The Resurgence of Upscale Dinning

Chef about town

If you were to ask chefs around Anytown, USA, pre-pandemic, how they were feeling — most would tell you, “I’m tired. I’m not sure it is worth it anymore.” Prestigious food magazines such as Food & Wine and Fine Dining have written articles over the past two years expressing the consensus that Chefs have been struggling to fight what we affectionately call “the crush”. The crush is the predominant demand to stay relevant in the ever-changing world of trends and the newest “Best Of” list that seems to take on a life of their own within the restaurant community. I am willing to bet you can ask any chef why they made the culinary arts their career space, and they would answer, “Because it’s fun and it’s the only way I know to live.” Truly, being a chef is one of the only professions you can make a career out of using both your creative and analytical sides of the brain. Chefs are wonderfully enigmatic and delightfully inventive! As we have spent summer getting reacquainted with our surroundings, Chefs have quietly been emerging from shutdown and finding their love of cooking again.

Locally around the Heber Valley, there is a tangible feeling of renewing and resurgence happening. The secret to knowing when a chef is happy is when you see them use in-season ingredients, and with the fall harvest just around the corner (and happening now), chefs are welcoming you back with more than open arms. I took the liberty of matching my colleagues’ ques by quietly visiting their tables to taste their love languages — a gorgeously crafted and tenderly rendered meal.

Autumn in a chef’s kitchen is the most vulnerable time of year where patrons taste the height of technique married to the freshness of Mother Nature. Nothing is truer than the meals I experienced at Afterword, The Lakehouse at Deer Creek, and Midway Mercantile. Let’s get started!

The Lakehouse at Deer Creek is new this year, and Anissa, their front of house, is as inviting as the views. My meal was more than transformative — it has landed itself in my Top Ten Places to Eat — out of any meal I’ve had in the last ten years. I keep a running list, to be sure. I indulged in trying a bit of everything, but Chef Stanger outshines herself by letting the local and seasonal ingredients of her youth do all the talking. The Ute Blue Corn Tostadas and Farmstead Salad were heaven. For the main course, I sampled the Grilled Wild Block Island Swordfish and the Cast Iron Seared Tenderloin. My goodness, please make a reservation immediately and tell Anissa, Heber Valley Life’s Chef about Town sent you. The phrase “dining experience” does not encompass the treasure this place brings to Heber.

Midway Mercantile was a delightful find for me. The unassuming storefront gave me an inquisitive nod when I put this gem on my list, and I’m so glad I did. I spent a fairytale evening feeling entirely “food famous” by sampling their menu. I am confident I could eat their Roasted Bacon Wrapped Dates for any meal by themselves, but the Cornflour Calamari and Olsen Lamb Shepherd’s Pie helped me understand why Midway is considered the “Little Swiss” of Utah. Authenticity probably doesn’t quite do those flavor profiles justice. My main course was sinful, really. The Scottish Salmon with hearth-roasted vegetables was the elevated version of classic comfort food and the Crusted Alaskan Halibut was fusion perfected in its little curry bath. My Heber friends — shake hands with Midway via the Mercantile for date night!

Spending a fairytale evening in Heber is absolutely doable by way of Afterword. Located right on Main Street, Afterword feels like you are walking into a gated backyard of some nostalgic Victorian homestead during the settling of Heber itself. I did not scrimp on my experience here. Being a Southern girl, I immediately and without hesitation ordered the Buttermilk Biscuits, just because. I was not disappointed — so reminiscent of what Papa Pinky (my great-grandpa) used to bake for Sunday supper every week. Their Fire-Roasted Lamb T-Bone Bites should honestly be made into a lollipop flavor; they are that delicious, and combined with the Roasted Beets and Peas Salad, I could have stopped there. For my main dishes, I could not pass up the chance to try the Roasted Idaho Trout, of which I added the Collard Greens and the Niman Ranch Sirloin with barley risotto, in a word, melted — just melted as I tasted every bit of flavor. Chef Harris is a true star in his own right, but I can taste the likeness of Jean Georges technique, and I’m here for it.

Summer is coming to a close, and autumn is ready to take over. Our Wasatch Back chefs are happy and feeling reinvigorated with their harvest. As a chef, changing our menus with the season is like celebrating a romantic anniversary with our culinary craft. We use fall as our hallmark card to ourselves and to you, our patrons. Go celebrate with all your favorite places in town!