The last experience I had with Guru’s was eight or nine years ago. I had just returned to Salt Lake City after having spent two years in Ohio, and everywhere I looked there was this new restaurant; it seemed to have proliferated the entire Salt Lake Valley, popping up particularly in hip neighborhoods like 9th and 9th and the Avenues. It appeared very much the cool place to go, almost as cool as Cafe Rio at the time, and their menu looked like Noodles & Company, Cafe Rio and Rumbi all fused together (this was back when there was only the Skyline Cafe Rio in Salt Lake, and Rumbi was only one tiny place called Rumbi’s in a strip mall on 400 South). If I remember correctly Guru’s had metal covered tables, concrete floors, and open rafters exposing the building guts above you, much like Chipotle (a favorite establishment of mine that had been flourishing as the only decent Mexican food place in Ohio, but that had at that point not yet made the jump into the Utah market). Besides everything being so of the moment, Guru’s had a great gimmick: these cheesy faux-Eastern inspirational quotes about being at one with the universe because you ate some tofu or vegetables or something were revealed on the bottom of your plate as you finished your meal.
Guru’s wanted to be everything to everyone, and I really wanted to like them, but there was one little problem: their food sucked. I gave them several tries (their menu was so promising and diverse), but when they gave me a bad fish burrito that made me sick, that was the end of my long-suffering. I never went back. Within six months or so, all the locations of Guru’s had closed, and I felt quite vindicated. Feel good sayings and promising menus couldn’t compensate for lousy food forever.
Imagine my surprise when, eight years later, I discover there is a fully alive and operating Guru’s Cafe right on Center Street in downtown Provo, Utah. Imagine my further surprise when the menu looks similar to and even expanded upon that of the ghastly Guru’s of old, and when I see that it is a popular and thriving establishment, alive to the point of advertising of poetry readings and live music nights. So strange. I lived for a year and a half in the general Provo area, but I never brought myself to the place, although I readily admit that if not for my knowledge of their former franchise empire in Salt Lake it would have been high on my list of local places to try.
But last week, while at the BYU Books for Young Readers conference at the Provo City Library a few blocks away, I was convinced by a friend to go to Guru’s for lunch. I consoled myself, thinking that if this Guru’s was still alive and bustling eight years after the demise of all their other locations, there must be something different about it, something good. I decided to trust the good people of Provo for keeping the business alive.
We walked in; there was a significant ordering line, and the girl at the cashier was chatty with everyone and taking her time. As we slowly approached the counter, there, written in chalk on their specials board, was one of the most mythical of foods on the mythical menu of the mythical Froz-T-Freez Drive-In Diner: the THAI BURRITO. I was filled with wonder, horror, all-around shock. It was not without trepidation that I ordered this mystical burrito of my dreams from the very restaurant that long ago had become my nemesis.
So, what was it? Grilled tofu, green beans, squash, edamame, tomatoes, onions, brown rice, and peanut sauce all rolled in a whole wheat tortilla.
How was it? Not bad. Not bad at all. I maybe would have preferred some chicken to the tofu, and it could have used more of the peanut sauce, but it was quite edible.
A long-maligned business establishment had been redeemed in my eyes, but far more importantly, another Froz-T-Freez menu item has become a reality. At the ‘Freez of course we would experiment with various currys, sauces and other ingredients, but a workable prototype is in place. My dream of the burrito as a food vehicle that crosses all cultural and culinary boundaries can and will indeed become a reality.
How’s that for inspiration? I was so distracted I didn’t even read the saying displayed on the bottom of my plate, but know that I forgive you, Guru’s Cafe, and I am at one with you. Oh, and your sweet potato fries with spicy fry sauce are pretty good, too. But everybody’s doing the sweet potato fry thing now.