West Valley City•
There is an audible chatter as the lunch rush at the venerable Kowloon Cafe dies down. The wait staff brings huge, steaming plates of chow mein, ham fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, and egg foo yong to eager diners sitting in red-backed booths.
This is an old-school relic of a different time and place, when diners with Formica-topped tables such as the Kowloon catered to families looking for a mostly Americanized version of good, fresh Chinese food coupled with the choice of American classics such as prime rib, steak and halibut.
Two vicious-looking cement lions guard the recently remodeled Kowloon at 2055 W. 3500 South. There is a little grotto with fish on the outside and an aquarium on the inside. Ceiling fans cool the air while flat-screen televisions are turned on in the corners.
The Kowloon has a loyal clientele. Carol Fuller, who, for 23 years, has waited tables at the restaurant that opened in the 1970s, knows many of the regulars. On a recent day, she waited on her daughter, granddaughter and great-grandchild.
"There was a guy who used to ask for white gravy on his salad," she said. "We have so many regulars who are people we know. I’ve met people who come from as far away as St. George."
Part of the Kowloon’s appeal is its large portions and relatively low prices.
The most expensive thing on the individual Chinese side is the $10.99 walnut shrimp with broccoli, a house specialty that features candied walnuts, butterflied shrimp and a light sauce surrounded by broccoli.
On the American side, you can choose from hot sandwiches, prime rib, New York cut steak or a combination seafood platter of shrimp, scallops, fish, oysters and calamari.
The assumption is that a restaurant that serves both Chinese and American food might do neither well. But at the Kowloon, there are American and Chinese sides of the kitchen; the cooks who do American don’t do Chinese.
The food is fresh, with new produce coming in six days a week for the Kowloon, which is also open on Sundays. Virtually nothing served is premade or processed. The staff makes staples such as sweet and sour sauce, gravy, tartar sauce, salad dressing, soups and cocktail sauce nearly every day. A full halibut is purchased and sliced into portions. Same with the 50-pound slab of prime rib, provided by Wasatch Meats.
Few places offer egg foo yong as fresh or tasty as that found at the Kowloon, served hot and smothered with brown gravy. It takes a 15-dozen case of eggs to make a single batch of one of the food items that bring customers back to the Kowloon.
My personal favorite is the chow mein, always crispy and hot. It reminds me of the old-style Americanized version of Chinese food I grew up and learned to love at now long-gone places such as the Kuong Jou in Sugar House, the Ding Ho that used to be near 300 South and State in Salt Lake City or Harry Louie’s on Main Street. The egg foo yong is a close second, and the egg flower soup, never a personal favorite, has almost more vegetables than broth, a rarity these days. I almost always order the pot stickers.
Many of the recipes have been passed down from cook to cook for the past 40 years. While a few new ones have been added, there is a feeling of tradition at the Kowloon. The food is consistent and, after ordering it once, you pretty much know what you are getting.
In this case, it’s piping hot and fresh, served in a place with a friendly staff that seems to know the names of many of the regulars.
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