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Dining out: The best local food for summer

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My family and I spend every Memorial Day placing flowers on graves, mostly in Tooele County. We pull weeds, clear away dead grass and leaves, place our floral tributes and talk about who these people were and what they still mean to us.

That's when I feel that it's really summer again. And that's when I set out to complete the mental to-do list I've been compiling all the long winter: what I'd like to eat this summer. This year, I'm sharing my list with you, and if you like, I'd love to hear what summer 2010 will taste like for you.

Cookin' out the local way: I've already got a jump on this goal, having enjoyed a pre-Memorial Day cookout with my extended family this past week. Each family brought its own meat, and some got fancier than others: my cousin Aaron, for example, slapped down some beautiful thick-cut steaks.

But I felt just fine with my un-fancy choice: a pack of hot dogs from Salt Lake's Hi-Grade Meats and a pack of bratwurst from Colosimo's, maker of many fabulous sausages. I like best their beer bratwurst or the traditional German.

Besides sporting an excellent retro logo that I'd love to see on a T-shirt, Hi-Grade makes fabulous hot dogs and brats. You can sample several flavors with Hi-Grade's Grill Pack, which features three unusual flavors — "Jack in the Brat" (a brat with pepper Jack cheese), jalapeno mesquite cheddar and "Ragin' Cajun" — plus the safety of Hi-grade's hearty premium deli franks.

Best shave ice this side of Honolulu: When my husband and I took a trip to Hawaii this past February, our Hawaii-born friend, Wendy, told us we had to visit Waiola Store, a tiny corner market in Honolulu, for the world's best shave ice.

We went, we ate, and she was right. I hesitate to even describe this shave ice's silken texture, huge portion and lasting flavor, lest local shave ice fans get depressed.

However, at least we HAVE shave ice in these parts, the best of which is found at Salt Lake's Mo' Bettah Steaks. If you want to know what the real Hawaiian ice tastes like, get over there for a lilikoi or li hing mui ice (my favorites) with a snow cap poured on top.

Cheering for peanuts: Summer also means baseball to me. I love padding around my kitchen in shorts and bare feet, making dinner and listening to baseball on the radio as the summer sun goes down.

But even better than that, I like baseball at the park. We have a fine little baseball stadium here in Salt Lake City, and I also have enjoyed attending semi-pro games in Ogden.

But with apologies to our local teams, there's nothing like a real major-league game. For me, one perfect summer evening must surely be walking into Houston's pretty, old-timey Minute Maid Park, cold drink in hand, and procuring a package of shelled peanuts, which we'll pass around as freely as we'll cheer our team's victories and bemoan their every error, missed opportunity and defeat. And even if they lose (there's been a lot of that lately), I go home satisfied.

Icy all day: If you have had occasion to travel this nation's highways, as I have, you become a bit of a connoisseur of the nation's travel plazas. One of the best is the Little America on I-80 in western Wyoming, but the pinnacle of road-trip nirvana has got to be Buc-ee's, a Texas-based chain of stores that put most others to shame.

You can buy all the souvenirs you could ever imagine at many Buc-ee's, or a meal for whatever time of day you happen to mosey in. But every Buc-ee's — from the humblest to the huge flagship stores in Luling and Madisonville — has three things: Icees, store-brand caramel-corn nuggets and pecan pralines. Pull a stream of thick, Coke- or Dr. Pepper-flavored goodness into an insulated Buc-ee's mug and hit the road, and you'll be beating the withering Texas heat for hours.

A lot at steak: Just as I know that summer is here by Memorial Day activities, I know it's nearly over when I take my kids to the Utah State Fair. My husband, who hates that type of grimy, festive crowdedness, doesn't go with us.

That's a shame, because every year he misses out on the steak sandwiches served up by the Utah Cattlemen at their Beef Feast.

On the last Friday of the fair and for about $6, diners get a drink and a freshly grilled tenderloin steak cooked up by people who really, really know what they're doing when it comes to beef. It's slapped onto a nice, plain bun that shows off all that seared, meaty goodness.

You might get sick on cotton candy and funnel cakes and deep-fried anything at the fair, but the Cattlemen have the cure for what ails you: good, honest, simple food, and a great way to salute the summer.

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com