When restaurateur Scott Evans (Pago, Trestle Tavern, East Liberty Tap House, Hub & Spoke Diner) opened Finca – a Sugar House eatery featuring Spanish-style small plates, wines and such – it quickly became one of my favorite SLC dining spots. Evans has spent a lot of time in Spain and has a particular fondness for Spanish wines and the cuisine of that country. And aside from Cafe Madrid, no SLC restaurant focused on the food of Spain. Having lived in that country myself for years, I was very happy when Finca was launched in 2012.
A few years ago, Evans moved Finca to a historic building on 200 South, downtown. I loved the look and feel of the original Finca, and didn’t quite as much enjoy the larger scale and darker ambiance of the new Finca. Still, the food and service were solid.
But the biggest impetus behind the transition of Finca into its current state was the 2017 overhaul of Utah’s liquor laws by the Legislature. Evans – who had a hybrid liquor license for Finca and had operated under four different liquor licenses in six years – was forced to choose, under the new laws, whether to obtain a bar license (where alcohol can be served to those 21 and over without having to order food) or a restaurant liquor license (where food must be purchased to order alcoholic beverages). Ultimately, and after jumping through the maze of hoops that only Utah’s byzantine liquor laws and legislation can construct, Evans chose both.
Why Finca Became the Bar George
He turned Finca into Bar George, which is separate from George, the restaurant. Evans spent some $50,000 to create Bar George (a tribute to his late father, named George) and in the process of building the bar, he and his head chef Phelix Gardner began to “reimagine” Finca, as well. According to Evans, he and Gardner wanted to launch a “classic, casual American restaurant.” Says Evans, “With 200 seats inside a beautiful 100-year-old building, I began to search for examples of timeless, classic restaurants across the globe that are gathering places for the community. Maybe I’m just getting older, but over the past ten years of operating my restaurants, I’ve come full circle and crave simpler, less fussy food with great ingredients and executed well.”
Bar George is a wine-focused bar that reflects Evans’ knowledge and love of wine, and featured a rotating selection of 40 natural wines. Most of the wines on the outstanding Bar George list are ones you won’t find elsewhere in Utah.
As for the restaurant, the George menu is a little less “classic American” than I expected – not that it’s a bad thing. For example, holdovers from Finca like Spanish paella, bravas-style fries, mussels with chorizo, garlic shrimp and piquillo peppers stuffed with pork pepper the menu. There’s also poutine, a Cuban sandwich, fettuccine Bolognese, and Italian-style gnocchi and beef Burgundy on the menu. Again, hardly American.
But then there’s plenty of good ol’ American fare as well – things like fried chicken ($16), fish & chips ($16) open-faced roast beef sandwich ($14), cold-smoked ribeye, and a cauliflower po’ boy ($12) wave the American culinary flag.
Perhaps my favorite part of the menu is the section labelled simply: RAW. There’s a really great crudo on the menu that’s defined by its simplicity: market fresh fish in a marinated of yuzu-ponzu with sliced radish, sesame seeds and scallions ($13). The shrimp cocktail ($13) isn’t your standard, boring shrimp cocktail because chef Gardner poaches his plump, juicy shrimp in broth to flavor them before serving them with housemade cocktail sauce. And then, there are also oysters on the half-shell available ($3/each). I suggest sharing the chilled seafood platter ($25) which features all three: shrimp, oysters and crudo.
A fun, whimsical small plate items on the George menu is the “Cheeseburger Egg Roll” ($8). It’s essentially a Philly cheesesteak – complete with Cheez Whiz – stuffed and fried in an egg roll wrapper.
The pastas – gnocchi and fettuccini – at George are homemade and the fettuccini Bolognese, in particular, is excellent. It’s a rich, meaty dish with pasta that I’d describe as closer to pappardelle in width and shape than fettuccini. Call it whatever you like, it’s a delicious dish that’s especially well-suited to cold weather like we’re having this week.
The beef Burgundy is also first-rate – succulent, tender morsels of grass-fed beef with glazed vegetables, potato puffs and horseradish creme fraiche. I’d enjoy it with one of the unique wines available – maybe the Musar Jeune from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Remembering his father, George Evans, Scott Evans says, “My father contributed greatly to my interest in food and dining. He lived in Los Angeles for most of my life and each visit revolved around food. From taco carts to dim sum, to classic French restaurants, he shared culture and diversity with me through his passion for restaurants and dining.”
Personally, I think dad would be proud of the namesake restaurant his son has created in his memory.
Culinary quote of the week:
My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with. — Oprah Winfrey
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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