By Jese Dean, Downtown Alliance - Salt Lake City has reinvented itself dramatically over the past decade, thanks to the creativity and innovation of passionate Utahns who are taking ownership of their urban center. This energy is especially palpable in dining and nightlife with restaurants and bars thriving in spite of strict quotas on state liquor licenses and other unusual laws. Rather than aspiring to copy other great food cities like Portland, San Francisco, Chicago and New York, downtown restaurants and bars offer an approachable and refined experience for local and visiting patrons alike. These establishments are a celebration of Utah’s history in entrepreneurship, creativity and small business savvy.
Here are a few favorites that have opened recently:
It is safe to say restaurateur Charlie Perry of Eva’s Restaurant knows a little bit about flour. Charlie is the son of Kent Perry, owner of Central Milling in Logan Utah. Central Milling is Utah’s oldest continuously operated business dedicated to organic wheat that produces some of the best flour in the country. In January 2013, Charlie opened up Eva's Boulangerie just up the street from his tapas restaurant. The French bakery has been serving up some of the best artisan breads and pastries I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. The Boulangerie is dedicated to Charlie’s great grandmother, whose passion for French cooking and respect for ingredients are present in Eva’s baking today.
Speaking of flour from the Perry family’s Central Milling, David Brodsky’s From Scratch on Gallivan Ave. is turning out pizzas with freshly ground (in house!) red wheat flour. The Austrian flourmill sits in the back of the restaurant and is partially responsible for creating the perfect crust in Brodsky’s Neapolitan style pizzas. Pizzas aren’t the only thing that From Scratch does right. The restaurant also does an incredible burger made on a homemade bun. . .from scratch.
Chef and owner Ryan Lowder’s recent closing of Plum Alley incited tears from many Downtown Alliance staff. Little did we know that Lowder himself hadn’t planned on opening the lovely little Southeast Asian influenced spot with warming bowls of ramen and duck confit steamed buns with house kimchi on 111 E. 300 South. His original vision for the space was a bar that could compliment his first restaurant next door, Copper Onion. A statewide shortage in licenses and a long waiting list forced Lowder to get creative. After a two-year wait, a coveted club license finally became available in late 2013 and the Copper Onion team immediately began planning the long awaited bar concept called Copper Common. Plum Alley closed in early February and opened as a totally renovated Copper Common three weeks later. Copper Common serves what I call upscale bar food and incredible cocktails. They also have the best “happy hour” in town- serving half priced Shigoku oysters with a jalapeno infused mignonette from 4-6 daily.
It’s now no secret that Ty Burrell (Phil Dunphy from ABC’s Modern Family) and his brother Duncan co-own Bar-X, a speakeasy located on 155 E. 200 S. The brothers have teamed up with two other owners and world-renowned chef Viet Pham to create BEER BAR, a Belgian/German themed “beer hall” serving up locally made sausages with over 150 craft beers. BEER BAR's beer menu features some brews you can’t find anywhere else in Utah. As a self -proclaimed “hop head”, my favorites on the menu are Eugene based brewery’s Ninkasi Tricerahops (click link for beer reviews) and HUB brewery’s IPX out of Portland. Pair one of these brews with a Louisiana Hot or Reuben Brat served on an Eva’s Boulangerie bun. Trust me, your taste buds will thank you.
Few people know that downtown Salt Lake City’s Main Street was once known as “Whiskey Street” in the 19th century. The brand new Whiskey Street on 323 S. Main harkens back to the street’s original moniker, albeit less rowdy than the street’s historical name suggests. Serving up an impressive array of spirits with a food menu to compliment, this bar is the perfect spot to wind down from a day at work or grab brunch on the weekends. I recommend a Park City-made High West Double Rye on the rock (you'll see what I mean) paired with the short rib grilled cheese and truffle fries.
As someone who was born and raised in Salt Lake City, I often find myself defending our great state and challenging misperceptions and stereotypes that you can’t find decent food and drink here. This new generation of restaurants and bars opening in downtown speak for themselves and that is something everyone in the state should be proud to call our own. Enjoy it all while it's still our little secret.