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Dining out: Great Grains

The past couple of months, I've read in magazines and seen a couple of Food Network shows featuring cereal bars — restaurants that serve only hot and cold cereal. The purveyors of this newest dining-out trend, as with many "hot" new ideas, seem concentrated on the coasts.

But Marci Lambros has brought the trend to Utah with Great Grains, a cereal bar located in the heart of Sugar House that provides an unusual dining experience that could become addictive to noncooks and "Seinfeld" fans.

Great Grains occupies a simple, modern space in a little arcade shopping center across from Wild Oats. Its food offerings are similarly streamlined, with a long row of 16 cold cereals on offer, which patrons can mix and match in either 24- or 32-ounce containers.

To go with the cereal are a plethora of flavored milks, from your standard 2 percent and chocolate to strawberry, root beer, orange cream and two kinds of soy milk; as well as toppings ranging from healthy — nuts and fresh and dried fruit — to decadent — M&Ms, chocolate chips and chocolate-covered raisins.

There's also hot cereal, with plain and flavored oatmeal and classic Malt-O-Meal on offer, as well as juices, coffee and hot chocolate in various flavors.

I find this concept engaging, all the more so as Great Grains is clearly making an effort to buy in-state, with its cereals mostly Malt-O-Meal (the company has a plant in Tremonton), its milks from Gossner and Meadow Gold and its hot chocolates by Utah favorite Stephen's.

Our kids grasped the cereal-bar concept right away and loved pulling levers on the cereal dispensers to make combinations like cocoa puffs, rice crispies, mini-wheats, Tootie Fruities (think Froot Loops) and Marshmallow Mateys (Malt-O-Meal's version of Lucky Charms) all in one bowl.

They each picked a different milk flavor and topped their cereal with candy, of course, but also with fresh strawberries and bananas, cut for us as we ordered. To be honest, their creations looked pretty disgusting to me, but the kids loved them, devouring most of their 24-ounce portions and even dipping in their straws to slurp up the cereal-thickened, weirdly colored milk.

My husband and I were, of course, more restrained, but we tried a few combos, as well, with me topping a guilt-free combo of granola and whole-grain flakes with a smattering of Marshmallow Mateys (I admit to a weakness for them).

An amusing aspect of Great Grains is deciding how and where to eat everything. Because all of the containers come lidded, diners can take away their cereal and toppings and mix them with their flavored milk once they get home or to work. We also discovered (too late) that we should have poured a bit of our kids' dry cereal mixes into the much-smaller toppings containers before pouring over the milk. That way, they could take home any uneaten dry cereal for next day's breakfast.

I also tried a portion of hot cereal, all of which is of the mixed-from-a-pouch variety. It was fine as far as that type of hot cereal goes, especially with almonds and the available cinnamon and nutmeg mixed in, but as a fan of pan-cooked hot cereals of every kind, I'd like to see Great Grains offer more esoteric varieties as the place settles in. Visions of steel-cut, slow-cooked oatmeal spring to mind, for example.

Cold cereal (includes milk) $2.49-$3.19, hot cereal $2.49, toppings 79 cents each, beverages 99 cents-$1.99.

Rating: ** 1/2

Where: 2148 S. Highland Drive, Sugar House

Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Saturday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Closed Sunday

Payment: Checks, credit cards accepted

Phone: 485-6300

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News.