Salt Lake’s New Epicenter

Let me just get this out of the way: the new George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake is going to be something special for downtown SLC. Gathering place. Community center. Banquet rooms for rental by the public. Terraces with incredible views. More bars than I could count on every level of the venue. Encore Bistro and catering throughout, ran by Cuisine Unlimited. A small 200 seat black box theater for smaller community events. And of course, the theater itself, the Delta Performance Hall, with a star-filled ceiling and red/orange colors that immediately remind the guest of the striated red rock formations of southern Utah. The theater seats 2,500, yet feels closer in size to the Capitol Theater than Abravanel Hall. Right next door (and partially hanging over the theater thanks to unique cantilevered engineering) sits downtown’s latest high rise, 111 Main St. And behind the theater is Regent Street, which itself is in the middle of a multi-million dollar renovation, and designed to be the new connecting pedestrian corridor between City Creek mall and the Gallivan Center. New restaurant spaces and shops are being built as you read this, and soon enough (October 21st), thousands of theater goers will be traveling to downtown to enjoy performances ranging from the Utah Symphony, The Book of Mormon musical, and Ballet to Elvis Lives and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The building itself is a stunning piece of architecture. Clothed in gorgeous white stone on the outside, the theater is located in the heart of downtown, and was designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli in conjunction with local firm HKS. The theater features a sky-high six story lobby, with retractable glass walls that will open the lobby completely to the outside. Several stories up, a large terrace opens up to the outside for visitors to soak in the sights and sounds of downtown.

Encore Bistro, located at ground level, is ran by Cuisine Unlimited, who is the exclusive provider of food and beverages for the theater as well as all events that happen there. The bistro will be open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, and will be open before and during performances with menu items tailored for specific performances. The Bistro menu features unique offerings, such as vegetarian breakfast wraps ($5), daily quiche ($5), and fruit ($4) for breakfast, among other items. Lunch features items such as the Off Broadway Salad (romaine roasted tomatoes, bacon and Roquefort – $7.50), beef sliders ($10.50 for three), and a Thai chicken wrap ($10), among others. The Bistro also offers products from local purveyors C. Kay Cummings (chocolates) and Ruby Snap (cookies), to name a couple. I work downtown, and am always looking for great new spots to freshen up the lunch routine. I think that the Encore Bistro will find a place in the rotation on a regular basis.

Am I perhaps being a bit too ebullient with my praise of the theater? Perhaps. This place wasn’t free, and it wasn’t cheap ($119 million, most of it taxpayer money). But despite my misgivings, this beautiful building is easily on par with other large downtown projects which have played key roles in the continued rejuvenation of Salt Lake City (Gateway, Gallivan, City Creek Mall, downtown Harmon’s, to name a few). My first impression of the new theater is that it was designed to be a centerpiece and a celebration of the city. And I think they nailed it.

Websites:
Encore Bistro
Eccles Theater

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Sweet Lake Biscuits and Limeade

In another SLC Farmers Market success story, Sweet Lake Biscuits and Limeade has opened their very own shop at 54 W 1700 S. Sweet Lake began as a limeade stand at the Farmers Market a few years ago, and they have seen big demand for their deliciously tart drinks. The popularity has driven the owners to open a new restaurant on 17th South, with biscuits and limeade as the stars of the show.

The restaurant opened this week, and I want to caveat this review with the full knowledge that any new restaurant will invariably have some kinks to work out. So, feel free to grade this on a curve if you would like. As for me, a customer paying full price, I expect full service and great quality food, regardless of how long you’ve been open. The time to work out kinks is during your soft opening and test dinners, before you open to the public. Paying customers should not be your guinea pigs.

The actual space is well designed, with a hip, clean exterior. I was actually surprised upon entering to find that this is a full service sit-down restaurant; for some reason, I was expecting an “order and pay at the counter” arrangement. The interior is bright, simple, and cheery.

Kink #1: the servers are still figuring things out, and must not have assigned tables. This caused us to be welcomed multiple times, asked what we would like to drink multiple times, and attempted to take our order multiple times. Upon completion of our meal we were asked twice how things were and whether we would like our check. The second time, the check was already on the table. Not a big deal, but having your meal interrupted numerous times by varying servers was a bit of a distraction.

Kink #2: they were out of numerous menu items (such as the popular spoon cakes, as well as their pancakes). No problem. They were busy this morning and probably still trying to figure out what menu items are popular and which ones are not.

Kink #3: the food took a while to come out. We were told that they either 1) had a cook quit already or 2) had a cook call in sick (depending on who you talked to), and so the kitchen was in the weeds and trying desperately to dig out. No big deal, as we had nowhere to be this lazy Friday morning.

When the food arrived, there were some good and some bad. The good: the biscuits are really delicious. My wife ordered the Biscuit Bar ($6), which came with three biscuits (two biscuits and gravy, and the third with jam, honey, and butter). With a little added help of some salt and pepper the biscuits and gravy were delicious, with just the right amount of kick. This is an excellent value for the money.

My order of Spoon Bread Benedict were unfortunately less than great. They were out of the southern corn cakes spoon bread, which they substituted with biscuits (with my ok). A room-temperature biscuit topped with cold ham and a cold, tasteless tomato contributed to a dish that was room temperature at best (kink #4). I think their version of hollandaise was trickled on the plate, but was more decoration than anything helpful to the dish. A hollandaise-less Benedict. Hmmmm. Hollandaise should be the Roots to the egg’s Jimmy Fallon. But in this case, it ended up being the Mike Pence to Donald Trump (#topical #hottake #heyooooo). This dish has a ton of potential, and I think it will be amazing once they work the temperature issues out.

Upon paying, I was asked by the owner to give some honest feedback, which I did. I let her know about the cold Benedict and the multiple interruptions during our meal, which I think she took to heart, but didn’t make any effort to make it right with me via a credit on my bill or even an apology. But I was glad to hear she was asking customers for feedback.

Our mint limeade was tasty, and I look forward to trying out their lunch menu, in particular the San Anton, which is a biscuit, fried chicken breast, honey, hot sauce, cheddar, and slaw (what’s not to love about that combo?). And if there’s one thing they’ve nailed, it’s the biscuits. Except I think I’ll give them a few weeks to iron things out before I stop by again.

Sweet Lake Biscuits & Limeade
54 W 1700 S, Salt Lake City

7am – 3pm 7 days a week

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The Haps

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Photo Courtesy Argentina’s Best Empanadas

The SLC food scene is on FIRE right now with new openings, new menus and other goodness. Here’s a rundown on the latest.

Feldman’s Deli: after a week-long vacation, the always-delicious Jewish deli is now open, and will begin serving breakfast next week from 8-10:30.

Oak Wood Fire is now open in SLC. One of my favorite restaurants in Draper, Oak Wood Fire has moved into the beleaguered space in the Peery Hotel on 300 S West Temple. The interior has been renovated, and if the menu and service is anything like that offered in Draper, this will be a welcome addition to SLC. I’ve never had a meal there short of outstanding. Their pizzas, fries, and pastas are all top-notch. Open for both lunch and dinner, seven days a week.

Sweet Lake Biscuits and Limeade is open. Sweet Lake is another Farmer’s Market success story, beginning as a small food cart, and now opening their own space at 1700 S 54 W. Their shop is open every day from 7am to 3pm, and offers your basic (but delicious) biscuits and limeade all the way up to The Pokey Joe: a biscuit sandwich featuring pulled pork, coleslaw, mint limeade salsa, and crispy onions.

Argentina’s Best Empanadas. Continuing the Farmer’s Market success theme, Argentina’s Best Empanadas has now opened their own space at 357 S 200 E, open Tuesday through Friday 8am to 2pm. This mother-daughter duo prides themselves on using local, organic ingredients, such as Morgan Valley Lamb. ABE features everything from your very traditional beef-filled empanadas to breakfast empanadas featuring scrambled eggs and bacon. I’m excited to try the Lemon Beef empanadas.

The Big O Donuts is now open at 171 E 300 S. Big O is a vegan donut shop, open from 8am to 2pm or until sold out. The donuts have been featured at Sugarhouse Coffee for a while, but now they are available at their very own storefront. My dreams of having a 24 hour donut shop in SLC are getting closer to fruition, as Big O opens late nights on some weekends for the bar crowd. At $2.95 each, these dough babies aint cheap, but I look forward to trying their Orange Cardamom, Key Lime, and Lemon Basil flavors.

Trestle Tavern, a new project by Scott Evans of the Pago Group, is opening this Monday, July 18th, in the former Fresco spot at 15th and 15th. The menu will be tavern-influenced, with a nod to Eastern Europe/Bohemia. Liberty Tap House, but with pierogies, chicken paprikash, spaetzle, and borscht? Guess we’ll find out next week!

Amour Cafe opened a few weeks ago. You can check out my post on this hot new space here.

Mollie & Ollie has opened downtown in the old Bayleaf Cafe spot on Main Street, and has been beautifully renovated. M&O features salads, noodle bowls, and grain bowls, and focuses on healthy, organic ingredients. 159 South Main Street. Monday through Saturday 10am to 9pm, Sunday (!!!) 10am to 3pm.

Have you checked out the SLCeats hashtag on IG? If not, you need to–it’s blowing up! Clicky here.

Amour Cafe is Open!

Amour Cafe, from our friends John and Casee at Amour Spreads, is open for business! Baker/gelato maker extraordinaire Amber Billingsley is behind the delicious baked goods at the cafe, which features everything from the traditional chocolate chip with Solstice chocolate to a beet root cake with walnuts and bourbon raisins. The baked goods selection varies day to day, as do the gelato flavors. 

Simple, yet beautiful decor throughout, including 120 year old salvaged church pews.

Homemade sodas are flavored using Amour’s very own homemade simple syrup. Full coffee/espresso drinks are offered, as are delicious pieces of toast with eggs, prosciutto, and of course, Amour Spreads.

Check them out at 1329 South 500 East. Open every day from 7am to 7pm. If you’re lucky you will be able to look into their kitchen from the window in the dining room and watch them work their magic in the back.

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Visiting Les Madeleines

“Siri, set the timer for 19 minutes.” No, this is not an Apple commercial featuring Cookie Monster. I’m at Les Madeleines bakery in downtown Salt Lake, visiting with Romina Rasmussen, owner and chef.

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It’s a sleepy Salt Lake Sunday morning, and Romina is experimenting with different yeasts in her croissants, testing and testing again to see if the new stuff yields the same results as her old stuff. Not quite yet, she says. Back to the old stuff for now.

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Romina hasn’t always been a baker. She spent her first chunk of post-college years in D.C, then teaching English in Taiwan, and then on to Hong Kong, working in employee communications and then as the speechwriter for AT&T’s CEO. Romina explained that expats hit a point at about year four of being abroad, in which they start to lose touch with their home culture enough that most have to decide at that point to stay or go home. Romina decided to come home, where she worked for another telecom in Miami, before deciding it was time to take a step out of the corporate world and focus on something else. Next stop: the French Culinary Institute in New York. 

After graduating the FCI and working as pastry cook at the Mandarin Oriental, her brother called with a proposition. He was the owner of Shaggy’s on State Street, and he had a spot two doors down that would be perfect for a bakery. And so began her next adventure: transitioning from hotel-scale baking to now owning and self-funding her own tiny bakery in downtown Salt Lake.

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It started with a rotating menu of baked goods, and then about her croissants from the Trib. But then the Kouign Amann (pronounced “queen amahn”) happened. She was the only employee at the time, baking, running the cash register, etc. So when someone approached her and asked if she had ever made them, she replied that she didn’t have time to experiment. “Well, what if I special-ordered some?” the persistent customer asked. “I guess I’d make some, then” was Romina’s reply. So out went the first special order, and from then on Les Madeleines featured Kouign Amann’s one day per week, which slowly turned into two times, then three, and on until she was making them on a daily basis.

The kouigns were hard to come by, and difficult and time-consuming to make. At first they were in scarce supply and limits to how many one customer could buy. When people came in to buy some, they would “act suspicious, without making eye contact, and would ask for the Kouign Amann.” So the Kouign quickly earned the nickname “crack,” and Romina became “the lady on State Street that sells crack.”

She moved into her new space (the old Urban Bistro space at 216 E 500 S), which had a full kitchen. Romina never intended to offer a full hot menu, but “it would be a shame” to not use the kitchen. About this time, the Food Network called, and featured the Kouign on an episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Romina’s phone battery died from the amount of online orders placed the night the show aired. Despite that this episode aired originally in 2009, it is still her most popular product.

But don’t look past her other creations, as her wall of accolades attests to her broad range of baking prowess.

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I stopped by and tried her Madmuffin breakfast sandwich without regrets (well, one regret–should have ordered two). Housemade English muffin, boar bacon, eggs, micro chives ensured I got my morning off to the right start.

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Ro is humble, and doesn’t feel the need to tout that she makes her own jams from produce she grows herself, or that her gelato doesn’t come pre-mixed in a bag from the factory. She believes that people will see and taste the quality, which is all the touting that she needs. Romina exhibits the entrepreneurial spirit, willing to take risks, jump out of the nest, and do something that others might perceive as risky to pursue her dream. And Salt Lake City is the lucky benefactor of this entrepreneurial spirit. We’re lucky to have her here.

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HSL

A new restaurant has opened in the old Vinto space on 2nd South in Salt Lake. HSL is endeavor #2 for Chef Briar Handly, with #1 being his wildly successful Handle restaurant in Park City. Handly has brought Chef Craig Gerome as chef de cuisine. I don’t know Handly very well, but anybody smart enough to get someone as talented as Gerome has my respect. I’m a fan of Gerome ever since I met him when he was at the helm of Annex.

I was invited to a press preview event, and the photos that follow come from said event. “New American” seems like such an overused term, however, I love the breadth in food and presentation styles that such a category provides.

The restaurant was designed in partnership with Cody Derrick at CityHome Collective, so naturally expect your dining environment to be a bit darker and cozy, with plenty of floral print wallpaper to go around. Upon entering, you are greeted by a beautiful, bright bar, lounge area, and communal table, with regular seating throughout the remainder of the restaurant.

Mark my words: get in there now, because it’s going to get harder and harder to get a table at this place as word spreads. I’m especially thrilled as it’s only a five minute walk from my house. which is both exciting and terrifying all at once.

Expect to pay $20-$30 for an entree and $10-$20 for an appetizer. 

HSL
418 E 200 S, Salt Lake City
(801) 539-9999
website

Some activity has been spotted at the old Bayleaf Cafe spot at 159 S Main St, next to Eva Boulangerie. Mollie&Ollie is slated to open Spring 2016, and judging by the extensive construction work, they are completely gutting the place and starting from scratch.

Julie Payne is the manager of the spot, and she gave me the low-down: ordering will take place at the counter either in-person, via tablets, or through apps on your phone. The menu is being developed by Chef Ryan Lappe (formerly of Cafe Niche), and will focus on fresh and healthy (e.g. wraps, bowls, scrambles, stir fries, salads, smoothies, etc). 

Mollie&Ollie will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, adding some evening dining options to downtown, which will seemingly work well with the new performing arts center right next door. The space will flow through all of the way back onto Regent Street, which is currently undergoing revitalization along with the 111 building and the performing arts center construction.

This is not a franchise (yet). This is the first location for this concept, and if they are successful, they plan on expanding along the Wasatch Front.

More to come as they get closer to opening! You can sign up for their mailing list by going to their site here.

This is the Sloppy Joe sandwich from Feldman’s Deli in Millcreek. When you think “sloppy joe,” get the hamburger concoction on a bun out of your head. This sandwich is the real deal and unlike anything else you’ll find in Utah.

At $14, it ain’t cheap, but this sandwich could easily feed two moderately hungry human beings. Or, take half home for dinner. Either way, if you polish this whole thing off in one sitting, I’ll be impressed. It’s $14, but it is worth every penny.

Slices of rye struggle to contain the mounds of pastrami, corned beef, cole slaw, and thousand island dressing. They mostly fail at their task (please refer to name of sandwich–you knew full well and good what you were getting yourself into), but they put forth a valiant effort to contain the heaping hordes of flavor.

Everything at Feldman’s is excellent. They make their own bagels, import their meat from one of the top delis in NYC (think Katz or Carnegie deli), and make everything fresh in house. I particularly love their fries, which are cut and prepped in-house. Try the matzo soup, make sure you get some potato pancakes along with a knish, and if you’re on the braver side of things go ahead and try the gefilte fish. Certainly not my cup of tea, but they say it sells well.

You won’t have room, but get a cheesecake to go. This is the richest cheesecake I’ve had–much denser that what you will find elsewhere. So rich that, again, you’ll want to split it or save some for later.

I have a running “last meal” list, and I’m confident saying that the sloppy joe would certainly be on it. I’m not kidding. Go try it.

Feldmans Deli
2005 E 2700 S
Salt Lake City

(801) 906-0369

The Holy Cow banh mi from Mai Bun Mee, located at 850 South State Street.

Mai Bun Mee is owned by the same people behind the very successful Oh Mai in South Salt Lake and Cottonwood Heights. I was expecting to walk in and see the familiar array of menu items offered at Oh Mai, like the ever-popular S8 (garlic ribeye) or my personal favorite, the S12 (pho brisket), but between the different name and varied menu, it’s obvious that the owners are trying out a different concept at this location.

Rather than being a centerpiece of the menu, Pho is relegated to being listed as a “special,” and is not even printed on their regular menu. But not to worry–the pho is just as tasty as it is at Oh Mai, however at a slightly smaller portion size (no small size option, either, just the regular large size).

The banh mi also have a bit of a twist. Similar prices to Oh Mai, higher quality meat, but don’t expect to walk in and order the S12, for example, because they don’t have it here. The sandwiches here don’t translate directly from the other locations. Anna, the owner of Bun Mee and Oh Mai, explained that their sandwiches are a bit more substantial than those found at Oh Mai, with the sandwiches at Bun Mee featuring heavier sauces and ingredients, and higher quality meat. The S8 at Oh Mai roughly translates to the “Holy Cow,” and features different ingredients (seared tenderloin, romaine lettuce, chili aioli, sautéed mushrooms, cilantro, jalapeño, and house dressing). The next time I swing by, I have my sights set on The Sinner, which features pork belly, pickled carrots, and a garlic fish lime vinaigrette. Or perhaps the the Fisherman, featuring seared tilapia, mango slaw, and garlic aioli.

I guess what I’m getting at is don’t go into Mai Bun Mee and expect it to be an Oh Mai clone. But that’s certainly not a bad thing. For some reason, prior to stopping by, I had wrongly assumed it was the same stuff, different name. While not earth-shatteringly different, it is different. Anna, the owner, said they could change the name to Oh Mai and there would immediately be a crowd, but they want to try something a bit different and see how it works. Hopefully they don’t flip the switch on a concept change, though, because I’d like to see these creative sandwiches continue to have a home.

Mai Bun Mee Sandwich Shop
850 S. State Street, Salt Lake City
(801) 575-8888

maibunmee.com
Monday – Saturday 11am – 8:30pm

Chicago dog, Johnniebeefs in Fort Union. Johnnie ships in his buns every day from his hometown. It’s a perfect blend of ingredients. Start talking with Johnnie about the Bears or Bulls and you’ll have a friend for life. Just don’t tell him that Jordan pushed off.