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Burgers & Beyond! Alum opens new Darwin Ave eatery

December 14th, 2014 Posted in Opinion

By Noelle Johansen

LOGAN — Ever eat a burger topped with kimchi? Or beef slathered in Spanish sauces inspired by the cuisine of the Iberian Peninsula? Or pick just the classic American cheeseburger with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions.

mortys-1024x512After experiencing a meal-sized makeover in September, a square of land on the end of Darwin Avenue just off campus is now home to Morty’s Café and its menu of hamburgers with international flavors.

For the three months since its grand opening, the burger joint has seen success, feeding an average of more than 150 people a day, said recent USU alum Ty Mortensen, Morty’s owner and co-founder.

The word is getting out, with Morty’s making The Complete Savorist’s list of “10 Cache Valley Eats” not long after opening. Customers keep coming, despite prices “a little more than people are used to paying” in Logan, Mortensen said.

“Things are going well,” he said. “We’re meeting our numbers; we’re way above what we thought.”

And the prices, between $6 and $8 for each of the seven signature burgers (under $7 for the veggie burgers), aren’t so high considering the quality and the fresh, local ingredients, Mortensen said.

“We recognize that it’s a little higher than what you’ll pay at some of the chain restaurants in the valley, but we feel like people are willing to pay for value,” he said. “We’re after people who appreciate (good food). I’m not going to say we don’t want people who don’t appreciate good food, but they’re not going to come here because they would rather eat at Arby’s.”

Customer Katy Stowell, a senior Utah State senior in marketing, put it into terms any college student can understand: “Prices aren’t Taco Bell-cheap, that’s for sure,” she said. Regardless, Stowell said she enjoyed her meal.

“I had the Hawaiian. I’m a sucker for anything with pineapple, and teriyaki sauce,” the California native said. “Plus, I think I was really in the mood for anything that reminded me of Hawaii.”

“It was huge, and super juicy,” she said. “I got a side of fries — dang, best fries ever.”

Mortensen said although he’s never been a fry guy, the fries at Morty’s nearly changed that. “I tell this to people a lot. People are like, ‘Oh, he’s biased, he’s trying to sell his food.’ Which I am, but I really, genuinely … don’t like fries,” he said. “Usually, when I get fries, I’ll have like five and then I’ll just give the rest to a friend. But I love our fries.”

The sides — battered French fries, sweet potato fries or onion rings — are some of Morty’s more familiar options. Others—like the kimchi and Iberian burgers—may have some guests staring at the menu glassy-eyed.

“The Kimchi and the Iberian are definitely the two that people are most . . . unless you’re adventurous, people aren’t going to try those,” Mortensen said.

10408519_911150898914214_5540234640126956440_nBut they didn’t scare Stowell away.

“I like to try different things, and try what my friends order,” she said. “Everything I’ve had is delicious. … I plan on going back. I hear I have to try the Yucatan.”

The more traditional burgers are also the most popular, Mortensen said. All the original recipes belong to the genius of Morty’s cook.

“Her name’s Giau. She’s classically trained in culinary,” Mortensen said. “I had an idea of what I wanted, because I’m kind of a foodie. And I was like, you know, Giau, I want a simple burger. I don’t want it to be crazy gourmet-nutso.”

Thus, the Iconic was born—the iconic American cheeseburger. Then, Mortensen said, Giau added her flair.

“She’s amazing,” Mortensen said. “She’s really, really good with food. She knows culture; she knows taste. She’s half-Vietnamese, half-Puerto Rican — she has both of those influences. She’s traveled the world. She really knows her stuff.”

Mortensen said the public response to Morty’s has been overwhelmingly positive. Before the make-over, the building was a cinderblock house owned by Mortensen’s brother. Logan City approved the plan to turn the space into a mixed-use structure, with a commercial main floor and apartments upstairs. Inspired by Swiss architecture on a study-abroad trip through the university’s design program, Mortensen helped design the building at his brother’s request.

“I’ve been to so many university campuses where there’s these really cool little spots that are just off campus,” Mortensen said. “They’re independently owned, a lot of times they’re locally owned, and it’s just a little piece of the local culture that these students who come from all over the country, from all over the world, can partake of and experience. And I love Cache Valley, and I love the culture here and I love the people.”

He said he hopes Morty’s can fill a similar cultural niche for Logan.

“I wanted to create a cool space that people could come, grab a bite to eat, study if they need to, have little events,” he said. “I feel so grateful and humble that actually a dream came true. I just hope it stays alive.”


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