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Eat & Drink » Restaurant Reviews

The Right Stuffed

The best local versions of my favorite kind of food.

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I've been asked what my favorite food is enough times to have an answer ready to go. Before I get into it, however, would you like to take a guess? I've mentioned it a few times over the course of my tenure as City Weekly's resident food dude, but there's a good chance it's been more of a between-the-lines kind of thing.

Give up? Alright, I'll tell you: My favorite food is what I lovingly refer to as meat-stuffed bread. Now, before you burn every shred of credibility I've gained thus far in my food writing career, give me a chance to unpack that simple but perfect mouthful.

When I say "meat-stuffed bread," I am casting a rather wide net to reel in a variety of foods that cross geographic boundaries. These are foods that exist and are beloved by every major culinary culture on the planet, food that may very well have been early man's first attempt at assembling a recipe. Meat-stuffed bread transcends cultures, reminds us of our similarities and makes us feel at home—and how many world leaders can you say that about?

If you're still unconvinced, allow me to plead my case. What follows are some meat-stuffed breads that come to us from all over the world—and where you can snag a good example locally. Just read on—you can thank me for the discovery of your new favorite food later.

The Pasty. Sometimes called the Cornish Pasty, if you want to get technical, this hand-held savory pie originated in Cornwall, U.K. It was a popular meal on the go for miners who carried them along during their shifts in metal buckets, and were typically reheated by holding a candle underneath.

Incidentally, silver miners in Park City were also fans of pasties, which is where The Dough Miner (945 S. 300 West, Ste. 101, 385-334-3389, doughminer.com) comes in. This new addition to the Central Ninth area whips up homemade pasties with traditional flavors like ribeye steak, potatoes, carrots, turnips and onion. For the ultimate Utah culinary purist, they also have funeral potato pasties, stuffed full of cheesy, buttery mashed potatoes. Though doughnuts aren't meat-stuffed bread, they are quite nice to have around after devouring one or two pasties—nothing goes better with savory dough than sweet dough, after all.

The Calzone. It's hard to improve on pizza, but leave it to the culinary geniuses of Naples, Italy to be bold enough to try. Like the pasty, the calzone was conceptualized as a way to enjoy the perfection of pizza on the go. By adding all the toppings, folding the dough over the top and throwing it in the oven, a pizza revolution was born.

Locally, I think you've got two safe bets. The Vesuvius Calzone at The Pie (multiple locations, thepie.com) revels in its own excess by stuffing a traditional calzone with spaghetti, meatballs and mozzarella cheese. It's an excellent example of how modern chefs continue to innovate in the field of calzone technology. I also dig the pizza benders at The Italian Village (5370 S. 900 East, 801-266-4182, italianvillageslc.com), which can be made to order just like their pizzas.

The Bao. Given its longevity and regional diversity, the Chinese dish known as bao could helm its own sub-category of meat-stuffed bread. Its mythic origin story involves a military strategist named Zhuge Liang in third-century China trying to fool a river deity into letting his army cross. The deity demanded 50 severed heads, so Liang called for 50 dumplings the size of a human head and tossed them in for passage. It worked, and since then, Chinese chefs have been creating new variations on this delicious meal of steamed or baked bread stuffed with barbecue pork, veggies, or whatever else sounds good.

You've got a solid slate of bao places here in Utah, but I like to order them up with dim sum at Hong Kong Tea House (565 W. 200 South, 801-531-7010, hongkongteahouse.yolasite.com). They have steamed and baked variations—though the baked bao are typically only there on weekends. If I was a river deity, I'd request 50 bao over severed heads any day of the week.

The Samosa. Another ancient dish that can thank the diverse cultures born of the Persian empire. It's been a snack in the palatial courts of the Ghaznavid empire, and it's been a sack lunch for Uzbekistani shepherds. Today, of course, it's our appetizer of choice when ordering up some tasty curry at one of our local spots. It's hard to go wrong with a deep-fried triangle stuffed with ground meat or cooked potatoes wherever you find one, though I think the offerings at Saffron Valley (multiple locations, saffronvalley.com) are my favorites. It's the consistency, I think; the seasoning and size are always exactly what I want when craving this tasty little snack.

The list of tasty meat-stuffed bread can go on and on, of course. I know I am neglecting the empanada of Latin American cuisine, the pierogi of Eastern Europe and the pretzel dogs of the mall food court, but all of them occupy a special place in my heart. Hopefully you can say the same.