When restaurateur Scott Evans opened Pago restaurant in 2009 in the 9th and 9th neighborhood, “farm-to-table,” “artisan,” “craft,” and “local” weren’t terms nearly as pervasive in the culinary world as they are today. He deserves credit for creating one of the first local restaurants to use and promote local products from businesses like Beehive Cheese, Clifford Family Farms, Stoneground Bakery, Millcreek Coffee, Frog Bench Farms, Morgan Valley Lamb, and others. Evans would go on to open Finca, Hub & Spoke Diner, Trestle Tavern, East Liberty Tap House and other eateries, making a big mark on the SLC dining scene.
Last month, Evans and the Pago Restaurant Group opened what I’m thinking of as Pago 2.0: a new eatery called Pago on Main. It’s located in the Felt Building in the space that was the former home of the downtown J. Dawgs outlet. Evans has transformed the space into a modern bistro, complete with a central exhibition kitchen with counter seating where you can watch your food being prepared if that appeals to you. It’s a spacious restaurant with lots of room to roam.
Pago on Main also sports a full bar and a wine list with lots of the natural wines that Scott Evans champions, as well as a great selection of beer, cider, spirits and cocktails. Of the latter, I recommend the One Small Miracle cocktail, made with Tito’s vodka, apple butter, Alpine Preserve, Allspice Dram, Hive Pear Brandy and lemon.
Pago on Main is open for lunch Monday through Friday, brunch on Saturday and Sunday, and dinner nightly. Although I haven’t visited yet for brunch, the menu is similar to the Pago on Main lunch menu but with the addition of breakfast items such as French toast, eggs Benedict, smoked trout Kedgeree, croque madame, and a cheddar scallion biscuit. Brunch cocktails options include the Bloody Mary, French 75, Mimosa, Beetlejuice, and Bourbon Bacon, which incorporates actual apple-wood smoked bacon into the cocktail.
I’m down for any restaurant that has a “Crudo” section of the menu. In the case of Pago on Main, crudo options include beef tartare ($12) with smoked sambal aioli, shallots, daikon and brioche toast, as well as raw oysters with preserved lemon mignonette and smoked Fresno chile cocktail sauce ($3/each). We opted for the delicious and wonderfully fresh tasting yellowtail amberjack crudo with citrus, radish slices, avocado and fried shallots ($14).
The Market Bites portion of the menu includes items such as burrata with pumpkin bread, olive oil and pepita/chile crumble ($8); smoked onion dip with pickled mustard seeds, fried shallots and house chips ($6); and scrumptious sourdough bread from Table X bakery with compound butter and olive oil/balsamic ($6). A big hit at our table were the vadouvan greens croquettes with date jam ($8) – a vegan/vegetarian croquette with a tantalizing masala-type flavor.
Like all of the Pago Restaurant Group operations, the staff at Pago on Main is made up of top-notch pros who know their stuff and are friendly and outgoing. Like Austin, a manager that sidelines as a geophysicist, who enlightened us about the menu structure, which goes from small plates – Crudo and Market Bites – to successively larger dishes: Market Plates, Sandwiches & Salads, and Dinner Entrees. Market Plates include sunchoke & potato poutine ($13); Savoy cabbage wedge ($10); cauliflower carbonara ($12); and an artisan cheese plate ($18). We especially loved the rich-tasting wild game meatballs ($13) with sofrito, pomodoro sauce, golden raisins, garlic breadcrumbs and feta.
Kudos to Scott Evans, Executive Chef & Partner Phelix Gardner, and the kitchen team at both Pago and Pago on Main for offering guests so many vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes to enjoy. There are plenty of choices, ranging from a kale Caesar salad to a wonderfully colorful dish of pickled strawberries with beets, goat cheese mousse and crispy quinoa ($11).
My stepsons, who joined my wife and me for dinner at Pago on Main, were stoked to see that Pago’s terrific sandwiches and burgers are available at dinner, not just for lunch. The Pago Burger ($17) is justifiably famous and has been featured in publications like Wine Enthusiast and others. I don’t know the exact beef mix for the burger, but it’s a spot-on blend of chuck, short rib and brisket, with just the right ratio of fat to lean meat to make a juicy, mouthwatering burger. It comes with bacon, pickled onion, cheddar cheese, arugula, and black garlic aioli on a brioche bun. My only complaint – and it’s a minor one – is that the frites served with burgers and sandwiches at Pago on Main are truffle frites. I love truffles but loathe truffle oil. There’s nothing not to like about the fries at Pago which are are first-rate. I just wish diners would have the option to enjoy their yummy fries “straight,” without being drizzled in truffle oil.
Additional sandwich options include beer-battered mahi mahi and a killer Reuben. The Reuben is made with top grade Niman Ranch pastrami, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and sauerkraut on toasted Stoneground Bakery bread. It comes with those aforementioned truffle frites.
Salads at Pago on Main – the kale Caesar and the baby spinach & frisse – can be upgraded with the addition of Koosharem trout or seared chicken breast for an additional six bucks. My wife loved her kale Caesar salad with a generous portion of Koosharem trout.
I mentioned that Scott Evans is a cheerleader for natural wines and there are many on the Pago on Main wine list, with bottles ranging from domestic winemakers like Ruth Lewandowski and Donkey & Goat to Slovenia’s Marjan Simcic and La Segreta from Italy. With dinner we sipped the most unusual and intriguing biodynamic Gruner Veltliner from Austria I’ve ever tasted: “Gut Oggau” Theodora 2018 ($80/bottle).
I can rarely resist gnocchi when I see it on a restaurant menu, and I’m sure glad I didn’t resist Pago’s. It’s a generous serving of heavenly homemade potato gnocchi with lots of mushrooms bathed in a three-cheese “fondue” with leeks, black garlic and hazelnuts, garnished with minced parsley ($20). It’s about as perfect as pasta gets.
Dessert at Pago on Main is a choice of either apple crisp ($8) with oatmeal pecan crust, dried cherry and whipped cream, or the one we selected and devoured: chocolate cremeux with whipped creme fraiche and a chocolate chip cookie ($9).
Given the topsy turvy restaurant world of the past couple years – in which the pandemic affected Scott Evans’ Pago Group just like it affected most other restaurateurs – it’s uplifting to see gritty folks like Scott actually opening new restaurants like Pago on Main – more Pago to love. In fact, he’s about to open a wine bar called Casot in the 15th & 15th neighborhood, as well as launching a new restaurant concept in spring or early summer that is being kept very hush-hush at the moment. It is, as they say, hard to keep a good man down.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week:
“You’ve buttered your bread, now sleep in it.” — Gracie Allen
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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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