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Audacious Onyx

by Marshall Thomas 2 years ago in restaurants
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pizza perfected

Those who see Chef Devon remember him. His figure denotes strength, but is gilded by the pleasing aspect of a gourmand. His eyes are deep set, the face tilting frequently to focus a ready attention - all framed by a long tumble of lite brown hair under an improbable and ever-present flat cap. The trimmings of a lively eccentric.

Those who know Chef Devon see his new eatery, Onyx, as the welcome refinement of failure. Gone is the piecemeal darkness of his old chocolate shop, where necessity and too-eager genius led to a baffling assortment of goods awkwardly entombed in a building three times too big for the purpose. In the old place you could have your squid-ink gelato, your startlingly delicious mushroom ice cream, or your slow crafted drinks, if you could find the shop - nestled as it was behind a gas station - in the first place and then decipher the menu with is complex system of pricing, and eats with names like Saobga, Goldrush, and Le Beau. The aspect of the place was that of some tragic artist, soon to starve in an embarrassment of misunderstood riches as the loyal few whispered his name.

Onyx, as I intimate, is different. Tidy, with orange trim and vibrant cohesion. The Chef Devon at the till is several years savvier, debt hardened, steady, and somehow bringing even better food to the table. There are snatches of the former eclectic exuberance - what is ostensibly a wood fired pizza joint housing a cold press brimming with liquid cacao and seemingly better suited to Sherlock Holmes’ chemistry set than to casual dining. Eager pizza pilgrims won’t find anything as pedestrian as pepperoni on the menu, but there is an atmosphere of ease and familiarity in the offerings - to sauté the common phrase: there is a meaty method to the multifarious madness.

It would be blindly unjust not to mention the other half of the sketch - the second pizzaiolo, young Zak, whose broad smile is as much a fixture of the place as the domed crackling oven. Zak is no small player in the success of the restaurant. Callow by comparison, yes, but handy with the dough, genial with the customers, and more than competent in the kitchen. Content to let Chef Devon concoct as he peppers in his own suggestions and stabilizes his business partner.

Chief among the delights of eating at the Onyx (I’ve failed to relate that its true name is the lustrously portentous Onyx Café: Made with Fire) is that it is local and untethered from the sterilized and over-tested menus of the many franchises that are almost the only competitors in the small city of Saint George, Utah. The fact that Onyx is here, burning in the southwestern desert, is due to Chef Devon’s unrelenting stubbornness - his unyielding belief that the rapidly-growing city can develop a food culture despite the protests of each new fast food chain that is welcomed with open arms by the native populace. To be able to order a pizza with the dough and cheese - not simply unpackaged, but made right there in the kitchen, would be treat enough without being able to drink a Sour Plum or a Chocolate Egg Cream with your dinner. A true feast of flavors.

Often it isn’t only the cuisine that gives a local treasure its reputation - it is some quirk in the ambiance. Onyx is no exception. Its outer crust is done in a shade of you-will-not-remember-me beige, but once you’ve taken a seat you’re arrested by memorable smells and colors and cozy conversation of the interior. The two owners are never far from the tables and, if you’re amenable, you will soon find yourself the recipient of an impassioned discourse on food. If somehow you doubted after tasting, the erudite density of culinary know-how displayed in spoken facts historical, cultural, chemical, and philosophical, will leave you convinced that you’ve encountered near-complete mastery of the human species’ favorite art form.

This makes Devon and Zak sound like skilled-yet-oblivious bores - on the contrary, I’ve used the adjectives “genial” and “lively,” but “jocular” or “comic” wouldn’t be far wrong. You must to have a sense of humor to keep your spirits up in the crushing life of a restaurateur, if you’re going to make your establishment one where the jolly chef hobnobs with the customers.

If you do stop by, tell Zak and Devon I say “hello,” and, if you don’t want to stay longer than your third or forth dish, be sure not to mention any zany conspiracy theories - I did mention the word “eccentric.” The price of genius.

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Marshall Thomas

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