It’s been eleven-plus years since Ryan and Colleen Lowder opened The Copper Onion restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City, and it had been far too long since I had visited the inviting urban bistro, what with pandemics and such. So, I remedied the situation by enjoying dinner there recently with my wife and stepson and was reminded why I had sung the restaurant’s praises so vociferously in past reviews and to any foodie friend who’d listen.
If you’re not up to speed, here’s a brief reminder about the restaurant’s provenance: Ryan Lowder, originally from SLC, attended the Culinary Institute of America before working in NYC restaurants that included Jean-Georges and Mario Batali’s Casa Mono and Mercat restaurants, as well as the Michelin-starred El Raco d’en Freixa in Barcelona. Colleen worked at New York City’s lauded Four Seasons and managed the renowned Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. Simply put, the two have serious food industry creds. And, they hire top-notch employees such as operations manager Clint Hollingsworth, who has been at The Copper Onion since day one, and excellent servers like Brennan Jones who more than took great care of us during dinner.
If you’re looking for a quiet table, I suggest requesting a seat on the restaurant’s sidewalk patio. The Copper Onion is a bustling and busy eatery that is loud and lively in the best way – full of good energy and happy customers enjoying the restaurant’s elevated comfort fare. But one thing it’s not is quiet.
If there is a wait for a table I recommend bellying up to the Copper Onion bar and enjoying a glass of wine, beer or a cocktail. The Commodore cocktail is a good choice: Basil Hayden’s Kentucky bourbon whiskey, orange juice, ginger and bitters ($12).
I can’t imagine a trip to The Copper Onion without an order of the rad Ricotta Dumplings ($12), which have been on the restaurant’s menu since the day in 2010 that the doors opened. I love those delicious dumplings so much that I begged Chef Lowder for his recipe years ago and he graciously complied. They’re made with the restaurant’s made-in-house ricotta cheese (made with whole milk, buttermilk and heavy cream), then blended with flour, fresh lemon juice, eggs, parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt and thyme, sauteed in butter, and topped with a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The addition of thyme is a new tweak to the dumplings, which used to be made with sage or spinach. I actually like the thyme flavor even better. Who knew those delectable dumplings could be improved upon?
If you’re with a dining partner or multiple guests, I highly recommend sharing the Daily Meat & Cheese Board ($23), a wonderful charcuterie platter with assorted cheeses and meats like Spanish chorizo and bresaola with Marcona almonds, homemade pickles, toasted baguette slices, fresh made mustard and more. Other great appetizers and shareable plates include the killer Wagyu Bone Marrow ($19); steamed Clams ($21) with corn, blistered tomato, fennel cream and toast; Patatas Bravas ($8) with spicy aioli; and Sauteed Mushrooms ($11) with fried egg, potato sticks and salsa verde.
I can’t resist ordering Cacio e Pepe ($16) when I see it on a menu and the best versions I’ve ever eaten were at a New Jersey Italian restaurant that my son worked at, called ITA101, and the dish served at The Copper Onion. It’s cacio e pepe perfection: outstanding homemade pasta, perfectly cooked al dente and tossed with brown butter, Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper and green onion slivers. It’s simple, but sensational.
While we’re on the topic of pasta perfection, the Duck Carbonara ($21) is a rich, wholesome dish that’s perfect for autumn – fettuccine with duck confit, Grana Padano cheese, peas and fresh egg. Another excellent pasta dish for the fall season is Wagyu Beef Stroganoff ($24), which is thick and wide homemade pappardelle pasta with Snake River Farms Wagyu beef, fresh mushrooms and crème fraîche. It’s an extremely satisfying Stroganoff.
The Copper Onion wine list isn’t the biggest in town, but it’s one of the best. There are lots of eclectic options ranging from Bibi Graetz “Bollamatta” Sparkling Rosé and Davide Albariño, to Masseria Li Veli ‘Askos’ Verdeca, Tait ‘Ball Buster’ Shiraz, and Bucklin Ancient Field Blend. When we asked manager Clint Hollingsworth for a versatile wine recommendation that would complement the wide range of dishes we’d ordered, he suggested Astobiza Txakoli from the Basque region of Spain. It was a spot-on choice.
Entrees at The Copper Onion come with accompaniments like barley tabbouleh with the Niman Ranch Lamb T-Bone ($32); sweet potato fondant with Snake River Farms Hanger Steak ($36); and anchovy croutons and roasted carrots with Cast Iron Mary’s Chicken ($25). But there is also the option of ordering side dishes served family style: one serving for $6 or three for $15. Side offerings include French fries with parmesan and parsley; spiced heirloom carrots with miso butter; crispy cauliflower with capers and anchovy breadcrumbs, and others. We especially enjoyed the rich and hearty flavors of corn with cilantro, paprika, smoked butter, duck fat aioli and cotija cheese.
I’m a huge fan of lentils; my wife not so much. So while she very much enjoyed her Rainbow Trout ($26) with Greek yogurt and charred lemon, I got to eat most of the luscious Zursun lentils that accompanied the scrumptious fish.
My stepson’s entree of choice – which he loved – was seared scallops ($37) with homemade herbed spaetzle, piquillo pepper vinaigrette, shaved fennel and Upland cress. I thought the scallops were excellent but I really wish they’d put the spaetzle on the menu as a side dish; it’s seriously tasty.
As the evening wound down we reflected on how much we enjoyed the food and service at The Copper Onion while we considered an after dinner drink. Brandy Alexander, perhaps? I hadn’t had one in decades. We settled instead on a classic dessert: cheesecake ($8) drizzled with honey – simple and straightforward, but like just about everything else on the menu, surprisingly above par. But then, I shouldn’t be surprised since The Copper Onion has been hitting on all cylinders for well over a decade now.
Eleven years ago I wrote in a review that The Copper Onion was this city’s “best new restaurant.” Well, it’s not new anymore but The Copper Onion is aging beautifully, like fine wine, and it’s still one of the best restaurants Utah has to offer.
Photos by Ted Scheffler & Copper Onion
Culinary quote of the week:
“You can’t go wrong with relatively simple comfort food. It’s also about ease. Some cook to impress. I cook for people to enjoy the food.” — Al Roker
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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.