October 2, 2003

Five chefs and a little gravy: Chefplex offers something for almost everyone

If a fancy mall food court crammed inside a building whose exterior resembled a Connecticut barn and whose interior approximated a 1980s modern art gallery, you'd have Chefplex, the latest restaurant to open at 1755 N. State St., Orem.

That location has seen a dispiriting number of culinary businesses flash and burn in its looming barn. Its most recent inhabitant, a steakhouse named for wild frontierswoman Calamity Jane, optimistically rolled out its Western-themed accouterments mere months ago. It didn't last a year.

Chefplex, however, may have an advantage that previous higher-end restaurants lacked. In an area that values speed and thrift, Chefplex is quick and easy.

The business' concept is innovative but simple. Five restaurants share the roughly 7,000-foot space: Buona Vita, Humdinger's Hamburgers, Chichia's Best Mex, Siam Grill Thai Food and an ice cream station, Moo Scoops.

Patrons bypass servers altogether and order from a row of touch screens that allow guests to electronically browse the different menus. Diners can mix and match -- ordering, say, pad king from the Thai restaurant and a chicken enchilada from Chichia's.

The monitor keeps tabs on all the selections; once everyone from a party has ordered, a Chefplex employee rings up the bill.

Browsing through the considerable number of selections takes quite a bit of time, and first-time diners may become flustered trying to hurry through the menu while their dining companions wait.

The reward, however, is quick service and an ecumenical selection that will likely satisfy even the most disparate tastes.

Prices are slightly more expensive than at a food court, but the cuisine is a far step above the corn dogs and fried rice you'd find at the mall.

On a recent dinner visit, the green enchilada was magnificent, with thin tortillas stuffed with chicken and topped with a spicy, sweet jalapeƱo cream sauce.

The penne alfredo, however, had a thin, watery cream sauce splashed over penne pasta and slightly fatty chicken.

The pad king was a mix of crisp, fresh carrots, onions and bell peppers served with jasmine rice. The rice was fluffy, the vegetables crisp, but the ginger seasoning in the sauce obscured every other flavor. Still, the vegetables and chicken were tender and tasty.

Ordering prime rib at a quick-serve establishment always involves a bit of risk, but here, we were impressed by the generous, 1/2-pound cut, cooked to absolute, melt-in-your-mouth softness and seasoned with crispy onions.

That night, the restaurant didn't have knives (and an employee made no attempt to find one after we asked) so a bit of comic blundering ensued when we tried to cut the beef with two plastic forks.

Still, the prime rib was a culinary treasure uncovered in Humdinger's menu of burgers and sandwiches. Like so many of the dishes, it delivered above expectations.

For hungry, large parties with multiple children or finicky eaters, Chefplex is a quick and tasty solution. If you can't make everyone happy here, you're better off packing it in and eating at home.

The original article is here.