- Ted Scheffler
Somewhat indicative of its demographics, Utah County—Provo and Orem in particular—doesn't offer the most diverse array of dining options. So, naturally, I was intrigued to discover that Provo has a restaurant serving the fare of Persia (aka Iran). But calling itself "the one and only Persian restaurant in downtown Provo" is an understatement; Café on Fire is one of the few Persian restaurants in all of Utah.
The owners are husband and wife Mary and Borzin Mottaghian, and at this independent family affair, you might spy their kids—Bo, Maximus and Malia—running around. Prior to opening the business, the couple served in the United States Marine Corps. And both are well educated: Borzin earned a Juris Doctor degree from University of California, Hastings, College of the Law and Mary is currently working on her law degree at BYU.
The restaurant is modern, sleek and spotless; you could eat off the floors here. It's a walk-up-and-order affair with rapid service, as meals are generally prepared in less than 10 minutes. The menu is pretty straightforward, with a selection of kebabs and side dishes. The prices top out at $8.99—a total bargain for such quality meals.
The fresh, flame-grilled kebab choices start at $6.99, including pita bread, lettuce, basmati rice or Fire bread (which is housemade Persian flat bread that's baked in the restaurant's tandoor). Options (all 1/3 pound) are turmeric-infused Sultan chicken, The Shah (ribeye filet), pounded lamb, pounded beef or The Garden (vegetarian eggplant). Kebab toppings are included and unlimited: red onions, black olives, feta cheese, tomatoes, cremini mushrooms, chopped romaine, banana peppers and cucumbers. In addition, there's a garlicky sauce and another spicy one.
I found the seasoned ribeye steak kebab to be superb: tender and juicy atop the house Fire bread. The pounded lamb, flavored with onion and saffron, was a tad dry, however. The pounded beef kebab is a better choice, especially with garlic sauce slathered on top.
There is one salad on the menu, and it is divine: The house walnut salad ($6.99) is a hefty serving of mixed greens with olives, cucumber, feta, grape tomatoes, strawberries, chopped walnuts and your choice of dressing. If you'd like to add a kebab, any of the aforementioned are available for an additional $2.99-$4.99. The generously portioned side dishes include a small version of the house walnut salad ($2), cucumber tomato salad ($1.50), pita bread ($1.50), house Fire bread ($1.50), grilled fire-roasted pepper (50 cents), basmati rice ($1.50) and fire-roasted tomato (50 cents).
Service here is friendly and helpful—particularly to confused first-timers like me—and Borzin is usually on hand to help with suggestions and explanations. The food, in general, is as fresh as fresh can be, and all the kebabs are cooked to order.
Perhaps this is a Utah County thing, but I did encounter an oddity here. You know how some restaurants offer loyalty promotions like a free meal after a purchase of 10? Or maybe a contest where the winner gets a night's stay at a local hotel? Well, Café on Fire customers are encouraged to enter a giveaway contest, and are allowed one entry with the purchase of a kebab or house salad. The prize? A shotgun from Provo's Ready Gunner. "Utah gun laws strictly enforced," read the addendum. The shotgun was hanging over the cashier's head. Along with delightful Persian food, there's something you don't see every day.