I don’t have to tell you, It’s been a doozy of a year. The restaurants and bars I write about for a living have been hit hard. Many or most are struggling to stay afloat in the pandemic and far too many are permanently closed. Every restaurant or bar closure is heartbreaking, and I was especially sad to see some of my personal favorites shutter their doors in 2020. Among them, two of the three Ali Sabbah’s Mazza restaurants, Alamexo, Cannella’s, Meditrina, MacCool’s, George, Pallet, Tamales Tita, Martine, Red Butte Cafe, Elevo, Mollie and Ollie, and Trestle Tavern, just to name a few of the many COVID-19 casualties.
Yet 2020 wasn’t all bad news. Surprisingly, a number of excellent new restaurants opened this past year (see below), even during the pandemic. And some tried and true eateries ranging from Stoneground Italian Kitchen, Log Haven, Cucina, HSL, and The Garage on Beck, to Caffe Molise, Table X, Feldman’s Deli, and SLC Eatery got creative by turning parking lots into dining spaces, pivoting to curbside pickup, takeout, and delivery, creating heated outdoor patios, offering take-home meal kits, building outdoor yurts, and more.
As I mentioned, there were some positives in 2020 as well. A crop of outstanding new restaurants popped up this past year; here are some highlights.
Chef/owner David Chon opened Nohm right before Utah restaurants were closed due to COVID-19. Not the best timing. However, this excellent Asian eatery has persisted with a skeleton crew and outstanding food and service. It’s also the first Utah restaurant that I’m aware of to take yakitori seriously. The Nohm menu features raw, sashimi-style fish and seafood, along with cooked shareable items like chili-fried chicken, aburi tuna, moyashi buta, kushiyaki, kushiage, and others. In a nutshell, the cuisine here reminds me somewhat of David Chang’s popular Momofuku restaurants in its creative combination of simplicity and culinary surprises.
One of the newer Italian restaurants to open in Salt Lake City – and it made quite a splash – is La Trattoria di Francesco. This opulent eatery was conceived and created by Giusseppe Mirenda and his family, founders of the very popular Sicilia Mia group of restaurants. The restaurant itself is gorgeous, adorned with overstuffed chairs that would make Louis XV feel right at home. Not surprisingly, the Italian cuisine at Trattoria de Francesco is every bit as eye-popping as the restaurant itself. Menu items range from veal carpaccio and grilled octopus in fava cream, to a range of fresh-made pastas, and a “carne” selection that includes a 24K gold-wrapped tomahawk steak with truffles.
An Italian-style eatery made much more for the masses is Villaggio Pizzeria, which serves up the best New York style pizza I’ve eaten in Utah. Villaggio proudly uses Grande cheese on their New York style pies, and whether by the slice or whole pie, this is the real deal. But in addition to pizza, Villaggio also is dishing up some of the best sub sandwiches (using Boar’s Head products) like the meatball sub and chicken parmesan on homemade ciabatta bread, and calzones, to boot. The Rondinelli Family’s new pizzeria is going to become one of your favorites, mark my word.
And speaking of pizza, Justin Soelberg’s Nomad East opened during the pandemic serving unbeatable Neapolitan-style pizzas and other good foods in a relaxed, uber-friendly and inviting Millcreek setting. Of course, man cannot live on pizza alone. So Nomad East offers entrees such as a braised 9 oz. short rib with confit maitake mushrooms, pickled mustard seed and thyme oil, or a Mary’s one-half roasted chicken with burnt lemon and white BBQ sauce. There’s also a great Niman Ranch beef burger on the menu, as well as green curry mussels with squid salad and crostini.
Timing, they say, is everything. Unfortunately, the timing for Dalibor “Dali” Blazic couldn’t have been worse. Following years of operating his successful Dali Crêpes catering business, he chose the wrong time – this spring in the midst of a pandemic – to open his first brick and mortar cafe: Dali Crêpes Cafe. But you can’t keep a good crêpe down, and crêpe lovers have kept Blazic in business. Dali’s crêpes come in a wide variety of savory and sweet flavors, including Nutella, raspberry, banana, mango, turkey-avocado, Black Forest ham, veggie, Caprese and plum with walnuts, to name a few. And, Blazic strives when possible to support other local Utah food producers and artisans using locally-made ingredients when he can.
In downtown SLC, a new outpost of Carson Kitchen bravely opened in spite of an ongoing pandemic. It’s an eye-popping eatery that’s fun and funky with fab food. Carson Kitchen Chef and President Cory Harwell said that he draws “much of his inspiration from the meals his grandmother cooked while growing up.” So, the Carson Kitchen menu is chock full of modern renditions of comfort food classics such as deviled eggs with crispy pancetta and caviar, and fried chicken with Alabama white sauce, as well as eclectic fare like Peruvian-inspired Killer Shrimp and outrageously delicious veal meatballs that has foie gras and sherry folded into its cream sauce. Bonus: The rock n’ roll vibe at Carson Kitchen helps you forget what’s going on in the outside world.
In the Marmalade neighborhood space that was home for years to Em’s, Arlo restaurant opened this summer. This is a restaurant that you’d return to for the outstanding daily bread and French-style butter, alone. But there’s so much more on the menu to enjoy, like ravioli with braised lamb and roasted mushrooms; Steelhead trout with heirloom braised beans; Moraccan cauliflower; empanadas stuffed with pork and roasted potatoes; barley risotto, and much more. As I wrote when I reviewed Arlo a while back, “Arlo has the vibe and the cuisine to make dinner feel like a culinary getaway of sorts – a peaceful, comfortable place to dine at a time when we can all use a little solace.”
In Sugar House, Ozora Izakaya Japanese Bar & Tapas opened, featuring ramen, yakitori, kushiyaki, sushi, sashimi, maki rolls, kushikatsu, kushiage, and entrees such as miso-glazed salmon, pork tonkatsu, yakisoba, udon, braised Thai-style pork ribs, chicken teriyaki, and Ozora steak with sweet butter soy sauce. During our visit, my wife and I especially enjoyed the yakitori offerings and delicious hamachi crudo.
In Sandy, the talented and outgoing Soberanis brothers – Salvador, Fernando and Victor – expanded on their Sobe Eats food truck and catering concept with a Sobe Eats drive-thru. The brothers Sobe invite you to “Stay at home and build your own tostada festival” with their take-home meal kits available for pre-order. To-go tostada fixings include boneless short rib, slow-roasted chicken, spicy shrimp, veggie guac, oven-baked tortillas, pinto beans, salsa, aioli, garnishes and such. And, you can also pick up freshly brewed agua fresca and artisanal agua de horchata.
Up in Ogden, we visited WB’s Eatery for delicious takeout meals and were very impressed by the fare there. Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised, given that WB’s is the creation of Amy Wanderley-Britt (hence, WB, which also stands for “wine & bites”), who also owns the Pig & a Jelly Jar restaurants in SLC, Holladay and Ogden. In addition to dining in, WB’s also offers customers a bevy of other options such as take-home Market Meal kits, a bodega to shop from and their creative sustainable lunch box program with ongoing weekly lunch deliveries. Whatever else you order, be sure to get your lips around the sensational chimichurri steak bocadillo at WB’s.
Also new to Ogden this summer was Ogden River Brewery, with a menu ranging from classic brew pub fare such as fish n’ chips; burgers featuring Niman Ranch ground chuck; sandwiches and such, to more eclectic menu items like Jamaican chicken with jerk sauce; a vegetarian entree called Root to Stem; roasted cauliflower with lemon and chili oil; fried deviled eggs; a Pure Power salad of kale, cashews, dried cranberry, blueberries, broccoli, carrot, edamame, and tri-color quinoa with Champagne vinaigrette and tarragon oil – not exactly your daddy’s bar food. And, with renown head brewer Pat Winslow at the helm, you know the beer is outstanding.
Finally, over in Heber, Maggie Alvarez and her husband, Chef Matthew Harris, opened Afterword by tupelo Park City restaurant in the space that previously housed Main Street Social. It’s a farm-to-table type of affair, featuring globally-inspired cuisine highlighting ingredients from small-scale artisan producers. Along with Harris’ unparalleled dill pickle-brined fried chicken, dinner menu items include wild shrimp & yellow corn grits; smoked pork shank with Italian polenta; roasted Idaho trout with risotto; honey garlic-glazed quail; heavenly buttermilk biscuits, and much more. Recently, Harris and Alvarez spent a ton of dough to fully enclose and heat the restaurant’s sprawling patio, christening it the Winter House, and adding more table availability to Afterword’s existing indoor dining. In addition to Chef Harris’ award-winning cuisine, the top-notch service at Afterword is itself award-worthy.
Whether you stop by for a takeout meal kit, food to-go, dine-in, purchase a gift card or other goodies, please continue to support our local restaurants in 2021. They can’t make it without you.
And, neither can we. Publications like Utah Bites exist solely because of our sponsors. We were all hanging by threads even before the pandemic. If you have the means – and it’s a tremendous bang-for-the-buck – we would love to have you on board as a Utah Bites sponsor – whether you are a restaurant, bar, food producer, artisan, supermarket, boutique business, wine broker, foodie, benefactor … whatever. I have been writing about all of you for over 25 years, but can only continue with your support.
Happy New Year!
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week:
“A gourmet is just a glutton with brains.” — Philip Haberman, Jr.
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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.