The logic makes sense to chef-owners Colton Soelberg and Joseph McRae. Their last gig, at Sundance Resort's Tree Room, as executive chef and executive pastry chef meant they put down family roots here. It's where they work and live. And they wanted to make their community a bit better.
Their social contribution is a small space in a new behemoth condo/retail development, open since November 2007. From the street, it seems the least likely spot to find a locally owned and operated restaurant operating on the principles of sustainability, a la Alice Waters and Chez Panisse.
A place like Pizzeria 712 proves that when you serve good food that's high quality and/or seasonal (such as squash and chunks of good bacon), simply prepared (roasted together, in a starter tossed with a maple vinaigrette, $7.50), people enjoy it. This sort of culinary philosophy isn't executed by Soelberg and McRae out of snobbery or elitism. From their extensive work experience in San Francisco, they've learned that when food is prepared this way, it tends to taste better. The fine folks of Orem who've already visited the restaurant seem to enjoy it enough to endure waiting an hour and a half on weekends.
It doesn't hurt that the small dining room features an open kitchen, rotating art exhibit and clean modern lines that appeal to a younger generation of restaurantgoer. Even the restrooms are decked out in sheets of bronze and clever faucets. Booths line one wall and tables grace the rest of the floor. And yes, there is a beer and wine list. In fact, during my visits, bottles of local microbrew and complementary wine were abundant - not just at my table, mind you.
The cornerstone of the concise, affordably priced menu and the place's namesake is pizza. To set the record straight, it's the sort of pie that's made Phoenix's Pizzeria Bianco and Los Angeles' Pizzeria Mozza famous. Those places also happen to be some of the places where the chef-owners ate their research. SLC diners will likely compare it to Settebello's Neapolitan pies. But keep in mind that "authentic" isn't what the guys are going for. So in addition to the familiar margherita ($9.50,) made with torn basil and hand-pulled mozzarella, there's one with wild mushrooms, caramelized leeks and house-made ricotta ($11.50).
The crust is extraordinary, pillowing under the intense 712 degrees of the wood-fire oven's heat with all its chewy gluten strands. They have the good sense to cook the crust properly - darkened to a woody brown with bits of black char, the best way to experience the Maillard effect, the blissful caramelization of the natural sugars in the dough. Don't send it back claiming they burned it. Sink your teeth into the cracker-like exterior with all its developed flavor and the contrasting yeasty softness beneath.
Three starters/small plates, three salads and three desserts can hold their own against Pizzeria 712's pies. Most notably is the braised beef short rib ($8). True to their philosophy of sustainability, chunks of beef short ribs are braised in aromatics and wine after the wood-fired oven has died down for the day, cooking slowly overnight. The result is beef so tender it falls apart when you look at it. But it holds its shape enough to sit atop a crisp polenta cake, drizzled with the braising juices and capped with unsweetened whipped cream spiked with freshly grated horseradish root. We ended up ordering three as an appetizer to share for a table of four.
McRae's experience as a pastry chef shines in tender cobblers and crisps that actually taste of pears and the apples from nearby Allred Sisters' Orchards. The brownie fudge sundae uses Orem-made Amano chocolate for the decadent sauce. And the panna cotta ($7) is a case study in how it should be done, with just enough gelatin to hold its shape, but no so much to interfere with the creaminess of the buttermilk on your tongue.
It's rare to experience a restaurant where you enjoy everything on the menu. And Pizzeria 712's inevitable challenge and potential flaw is keeping consistent as its crowds grow; as I think they undoubtedly will. But hopefully they'll keep to the standard they've set for themselves, which happens to be written prominently on one wall. As Alice Waters said: "When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is."
* VANESSA CHANG is a Tribune restaurant reviewer. E-mail her at email@example.com. To comment on this column, write firstname.lastname@example.org.
* OVERALL RATING:
* NOISE: 2 bells
* IN A NUTSHELL: Extraordinary pizza and small plates based on the best seasonal ingredients. The place isn't authentic pizza pie, but it's delicious. Save room for dessert like the brownie fudge sundae drizzled with a sauce made from local Amano chocolate.
* WHERE: 320 S. State St., Suite 147, Orem; 801-623-6712
* HOURS: Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 3 p.m.; 5 to 11 p.m.
* WEB SITE: www.pizzeria712.com
* CHILDREN'S MENU: No
* PRICES: $$
* LIQUOR: Beer and wine
* CORKAGE: $10
* RESERVATIONS: No
* TAKEOUT: Yes
* WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
* OUTDOOR DINING: No
* ON-SITE PARKING: Yes
* CREDIT CARDS: All major