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The Center Café -
Where the community gathers to celebrate and share!

There are restaurants that are more than places to sit down and eat. They are centers for gathering and celebration where you meet your friends and neighbors. They are the places where memories are built. There is such a special restaurant in Moab. It’s called the Center Café.

Paul and Zee McCarroll are well-equipped to provide a place to share a meal or to make a meal an evening’s event. The two were both in love with cooking before they fell in love with each other at culinary school. So naturally, they bring love to what they do at the Center Café in Moab.

Prior to moving to Moab in 1994, they prepared meals at the Otter Bar Lodge in northern California, a wilderness lodge in the middle of nowhere. Winters were spent at a ranch in Colorado where they also cooked. In their journeys across the West, they learned about Pack Creek Ranch and came to Moab for a visit and fell in love with the mountains, the red rock and Pack Creek Ranch. They told Pack Creek owners, Jane and Ken Sleight, that if they ever needed cooks to call them. Three weeks later they received the call and moved to Moab. As things change in Moab, Paul and Zee worked at a variety of restaurants for the first year or so. They cooked at the now defunct Dos Amigos and when Paul went to work for Tim Buckingham at the Center Café, Zee managed Eddie McStiff’s. After less than a year at the Center, Tim, on a sweltering hot summer afternoon, asked Paul, “How would you like to buy a restaurant?” Within hours he had made up his mind and informed Zee that they were going to buy a restaurant. On January 2, 1996, Paul and Zee McCarroll became the proud and loving owners of the Center Café which was, at that time, still located on Center Street.

This year, Paul and Zee made the big leap to purchasing their own property, the old site of Honest Ozzie’s and began a grand renovation that will continue to evolve over the years.

“It’s a labor of love and a work of art,” says Zee. “We will be adding all sorts of things over the winter. Plants, fabrics, rugs….all the things to make it more intimate and quiet.”

The restaurant is already loaded with ambience. A crackling fire burns in the corner and large saltillo tiles the color of sandstone make up the floor surface. Unique light fixtures add a contemporary flare to the southwestern décor. While the atmosphere is inviting, it’s the food that people travel all over the state…indeed, the world….to sample. Twice named Best Restaurant in Southern Utah, the Center Café is getting quite a reputation statewide. Nationally, the Center has received the Award of Excellence from Zagat for three years. The restaurant also received of one Salt Lake City magazine’s 100 Best of Utah Awards as one of the one hundred special things about Utah.

All of these awards are well-deserved. Paul and Zee are passionate about food and share a warm, traditional philosophy about its preparation.
“You really have to respect the food,” says Paul. “We like to see if grow from seed to plant to the table. Much of what we cook is from local growers or sources, but when we do need to obtain fresh produce or seafood from elsewhere, we get it shipped overnight so it is still a fresh as it can be.”
Zee describes a shipment of fresh scallops: “When we open the bag, you can smell the ocean, that’s how fresh it is!”

The food is prepared in such a way to bring out the very best flavors and its finest qualities. They believe they are so successful at what they do because they love their life’s work so much.

“It’s hard for me to even find the words to describe how passionate we are about what we do. We love not just the food and the restaurant, but the people, too. I love to nurture the people who come here. I love taking care of them and making them happy,” explains Zee excitedly.

The couple takes care of people by serving a variety of mouthwatering entrees including cedar planked salmon with applewood smoked bacon and shallot crust, or pan roasted free range chicken with chanterelle mushrooms, tomato-garlic fondue and basil mashed potatoes. Some people choose to make a meal out of the delicious appetizers such as crab cakes with fresh tomato coulis and citrus crème fraiche or the favorite sweet potato and goat cheese ravioli, with sage, pine nuts and brown butter. Even the salads are creative, for example, roasted red and gold beets, lentil-goat cheese tian, mixed greens or a mesclun salad with pears, candied pecans, and blue cheese. The menu changes “seasonally on a whim” to take advantage of fresh-grown produce and Paul’s creativity.

If you dine at the Center, be sure you save room for dessert that might include warm chocolate molten cake, profiterole with chocolate chunk ice cream or a tuile cookie filled with chocolate mousse. If you’re avoiding chocolate, something like the ginger-pear tart with chantilly cream might tempt you. All of these beautifully prepared meals may be complemented by the Center Café’s extensive wine list and are served by Moab community members who have made their life’s work that of helping others enjoy a special meal in a special place.

This special place will continue to become even more special to the community of Moab if Zee has her way. She will be traveling to Berkeley this winter to apprentice with Alice Waters owner of Chez Panisse. Zee is so impressed with this restaurateur because of her involvement with the community.

“She works with the local youth garden and involves the kids in growing food for the restaurant and even teaching them kitchen skills. It’s something I’d love to do! The Center Café is definitely more than a restaurant and I want to reach out to everyone in the community and pull them all into what we do here,” says Zee.

The Center Café is open this fall and winter Tuesday through Friday for lunch, and for dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Reservations are recommended for dinner. You can also enjoy their market/deli which features sandwiches, soups, and salads which you can grab on the run for a picnic out in the red rock. The market also offers artisan domestic cheese, imported cheese, specialty meats, as well as specialty vinegars and olive oils. The market is a perfect place to do some early Christmas shopping as the Center creates gift packages that will make anyone on your list smile.

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Recipe of the Month
Creme Brulee

8 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
3/4 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
Whisk together, Set aside.

1 1/2 cups milk
2 3/4 cups cream
2 vanilla beans scraped, or 2 tsp vanilla
Zest of 2 lemons (finely grated)
Heat together.

Pour ½ of the warm milk mixture into the egg mixture. Whisk. Pour the rest of the milk into the egg mixture. Pour into small, shallow baking dishes that hold about ½ to 1 cup of the mixture. Place in a lipped cookie sheet and put hot water in the baking sheet until it is about half way up the shallow baking dishes. Bake covered with aluminum foil or another baking sheet at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. When done, the custard will still jiggle slightly in the middle. Cool.

To serve, sprinkle with sugar and put under the broiler for a few moments until it forms a thin, crispy crust.

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