This is the Place
Bring on the Poutine — Smoked Meat NOT Southern BBQ, Just Northern Goodness
Restaurant: Papipa's Deli
Driving down 9000 South by Home Depot in West Jordan, you will undoubtedly notice the canvas banner declaring the presence of Papipa's Deli — and been confused by the windows right alongside it showing unfinished space inside. That's because you have to go around to the back to see that there is, indeed, an eating establishment in residence.
Papipa's Deli has signage featuring line art of a very grandfatherly gentleman superimposed over a very Canadian maple leaf. I'm not sure what that image had me expecting, but it was not what I encountered upon entering.
My first impression of the place was feeling like I was at a burger-and-shake shop at a national park, like Yellowstone, or Lava Hot Springs, and that there should be waterslides outside. The counter is on the right, running the length of the long and slender space, with polished stainless steel surfaces and small rectangular pictures of menu items lining the ceiling on that side. One looked like a pastrami on rye, there was a clutch of French fries in a sauce with white rounds of something mysterious mixed throughout, burgers and hot dogs, as well as grilled sandwiches. The bar is backed by a wall of stainless refrigerators, a trio of fryers, and a gas stovetop with an ever-present stainless soup pot. There is row of tables with black-cushioned chairs, and all you need to eat are along the front of the bar, including trays, cups, and signage declaring specials. It felt cozy and comfortable, small-town, family-owned eatery. Which it is.
A woman, one of the owners, came out to ask me if I was ready to order. I wasn't, of course, because I had just been soaking up the feeling of the place that had really transported me to a place in my mind that I hadn't been since I was a child. So I bluffed, and asked what was their best-selling item. She promptly said their steak sandwich, then pointed at a picture above her head captioned, "Captain Nemo Nautilus." I then asked about the picture near it, showing the fries, sauce and mysterious white things. She said that it was Poutine (pronounced pu-teen) which has a Canadian sauce "kind of like a gravy" mixed with cheese curds. Interesting.
So I ordered the Captain Nemo Nautilus and the Poutine. She asked if I wanted the grilled onions and green peppers. I asked if they were bell peppers. She said they were, so I said no on the peppers, but yes on the onions. She asked if I wanted bean sprouts and tomatoes. I said yes on the tomatoes, no on the sprouts. She then asked me how I wanted my steak cooked. I thought that was a little unusual, particularly since I was ordering a Canadian version of a Philly Cheesesteak, but I told her I would love it medium well. (I know, the "experts" say that kills meat, but I like it cooked more. It's a texture thing.)
I then went down the counter to the register, where I also ordered a soda and noticed two or three varieties of Canadian candy bars available for order. But I already had enough food.
The bill was steep for lunch, because the Poutine is basically an entrée on its own, and intended for sharing. But you only live once. I paid my bill, got my Dr. Pepper at the beverage bar, picked up a couple thick paper napkins there next to the bar, then the woman told me that I would probably want a fork for the Poutine. I thanked her and picked up a plastic fork, as well.
Before sitting, I walked down the length of the place, looking at the pictures of various animals on the open wall, then stopped to ready a large poster telling the history of maple syrup. Finally, I sat at a table, which had squeeze bottles of ketchup and mustard on it, salt and pepper. All the cooking was being done right there in front of me, she and several others that I assume were her children, high-school age or older. It took a bit longer than I had anticipated for a cheesesteak. But, I soon learned, it was not a cheesesteak.
First words out of my mouth when I saw it: "It really is a steak sandwich!"
The sandwich came on red-and-white checkered wax paper in a plastic basket. And, to my surprise, there was an order of French fries there alongside it, even though I had ordered Poutine. The steak is a piece of sirloin steak on bread, with the trimmings. It was cooked just as I ordered it, but I was a bit worried about being able to eat it. I was unsure about being able to bite through a steak like that, but it was surprisingly tender. The only problem was that it was a bit bland. I wasn't even sure if it had been salt and peppered in the cooking. The meat was good, but I expected something more.
Then I looked at the Poutine. The sauce was a sort of golden brown and semitransparent, and marble-sized pieces of cheese curd were mixed through it. I took the fork and got a good mouthful, and was very pleasantly surprised. The sauce was almost like au jus, but with a much lighter flavor, not nearly as salty, and not a strongly "beefy." It coupled very well with the cheese curds, also, which squeaked on my teeth the first few bites before they got a good melt on. (I noticed while eating that the sauce for the Poutine was what was in the stainless soup pot on the stove.) The fries were hand cut and skin on.
Although I love steak, I was a bit disappointed in the Captain Nemo Nautilus, but the Poutine made up for that. I really enjoyed the mix of flavors, only stopping eating when I ran out of cheese curds to mix with each bite.
Another very pleasant surprise were the regular order of
fries that accompanied by sandwich. (They were there, so I had a few.) I
squirted on some ketchup from the bottle on the table and immediately
thought that the red was very bright and unusually healthy looking. There
were packets of ketchup near the drink machine, but this was clearly not
that. Moreover, the ketchup was much sweeter than I had ever tasted before.
A young gentleman came around wiping down a table and I asked him about the
ketchup. I asked if it was Canadian ketchup, because it was so sweet.
He said, "No, that would be really expensive, importing ketchup. We make our
own." All I could say
Needless to say, I could not finish everything I had ordered. The double order of fries had me fit to bursting, and the sandwich itself certainly satisfied one of my qualifiers for a worthwhile restaurant: quantity.
Last words out of my mouth when leaving: "I like this place."
It threw me a couple curves, but the food is good, and I love the feel of it.
On my second visit, there were a few things that had changed. There were more menu items on the wall, another board being added on the North wall, and additional descriptors were added to the captions of the pictures — things like "and fries" to avoid confusion like I had on my first visit, no doubt.
There was a sign in front of the counter declaring the presence of "Hoagie Combinations," which had not been there the first time I visited, and I'm always one for a good sandwich. The same woman took my order as the first time in.
So I ordered it with their "smoked meat," which they smoke themselves, and apparently are doing quite well with, because they have branded boxed where they are selling their smoked meat to go. In the picture, it looked like pastrami, and I love a good pastrami sandwich.
I got the sandwich on white, no onions, no green bell peppers. She asked if I wanted American cheese or jack, and I asked what she usually got. She said, "Jack. American is processed." I thought, "Don't go insulting our cheese," but went with the jack. She asked if I wanted mayo and mustard, and I asked her how she got it. She said with both, so I went with that. I knew that it came with an order of fries this time, and got my soda cup when I paid at the register and sat down. While waiting, I looked around and noticed a few more decorative items added, like small United States and Canadian flags standing on a shelf and a few more pictures. It was later in the day this time, so it was not as busy as the first time I ate there, and the dining room was immaculately clean.
I looked at the printed menu I had taken with me and saw that many of the prices had changed. It wasn't because I have the memory of an elephant. The old prices were marked out and new ones printed in alongside. I expected that the prices would all be going up, but that was not the case. In fact, of the 16 price changes, 12 were price reductions. So, although I cringed a bit at the printed-over/marked-up menu, I was pleased to see that the price changes were probably adjustments due to actual costs and customer comment. That's the beauty of a family-run restaurant like Papipa's — ownership actually listens its the customers.
Again, the food took a little longer than I thought it should have, but it arrived with a warning, "The fries are really hot. Be careful." Ah. Now I understand. My fries had been made to order. Cool. So I salted them while they were vulnerable (in the words of Emeril) and the woman who took my order came over a moment later with my fry sauce. That was new. And, looking at it in its capped plastic soufflé cup, I could tell immediately that it was not just ketchup and mayo. It was lighter in color and there were flecks of different spices in it, which also declared that it wasn't Thousand Island Dressing.
My sandwich was on a nice roll, thinly sliced pastrami, lettuce, thick slices of pickle, mayo and mustard and tomato. This time, it was on black-and-white checkered wax paper, but the base was not the plastic basket, but the bottom half of a cardboard clam shell. Unusual.
First words out of my mouth after first bite: "That's not pastrami. It's smoked pork!"
It had a heady smokiness like a smoked pork chop or even a smoked ham. The flavor was excellent and absolutely not what I expected. It was yet another curve thrown at me by Papipa's. After a few more bites, I realized that the pickles were not dill. They were sweet pickles. I can't remember another time I had a sandwich with sweet pickles on it, and found it to be a very pleasant surprise. The young man who had been wiping down tables the time before came out to eat his own lunch, and I asked him if the smoked meat was ham. He said, "No, it's beef." I said, "You're kidding! Tastes like pork!" He just smiled proudly. Aw well, I had been wrong before, and I will be again.
Then came the fries. The fry sauce, when I took off the lid, had a very different smell. There was something a bit smoky, but with a tang. When I tasted it, the flavor fell right in line. I thought that it might be Miracle Whip (rather than mayo) in the mix. This made me cringe, because I am not a Miracle Whip fan. But the other things I could smell forced me to try it and I was rewarded. I finally asked about the fry sauce and was told I was right, its was Miracle Whip, but that they wouldn't tell me the spice mix they used, because it was a secret. I thought the smokiness might be from paprika, but that was neither confirmed, nor denied.
Once again, I was unable to finish my meal. (And it was much cheaper since I wasn't ordering two entrees.) And I found myself smiling through it all. The new menu on the wall boasted things like meat pie and fruit pies for sale. There were also some new items with sausages, not just the steamed hotdogs on the main picture board.
Last words out of my mouth: "Papipa's is definitely growing on me."
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