I expected to find that Zupas, a "gourmet soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts" eatery with locations in Provo and Draper, was a big-chain corporate creation.
It's got that slightly exotic-but-appealing vibe and a polished menu, and restaurant presentation that emphasizes bold color and enticing photos of the food. Plus, there's an approach to making that food both fresh and fast that has obviously been carefully worked out.
All of those are good things, but it was even better to find that this is a Utah creation, and as such also features service that's thorough and unbelievably enthusiastic.
Several staff members called out greetings as we walked into the Draper Zupas for a recent weeknight dinner. When we confessed that it was our first visit, they began educating us with — sorry, but it's just true — missionary-like zeal.
As one worker led us through the menu, gathering our "likes" and making recommendations, others would walk by and throw out suggestions. When I asked about the wild mushroom bisque, he closed his eyes for a moment as a beatific smile spread across his face, then said, "That's my absolute favorite."
But I didn't have to take his word for it — customers can try things out beforehand. Zupas will spoon you out a little cup of as many soups as you want to sample.
My husband and I went for the "Try 2 Combo," which allows diners to choose any two of a half-sandwich, half-soup or half-salad (you can upsize for an extra charge). He had the southwestern ham-and-cheese panini and the chicken-and-white-bean chili. The sandwich, pressed thin and with a crispy crust, was a twist on standard ham and cheese, with cream cheese and tons of green chilis, in addition to the ham and thinly sliced tomatoes. Nothing was too dominant, so the flavors blended well.
The chili reminded me just a bit of eating a chili-verde burrito, without the tortilla. It had the same sweet-spicy, rich flavor and a strong emphasis on the Anaheim chilis, with the beans and chicken mellowing the flavor.
I had the summer chicken salad and a bowl of that mushroom bisque. I liked this combination for its contrast — the creamy, earthy soup redolent with chopped shiitake, portobello, oyster and button mushrooms; and the salad a medley of bright flavors, from the chunks of roasted chicken to the fresh strawberries, cashews, cranberries, grapes and mixed greens tossed with a tangy vinaigrette.
Luckily for me — I love soup — the kids ordered two more varieties with their meals. Zupas' children's menu is a great deal, serving up either a panini-grilled cheese sandwich or chicken fingers, a small cup of soup, drink and a plump chocolate-dipped strawberry for $3.99.
We ordered two meals between our three young girls, and they were well-fed indeed, especially by their soups. One was a sharp and creamy Wisconsin cauliflower soup made with both Cheddar and pepper Jack cheeses, the other a slightly chunky and vibrantly flavored tomato-basil soup. My 3-year-old ate it with a spoon and used it as a dip for her chicken fingers, and it was fine both ways.
Then came dessert. Zupas offers shareable portions of either fondue or make-your-own s'mores. We ordered the chocolate fondue. After a server set down bowls of melted chocolate suspended over votive candles, we speared fresh bananas, strawberries, pineapple, Granny Smith apples, tiny brownies, marshmallows and chunks of Rice Krispies treats and swirled them in the thick, sweet milk chocolate. Of course, you can order things like chocolate-covered strawberries or cookies, but it's hard to beat fondue for finishing your meal with a flourish.
Salads $4.99-$6.99, soups $3.99-$5.99, sandwiches $4.99-$6.99, combinations $7.99-$11.98, kids' meals $3.99, desserts 79 cents-$17.99.
Where: 64 E. 12300 South, Draper (also 408 W. 2230 North, Provo)
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Payment: Checks, credit cards accepted
Phone: 542-7020 (in Provo, 801-377-7687)
Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org