Whether hearing the word “tupelo” evokes a love song by Van Morrison, or sensory memories of delicate tupelo tree blossom honey indigenous to the Southeast US, the term is both a cultural and culinary touchstone. As an Atlanta native who has traveled the world honing his culinary talents, tupelo Park City chef/owner Matt Harris hits all the right notes melding exacting technique, global flavors, local ingredients and a soupçon of Southern sensibility on every plate.
Yes, you’ll find mile-high buttery biscuits, deviled eggs topped with shaved country ham, and there’s almost always something cornmeal-dusted and fried on the menu. But overall, the flavors are modern, engaging and plated with a light hand and sophisticated appeal, with surprise notes from lemongrass, ginger, soy and zingy house-pickled vegetables.
Unapologetically obsessed with balance, Harris’ preparations often hit high on the bitter-sour-acid spectrum, with elements such as house-fermented kimchi topping a fried-chicken sandwich, or grilled Wellfleet oysters sprinkled with tangy mignonette reminiscent of Southern-style hot pepper vinegar. For my palate, those bright and refreshing notes are welcome bits of bite, keeping the taste buds on their metaphorical toes.
Harris cut his culinary chops in Georgia, rising fast as a young, ambitious cook mentored by Kevin Rathbun and Pano Karatossos at their famed Atlanta spot, the Buckhead Diner, where Harris became the executive chef. He trained with Jean-George Vongerichten in New York, and opened the four-star reviewed Market by Jean-Georges in Atlanta. His second Jean-Georges restaurant, J&G Grill at the St. Regis Deer Valley, brought him to Utah.
Though this intense culinary training refined his technique, Harris told me that more than anything else, travel influences the way he approaches food at tupelo, which opened in 2015. Says Harris, “You can read recipes in cookbooks and try to replicate them, but until you eat that dish in its country of origin, you won’t understand why the food is the way it is,” within the context of history, method, ingredients and culture.
Sourcing the best quality ingredients in season is neither a new nor unusual approach in modern dining. In fact, for the white-tablecloth crowd it’s well-nigh expected. But in testament of tupelo’s dedication to locavore principles, Harris is putting down actual roots in his adopted mountain town. Along with his wife Maggie Alvarez (who is a managing partner of tupelo), they’re growing a huge chunk of the restaurant’s fresh produce at their property in Midway, which they call Tupelo Farms.
Recent bites showcasing this bounty included a rainbow of tender carrots tossed with lemongrass-verbena vinaigrette, a starter of French breakfast radishes dressed with garlic buttermilk and chives, and Tupelo Farms heirloom carrot purée forming the foundation of a melt-in-your-mouth braised beef shoulder dish rich with porcinis and braised oxtail. During Sunday brunch, don’t miss a trip to the Bloody Mary Bar, featuring a DIY garnish buffet of house-pickled veggies.
Chef Matt Harris says of tupelo’s concept, that it’s “Global cuisine with a Southern accent.” I call it flat-out delicious.
tupelo Park City
508 Main Street