When I reviewed Park City’s Silver Star Cafe a decade or so ago, I ended the review by saying, “Silver Star Cafe might not have the dazzle of some of Park City’s and Deer Valley’s more hoity-toity restaurants. But Silver Star has a special sizzle all its own.” Today, I still stand by that sentiment. I was referring primarily to the ambiance and decor of Silver Star when I said it “might not have the dazzle” of more posh eateries at the resorts and on Main Street. But Silver Star Cafe has an ambiance of its own that is unique, warm and inviting. There might not be a valet out front or a maÎtre d’ waiting to seat you, but the owners and staff are as welcoming and friendly as any restaurant I can think of.
The Cafe – a favorite of Park City locals and visitors alike – is the creation of husband and wife team Lisa Cilva Ward and Jeff Ward, who met while both were working at Stein Eriksen Lodge’s Glitretind restaurant in the mid-80s. They would go on to occupy positions at establishments ranging from The Riverhorse, Grappa and 350 Main, to The Spur, the much-missed Barking Frog, and others. They amassed a mountain of restaurant and hospitality industry experience before ultimately opening their own gem of a restaurant with Silver Star Cafe.
The restaurant is cozy and homey, filled with art and artifacts that the Wards have collected over the years. It’s not a place that was created on an interior designer’s computer; rather it has a rustic, “real” vibe that very well fits the flavors of the food, which they call “American roots cuisine.” To me, it feels and tastes like home cooking, albeit home cooking with very professional know-how.
I’ve loved the hearth-fired artisan pizzas at Silver Star Cafe since the beginning, when Chef Dave Bible headed up the kitchen. They are only available during lunch and brunch service and include a Margherita pizza, chorizo & egg, house-made Italian sausage & agrodolce, and others. After years of experimentation, the pizza crusts are outstanding and the toppings – which change from time to time – are unique and delicious.
The Silver Star kitchen also dishes up sensational sandwiches and burgers during lunch, including one of the best pastrami reubens ($18) I’ve ever gotten my lips around. It’s constructed with locally-made pastrami, house-made Russian dressing, Gruyere and caraway seed-spiked sauerkraut on toasted marble rye or with gluten free bread as an option. The Cubano ($18) is also killer: smoked ham and citrus-marinated roasted Duroc pork with Swiss cheese, house-made pickles and mustard on a pressed and toasted baguette. Sandwiches include a choice of excellent house-cut, skin-on French fries or a mixed green salad with red wine vinaigrette.
With warm weather still with us for a while, you’ll want to take advantage of the fresh air on the outdoor patio, which is dog-friendly, by the way. It’s a popular hang out spot, especially during Saturday and Sunday brunch.
While the weather is still balmy and it’s still on the summer menu, you should enjoy the bright, fresh-tasting tomato-watermelon gazpacho, which is part of the price-fixe menu option ($47 for 3 courses during a recent visit). Soup lovers will also enjoy the Southwestern-style corn chowder ($11) which is garnished with fresh tomato pico de gallo and crispy fried tortilla strips.
The Silver Star Cafe menu is an eclectic one, with items ranging from roasted carrot hummus with pita ($12.50); vegetarian wild mushroom stroganoff ($29.50); and warm marinated olives and burrata ($14.50); to spice-crusted mahi-mahi ($31); and a seared elk burger ($27.50). I really loved an interesting appetizer of turkey meatballs ($14) with Moroccan spices served with cucumber-mint raita, nectarine and cilantro.
Another favorite appetizer that my wife and I enjoyed on our last Silver Star visit was blackened shrimp and polenta with heirloom tomato, arugula, roasted mushrooms, Pecorino cheese and tarragon crema. Since my wife is gluten free, we also appreciate the surprisingly high number of gluten free options on the menu. In fact, there wasn’t a single item on the dinner menu when we dined there recently that wasn’t gluten free. Well done.
In addition to being one of Park City’s best restaurants, Silver Star Cafe is also one of its most appealing music venues. The Cafe features free live music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday featuring artists such as Michelle Moonshine, the Take Five Jazz Trio, Andrew Wiscombe, Backyard Revival, Red Rock Hot Club, Mister Sister Trio and many others. The music goes from 7:30 to 10:00 p.m. and dinner reservations are required.
Entrees – aka “Larger Plates” at Silver Star Cafe – include a blackened New York strip steak ($42); Mary’s organic half chicken ($32); and my wife’s favorite: pan-seared Scottish salmon ($32.50). This gluten free dish was a perfectly cooked fillet of seared Scottish salmon garnished with snipped chives on a bed of spaghetti squash with heirloom tomatoes, arugula, asparagus, Romesco sauce, chopped Marcona almonds and lemon wedge.
When Guy Fieri filmed Diners, Drive-ins and Dives at Silver Star Cafe, he raved about the pork belly with braised white beans and the pork osso bucco ($34). Well, being an osso bucco lover, I had to try the latter as well. It’s not the most easily photographed dish – not too pretty – but man is it tasty! It’s a big Niman Ranch pork shank that is given a Southwestern spin: falling off the bone braised shank with fresh tomatillo salsa, coconut creamed corn, cotija cheese, cilantro and pork jus. As I’m not a fan of cilantro, the chef kindly made my osso bucco cilantro-free.
Silver Star Cafe serves brunch on weekends from 9 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. with items ranging from Kentucky butter coffee cake, gluten free banana bread French toast, and shakshuka, to shrimp and avocado Benedict and smoked turkey & Duroc ham Monte Cristo. An especially satisfying brunch menu item is huevos rancheros ($16.50), which is two eggs any style with house-made mole, black bean and corn saute, avocado, cotija cheese, pico de gallo and crispy corn tortillas. For a couple bucks extra, add house-made chorizo if you dare.
For folks in the Salt Lake Valley who might find a trek to Silver Star Cafe a bit far to go for lunch or dinner, I have good news. Lisa and Jeff Ward will be opening a new eatery in downtown SLC in about three weeks. It’s called Fenice Mediterranean Bistro, located on Regent Street in the space previously home to Fireside on Regent. According to the Wards, they will serve “delectable from-scratch Italian and Mediterranean-inspired fare and wood-fired pizzas in the heart of the arts, culture and theater district, directly next door to the Eccles Theater, and walking distance to all downtown arts and culture venues.” I for one, can’t wait ‘til it opens.
Meanwhile, there is Silver Star Cafe – a ski town bistro that offers outstanding cuisine, some of the friendliest service around, and a truly wonderful, laid back atmosphere and ambiance. I sure wish there were a lot more places like it.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week:
“A good restaurant is like a vacation; it transports you, and it becomes a lot more than just about the food.” — Phil Rosenthal
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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.