The secret ingredients

Out of all of the Utah Valley Magazine covers over the past 13 years, only two covers have had food on them. One was for Magleby's chocolate cake and the other was for Kneader's French toast. (Photo by Utah Valley Magazine)

Out of all of the Utah Valley Magazine covers over the past 13 years, only two covers have had food on them. One was for Magleby’s chocolate cake and the other was for Kneaders French toast, two of Utah Valley’s favorites. (Photo by Utah Valley Magazine)

Want to know the secret ingredients in Utah Valley’s most sought-after restaurant dishes? If so, join the club. Google “Café Rio pork recipe” and you’ll get dozens of return hits from bloggers claiming they’ve cracked the Café Rio pork code. The same goes for other popular area dishes. On the Internet, you can find dozens of recipes for everything from The Pizza Factory’s breadtwists to Tucano’s Garlic Sirloin.

Utah Valley restauranteurs aren’t willing to divulge their secrets because they are, well, secret. But there are some copycat recipes that come pretty darn close to the original. Here are our insights on the ingredient list for four of the valley’s most iconic dishes. But remember that nothing beats the real thing.

Café Rio’s Sweet Pork Barbacoa

According to the Café Rio website, the restaurant’s signature Sweet Pork Barbacoa is slowly simmered for hours in “secret spices.” Well, rumor has it that the main ingredient in that marinade is Coca-Cola, along with other ingredients such as brown sugar and cumin. Apparently the sugar- and caffeine-filled beverage works wonders when it comes to putting the “sweet” in sweet pork. If you’re staunchly anti-Cola then search for knock-off recipes that use root beer instead.

J Dawgs Secret Sauce

Polish or beef — it doesn’t really matter, as long as you slather it with plenty of the good stuff. And at J Dawgs, that good stuff is their sweet-and-tangy secret sauce, a delicious concoction passed down to the owner from his grandmother. You can buy the sauce by the bottle at J Dawgs storefronts, or test one of the imitation recipes made with ketchup, brown sugar, honey, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce and onion powder.

Magleby’s Chocolate Cake

If you’re a chocolate cake connoisseur, you’ve likely tried and loved Magelby’s chocolate cake. This triple-layer cake is dense yet moist and topped with chocolate buttercream frosting. To recreate this at home, add sour cream to your favorite chocolate cake recipe and mix all of the ingredients by hand to ensure you don’t overmix the batter or frosting. Or, you can order this cake by-the-slice at Magleby’s Fresh locations and Magleby’s at Trivani in Springville.

 Kneaders French Toast

There are plenty of Kneaders dishes worthy of a knock-off: the bread pudding, the tomato basil soup, the pumpkin bread … we could go on and on. But one of the best-tasting things on the menu is their French toast with caramel syrup. Not exactly the breakfast of champions in terms of nutrition — you’re basically eating dessert for breakfast — but delicious nonetheless. The secret, as revealed in a 2005 segment on ABC4’s Good Things Utah, is soaking a loaf of Kneader’s chunky cinnamon bread in a sweetened egg mixture overnight then baking in the oven.


Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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