Cottonwood Heights » Culinary arbitration is a tricky act. Especially when it involves family friends and your own opinion. When a good friend and his mother inquired if I'd ever been to Cottonwood Heights Café and whether I preferred the blueberry or chocolate-chip pancakes, I was thrown for a loop.
After revealing that I had never been to the restaurant, I was offered many reasons to go, including the task of crowning the mom's or son's pancake selection as the best.
As it turns out, I've driven past it on numerous occasions, as the exterior is pretty non-descript. The cafe's sign gives the impression of an outdoor recreation hub versus a place to eat after one does such physically exerting activities.
But if you already know of this place, I don't need to tell you why people continually, habitually come here. Or why when you do, after a while the affable and efficient servers start greeting you by name when you walk through the swinging-glass doors. With an emphasis on huge breakfasts and equally large sandwiches and burgers, Cottonwood Heights offers diner-type fare, but it's mercifully low on grease.
It's also well-made, filling, always arrives piping hot and is affordable. In other words, Cottonwood Heights Café is an ideal neighborhood spot.
The place is open only for breakfast and lunch and is busiest on weekend brunch hours. You choose to sit in the middle of the lodge-like, expansive dining room or in a cozier corner.
That cozy corner features a high wall of bookshelves stuffed with hardbacks and paperbacks, with a table weathered with water rings from glasses and coffee mugs, as well as etchings of past patrons, as if it were a landmark tree where passersby must leave evidence of their presence.
"I'm carved somewhere on here," one high schooler declared to friends. En masse, they pored over the surface looking for her initials before the soft drinks and coffee arrived.
The menu's familiar lineup includes egg and breakfast meat combos, huge eggy slices of French toast, and a roster of omelets. Meat lovers have much to rejoice in the selection. Both the Cottonwood Special and Athenian omelets (both $8.49) pocket multiple meat morsels in a huge half-moon omelet, flanked by a mound of house breakfast potatoes, thick slices of simply seasoned, tender red potatoes.
For $1.49, you can substitute pancakes for the usual toast. Or you can go all out and order it alone or as a pair or trio ($3.49 to $6.69 a la carte; $8.29 combo with eggs and meat) of 12-inch diameter pancake monsters.
If I were the USDA, I would say one pancake would be enough. But moderation is hard in the face of well-made flapjacks. Two pancakes are hearty. If you can finish three, you deserve a T-shirt or at least the right to add your initials to that back table.
Regardless, the thick pancakes are fluffy, devoid of the wallpaper paste texture overworked, sad batters can acquire. Also, no trace of burned or recycled kitchen fat. Blueberries offer punctuations of color to the eye and a nice burst of acid flavor, while the gooey chocolate chips are suspended in the cooked batter, making the whole pancake taste like a huge chocolate chip cookie. Kids will easily gravitate toward this option. Parents, you've been warned.
Each cake soaks up maple syrup like a sponge, so keep it handy along with the squeeze bottle ketchup, Tabasco and Cholula hot sauce bottle that's as large as bottle of shampoo from Costco.
The condiments go equally well with the thick-cut, golden plank fries that accompany most burgers and sandwiches (rice or tomatoes are other selections), huge in portion and bountiful in fillings. The garlic mushroom cheese burger ($6.78) has the right balance of pungency to sheer meat factor.
There's a unique abundance of gyro meat on the menu and not just for the folded flatbread sandwich. It's in the omelet ($7.99; $8.49 with feta cheese). It's a breakfast meat to pair with eggs ($6.99) and most remarkably, it's a topping for a burger. Pairing meat with another meat is a genius idea (think a bacon cheeseburger, or a pastrami burger).
But the gyro burger ($6.79) is a revelation. First, the gyro meat itself is actually quite succulent and well-seasoned -- some of the better gyro meat around. Shards of it are piled on top of a griddled beef patty and everything is tucked between toasted sesame seed buns along with chopped iceberg, pickles and -- get this -- white gyro sauce.
Picking it up with my bare hands was nearly impossible, but as one comprehensive bite or in pickings off the plate, it was absolutely messy and delicious.
Which brings me back to the pancake arbitration. To my family friends, consider this the official ruling: They're both good. But the gyro burger is even better.
A favorite with locals and anyone who enjoys hearty breakfasts and good burgers. Cozy interior offers the backdrop to dig into stacks of blueberry or chocolate chip pancakes, gargantuan omelets with sliced red potato hash, and formidable burgers with thick plank fries. Garlic burgers are good, while gyro burgers (topped with gyro meat) are the best.
Location » 2577 Bengal Blvd., Cottonwood Heights; 801-947-0760
Hours » Daily, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Children's menu » Yes
Prices » $
Liquor » None
Reservations » No
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » No
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All major