenda. They're just "real good" peaches.

Moreover, this plump lady will definitely vote for John McCain come November, now that Mitt's out of the race. She does not like this Obama fellow much at all. 

Cloche-hatted Alice has now turned her back.  


  1. love this post. just do. love it. very perceptive.

  2. I agree with anonymous--am working your way through your old posts b/c you've come highly recommended from several sources, and this is one of my favorite posts so far. The fetishization of what used to be simply common sense.

  3. I love the all photo of your dishes and family at work. I need to state I am wonder with your work and knowledge. It is elusive top notch writing like yours these days. I genuinely appreciate people like you. Thank you

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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