Emigration Cafe | 1709 E. 1300 S. | SLC Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner – Monday – Saturday Saturday & Sunday Brunch – 10am-3pm Online ordering now available, order here. Reservations now available for all party sizes. Book your table here. 801-906-8101
Several years ago, as Chocolot was starting to really get some traction, we considered opening a brick and mortar location in Salt Lake. My mom and I stopped by the office of Ken Milo, a local architect and at the time the owner of Cucina Toscana restaurant and some nearby commercial spots.
As we walked through the old Caputo’s location, as well as the basement of Cucina Toscana, Ken introduced us to a gregarious Italian named Valter. Part Einstein, part Mr. Bean, and part Doc Brown.
It was so long ago that I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I remember him treating us like we were long-lost relatives, and wouldn’t let us leave until he showed us his newest project he was working on at the time: his gelateria.
In this humble basement sat several thousand dollars’ worth of stainless steel equipment, cranking out his gelato. He gladly scooped several different flavors and insisted we try them and tell him what we thought.
I remember being struck at the time by just how friendly this man was. It was nearly shocking to see someone as unguarded as Valter. As we continued our tour of the facilities, we said our goodbyes. Aftewards, I asked my mom how he knew Valter, because he was so friendly to her. “I’ve never met him before,” was her reply.
And that was it. For him, it was one of a million similar interactions he had over the years with his guests. But for me, it’s a very small interaction that has stuck with me for many, many years.
I’m sure most everyone is familiar with Maya Angelou’s wise words, in which she said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Valter was this quote personified. The world would be a different place if we all acted a bit more like Valter.
I’m not usually one to rag on local restaurants. I like to think of myself as more of a hype man regarding SLC’s dining scene than anything else. I truly feel that anyone that’s willing to stick their neck out and run a restaurant deserves our applause and support. Generally speaking, if a restaurant is out there trying their best, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt when things fall short.
However, there’s a point in which certain restaurants don’t even try anymore, and when they get to that point, they deserve to be called out. I feel it’s disrespectful to customers when the service and the food is so egregiously bad that it’s obvious the restaurant has given up on having any sort of standards.
Sadly, such is the case with Pat’s BBQ. I don’t know what happened to Pat’s over the past little while, but whatever it is, it hasn’t been for the better. I will say I noticed a similar pattern with another once-great BBQ restaurant: R&R BBQ. Both have seemed to followed the same path: original owner/pitmaster sells out, transitions away from the business, and the quality control falls apart.
At the Commonwealth location off 21st South, it’s a full-service restaurant, unlike their State St location, which is quick-serve style. I feel the quick-serve setup is better for most BBQ restaurants, and given that 90% of the BBQ restaurants I’ve been to over the years is the “order at the counter and sit down” style, I think it’s evident that that’s the way to go.
Walking into Pat’s was a sleepy affair, with us waiting several minutes be be acknowledged by the lone server working that day. The first red flag was that the place smelled absolutely nothing like a BBQ place. I want to walk in and smell like there’s a raging campfire in the room next door (or at least somewhere in the vicinity.) Staged or not, I want some smell of burning wood to tell me there’s some serious smoking work going on behind the scenes. Pat’s smelled more like a Costco or a library than a BBQ restaurant.
Once seated, no drink order was taken, and what seemed like ten minutes passed before our food order was taken. It was not busy.
And then the food arrived. First, the positives: the french fries were very good. Breaded, crispy, and warm. Same goes for the baked beans, which were rich and flavorful. And then there was the brisket, which was a room-temperature nightmare, and the slices had some obvious oxidation that told me these slices had been sitting out for a while. The room-temperature meat made me nervous. A comment was made to the server about this, and the reply was “I’ll let her know” (assuming the “her” was the cook). No efforts were made to rectify the situation by either replacing the meat with another option, or taking it off the bill. If I’m running a restaurant and a customer tells me something’s not up to snuff, they’re going to get more than just an “I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry” doesn’t fix the problem. It just makes the server feel better while leaving the diner with a bad experience.
For the cornbread, I might as well have eaten drywall spackle. It would have been more moist and would have had more flavor than what we were given. And maybe the drywall would have come with a side of butter, which is more than the cornbread came with.
My kid had the mac and cheese, which looked sadder than the empty band stage behind us. He didn’t even touch it. It was barely warm, with terrible presentation, and lacking in flavor. For my four-year-old to not completely house a cup of mac-and-cheese told me everything I needed to know about it.
If a shoulder shrug and an eye roll could be personified in food and service format, it was perfected in this meal at Pat’s.
Enjoy the $25, Pat’s. It’s going to be the last money you ever see from me.
Italian Graffiti is the first full-scale restaurant by Nice Hospitality, the visionary team behind HallPass and SkinnyFATS. This new venture will offer a contemporary interpretation of classic Italian fare and hand-crafted family recipes from Chef-Partner Marc Marrone’s Italian-influenced upbringing in New York City. Building upon nearly 20 years of experience earned at world-class restaurants across the country, Chef Marc brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to Nice Hospitality’s newest venture. Guests can expect to be immersed in the art of vibe dining with Italian Graffiti’s expansive wine menu, open format cooking, daily house made pasta, a full bakery, and dry aged meat program. The area’s first modern osteria will feature floral-inspired decor with one-of-a-kind art installations throughout the dining room, bar, and lounge areas.
“With grandparents who immigrated from Italy, my most cherished family traditions centered around sharing homemade meals together. I want our guests to experience that same gracious hospitality and convivial atmosphere,” says Marc Marrone. “The popularity of HallPass at The Gateway paved the way for this new concept as we feel it has increasingly become a coveted dining and entertainment destination in Salt Lake City.”
Italian Graffiti is slated to open this summer at the southeast corner of The Gateway.
Wildwood Restaurant sits nestled amongst historic homes on 3rd Avenue in the city’s Avenues neighborhood, and is located in the former Avenues Bistro location.
“American Comfort Food” is the name of the game here. Their website describes themselves as a “product driven restaurant which features an evolving and continuously changing menu with craft cocktails, beer, and wine.”
It’s no surprise the menu is approachable yet innovative, given that Wildwood is owned by Chef Michael Richey. Richey is a mainstay of the Salt Lake culinary scene, having opened Pago and working previously as the chef at Solitude as well as Grand Targhee Resort. Those familiar with Pago’s culinary approach will feel right at home at Wildwood.
The menu is innovative yet not intimidating. Diners will spot recognizable offerings such as shishitos, salmon pillows, croquettes, chicken wings, fish and chips, and fried chicken. But each of these dishes buck tradition in their own unique (and good) way.
For example, the chicken wings were cooked to a perfect crisp. That much is to be expected from any competent kitchen. But the spicy sambal sauce that the wings were doused in added a unique, spicy tangent that presented wings in an entirely different light and paired with the blue cheese dip made an irresistible combination. I couldn’t stop eating them. I will admit that I wasn’t sure at the time (and I’m still not sure now) if the bright orange oil that covered the plate was a feature or a bug of the dish. But that question certainly didn’t slow me down.
The braised pork dish had some familiar aspects, featuring crispy pork belly and tender short ribs, accompanied by shishitos, some greens, and a deliciously light and tart cara cara orange and pear gastrique. The citrus was a perfect foil for the rich and fatty pork.
The “Desert Mountain Burger” features caramelized onions, Beehive Cheese cheddar, bourbon bacon, and an aioli. The burger was really nice, and pretty much what you’d expect from a restaurant of this caliber. Although I must admit I continue to hold out hope that the fancy burger trend will shift away from these giant, gloppy, unmanageable creations, and shift back to something that I’m able to eat at my leisure without having to wolf it down before either a) the bun disintegrates and it turns into a big, sloppy mess or b) everything slides off the burger because there’s simply too much “stuff” on it. I’m of the opinion that burgers shouldn’t be taller than what I can fit in my mouth. Make Burgers Approachable Again.
Other items such as the mushroom risotto, cast iron bavette, and roasted steelhead trout left me anxious to stop by again to try them out. With their quickly-rotating menu, I hope that I’ll be able to catch them before they’re gone, although I’m sure that when they are replaced, they’ll be replaced with items that are equally delicious.
The layout of the restaurant is, shall we say, unique. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the eclectic architectural designs of Avenues residences and businesses. Our reservation was at 6, and so the dinner service was just getting into full swing, with the main-level dining room completely packed.
The hostess beckoned us to follow her, and indeed we did, past all of the diners, past the galley-style kitchen, being careful to avoid the dish rinsing station, kitchen racks, and other various “back of the house” objects. We made it past the kitchen, to the back of the building, and then down a narrow staircase into what can best be described as a downstairs bar/speakeasy. The speakeasy was plenty dark, and we were the only ones down there. The tables were rounded glass perched atop High West whiskey barrels, so leg-stretching was not an option. The chairs were backless mid-height barstools.
On one hand, it was a cool, unique experience. On the other had, it was somewhat uncomfortable, and lacked the typical conviviality that is usually experienced in a busy, bustling restaurant. I felt like we were sitting at the otherwise empty kids’ table at Aunt Mildred’s house.
But the awkwardness abated after a half hour or so, as other diners found themselves seated in our intimate dining dungeon. It was actually sort of fun as we laughed about the situation and found some humor in all of it.
The separation also made me wonder if the attentiveness of service would suffer as a result of our being cast into outer darkness. But those concerns were unfounded as our server was extremely attentive and did everything he could to make sure we had a special experience at Wildwood.
My advice is as follows: if you want a busy, loud dining experience with a bunch of hub-bub, ask to be seated in the main dining room. If you’re looking for something more intimate and secluded, and are fine sitting on stools and dining on whiskey barrels, then by all means ask for downstairs. It was a fun experience. My suggestion to WildWood would be that if you’re going to seat someone down there, make sure you ask them ahead of time when they make the reservation, if it’s ok. Explain the situation. Don’t put your diners in the uncomfortable situation of either requesting a seating change and disrupting the dining plans for the evening, or just dealing with the surprise of the seating situation.
Either way, no matter what you decide, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the food, or the experience. As an Avenues resident, I’m glad that we have these small neighborhood spots to enjoy, and hope that Wildwood will be around for many years to come.
Wildwood is currently open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner service only, from 5pm to close.
WildWood 564 E 3rd Ave Salt Lake City (801) 831-5409
For those familiar with the Avenues neighborhood, you’re well aware of the beautiful pioneer-era Victorian at the corner of 3rd and B Street. The mansion now holds a bed and breakfast and was purchased two years ago by Tyler and Kara, who have been making serious efforts to rejuvenate this Avenues jewel.
Recently Tyler and Kara have added their new secret weapon to their B&B—Victoriya, who is the Ellerbeck Innkeeper. Together, they’ve launched a new project at Ellerbeck—a walk-up café to serve all of your caffeinated and caloric needs.
The concept fits in perfectly with the general vibe of the Aves, which is known for its walkability and easy access to just about everything.
I stopped by to have a taste of their offerings. The hot chocolate (made with steamed milk, of course) was rich and delicious. I also tried their “Johnnycake” slathered with “Beehive Butter,” which is essentially what you would get if you crossed cornbread with cake. Lighter than cornbread, but still with the delicious, crunchy top that I love so much.
I’m excited to stop by again soon to try out their “cottage cakes,” with strawberries and cream. Cottage cakes are fluffy pancakes made with cottage cheese to give it body. Sounds pretty great to me.
The walk-up is open 8am-2pm Thursday through Sunday, and features a rotation of pioneer-inspired breakfast items.
Right before the pandemic began, Jeff and Lisa Ward (owners of Silverstar Café in Park City signed a lease on the small restaurant space formerly occupied by Fireside on Regent, just next to the Eccles Theater and a stone’s throw from Prettybird Salt Lake.
To be honest, I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to even think about opening a restaurant right as talk of remote work and quarantining started to infiltrate our daily conversations. But for the Wards, it gave them a bit of a breather; a chance to reset and really think things through and consider how (and what) they wanted their first venture into Salt Lake dining to be.
Ant their thoughtful approach shows in every detail at Fenice Mediterranean Bistro (126 S Regent Street). The layout and design of the space keeps things intimate and warm (no doubt helped by the piping hot pizza oven located in the corner of the open kitchen). I was invited by the restaurant to stop by and check out some dishes.
The menu reflect the Mediterranean vibes well, with various small plates such as roasted olives with burrata, polenta with balsamic-roasted potatoes (really tasty), and patatas bravos.
For pasta, I tried the bolognese bianca, which was absolutely rich, creamy, and delicious. Exactly what you would expect from a well-executed bolognese. Other dishes that caught my eye that I didn’t get a chance to try were the mushroom risotto, the osso bucco, whole roasted branzino, and a New York steak au poivre. Inquiries to other diners who had those dishes were met with strong, favorable reviews. The pizzas also looked delicious.
Prices are reasonable considering the level of execution of the dishes as well as the downtown location, with the mains ranging from around $25-$30, pizzas $18, and pasta dishes $17-$22.
For the adult beverage side of things, I will as always graciously bow out of offering any opinions other than saying that the restaurant features a full cocktail menu and what appears to me to be a quite substantial selection of wines and beers. I will note that due to their current liquor license, you must be 21 or older to dine at Fenice.
The restaurant is currently open for dinnerTuesday through Saturday from 5pm-9:30pm, and their websites states they are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. No mention of Sundays so be sure to check with them prior to hoofing it down there. Dinner only for now, but they anticipate they will expand into brunch and lunch soon.
The Gateway continues to add to its unique portfolio of retailers in its quest to reinvent itself as an entertainment, event, and dining center. The latest addition is an exciting one: The Store has now opened at The Gateway, giving people who live, work, and play in SLC a grocery store option on west end of downtown. But The Store, which has been in business in the valley since 1968, is much more than your typical grocery outlet.
Anyone who has visited their other location in Holladay knows that they take a unique approach to the grocery business. The Store fills a niche for high-quality, locally sourced food that’s fresh, flavorful, and healthy. The Niederhauser family, who owns The Store, takes pride in their “Miles to Market” program, which focuses on promoting local producers. Some local companies that the store prominently features are: Cutler’s Cookies, Solstice Spices, Publik Coffee, Abagails Oven, June Pies, Salsa del Diablo, Apis Hive & Honey Co., V Chocolates, and many more. I was excited to see they carry a ton of products from Stoneground Bakery, one of my favorite breadmakers in the valley. And Cutler’s Cookies are hard to beat. They truly are some of my favorite cookies around.
I appreciate that the store also produces their own grocery products under their own name, which are top-notch. Their tortilla chips and homemade salsa are fantastic. And their corn-pop churro bites are dangerously addicting. The also carry house-made cilantro lime dressing, house tri-tip, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
The Niederhausers, who own and operate The Store, have wanted to bring the grocer’s unique environment to an urban neighborhood for years. “We looked all over the valley for the right location. Because of The Gateway’s amazing revitalization, it was a natural fit,” said Scotty Niederhauser, store director. “With The Store’s history and heavy focus on local offerings and relationships, a location downtown close to the biggest farmers market and many vendors themselves, it seemed too good to be true.”
Salt Lake Tribune and Fidelity employees must be ecstatic to finally have some additional quick lunch options in their area. The Store features a salad bar, as well as a hot food bar, both of which are by-the-pound. I was particularly impressed with the hot bar, which featured babyback ribs, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and delicious enchiladas when I popped in for a quick lunch. Chef Paul Morello leads the culinary efforts at the store. Chef Morello has spent time working in various restaurants in Miami, New York, D.C., Virginia, and South Carolina. He also spent seven years working as a chef in Turkey. He is now the Culinary Director of The Store.
I’d encourage you to swing by and check it out. It’s not your average grocery store, by any means. You can tell that the Niederhauser family and all of The Store’s leaders have a passion for creating a unique grocery store that is different than the rest.
90 South Rio Grande Street
Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Let’s get a few things established right off the bat.
There is a disco ball, posters of Saved by The Bell, and a DJ station at Ginger Street
There is a lot of neon
The servers wear fanny packs
This is not a place I will take my mother in law, who thinks the Red Iguana experience is a bit “out there”
The food in incredible
In the food blogger/writer world these days, unfortunately the trend is that it’s more about speed and less about quality. She or he with the first review rules the world. I tend to shy away from that approach. Not for any reason other than I don’t like opening week crowds and I like to give the front and back of the house a little time to settle in. But Melissa and I found ourselves with an extra hour or two after a wedding reception sans kids, so we decided to pop over to Ginger Street for a quick second lunch to see what all of the fuss is about.
The first tip: the entrance is on the 3rd South side of the building. We tried entering from the porch, but the door was locked. Then we walked along State Street. No dice. Then we found the hard-to-miss pink “red carpet” that welcomes you to the large space with tall ceilings and plenty of room. You’re greeted by a host or hostess and given a menu, and you place your initial order with them. Once paid, they then will give you a number and help you choose a table. Ours happened to be made out of an old bowling alley lane. I say “initial” order, because the intent of Ginger Street is that this is “hawker style.” Hawker stalls are prevalent in Singapore, and the idea of them is sort of like a food court where you order from the various vendors and then sit down and enjoy the varying dishes. A bit of a conundrum at Ginger Street, since there’s only one purveyor, so I’m not totally convinced they really get what hawker stalls are about. But it does follow along the hawker model in that the intent is that you order numerous different plates of dishes to share (or not) throughout your stay. I wasn’t a huge fan of feeling the pressure of walking in and feeling like you had to make a quick decision since there’s a line of people behind you, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one that feels that way. I’d much rather be able to sit down and settle in before deciding on what I want to eat. Maybe their intent is to help turn tables by eliminating that initial 10 minute “settling in” period. I don’t know. I’m curious to know if they stick with that approach or not. I’m hopeful they don’t.
Even at 2 pm, the dining room was steadily busy. Michael McHenry, one of the owners of Ginger Street, mentioned that within the first day or two of them opening, they had a line of 140 people waiting for lunch. I’d say there’s a bit of hype with this one. And after our meal, I’d say the hype is very well justified.
Varying textures are prevalent throughout your experience at Ginger Street. Textures in music (yes, they have a DJ booth and a disco ball), décor (they have posters featuring Saved By The Bell and pillows with a distinct Indian flair), and tastes. I have a feeling that this spot will be a bit of a chameleon as the day and week progresses. Downtown white collar workers will find it suited well for a quick lunch, but as the night progresses and the bar crowd emerges, I have a hunch that this place will get a bit crazy. In a good way. But maybe not a 40-year-old-with-two-kids-in-diapers good way. I’ll likely stick to lunchtime or early dinner.
Ginger Street is in a good location, centrally located between the Main Street bar scene, Gallivan, and Broadway theater. They are also in the late stages of opening a walk-up dessert and small bites window, where you will be able to order a quick bowl of rotating soft serve flavors, ice cream sandwiches, and on late nights during the weekend, small hot bites of pork buns and other items. The window is expected to open in the next two weeks. I find it interesting that two similar concepts (walk-up Asian-inspired food) are launching at nearly the exact same time, within a block of each other. Ginger Street’s window, and Ryan Lowder’s latest idea: a walk-up window named @hotbunsnfun on the side of Copper Common, where you can get noodle dishes as well as various steamed buns.
We ordered a starter of pork dumplings, perfectly cooked and filled with napa cabbage, garlic chive, and accompanied by a very nice chili soy sauce. The Crispy Fish Cha Ca La Vong was a standout dish: pieces of white fish breaded in their version of a panko coating with a hint of citrus, laid on a bed of cold rice vermicelli, peanuts, scallion, and topped by a hearty helping of dill. The fish was accompanied by the best sauce I’ve had in a while: a pineapple nam prik, laced with bird’s eye chili for a bit of heat. This dish had sweet, sour, warm, cold, crunchy, soft. Chef Tyler Stokes understands textures and contrasts.
The Ginger Noodles dish was perhaps my favorite dish. It’s a simple dish, and screams “humble,” but it was so good in so many ways. Ramen noodles are accompanied with a salty scallion relish as wells as pickled cucumbers and sauteed baby spinach and topped with peanuts. The dish had great balance and the noodles were perfectly cooked. Just an all-around great dish, and a bargain at $13.
At this point in our lunch I was spotted by Ginger Street co-owner Michael McHenry. McHenry, who has formerly worked at Blue Lemon, cofounded Even Stevens sandwiches, and recently took over Oak Wood Fire Kitchen in Draper, has a track record of establishing unique concepts backed by solid operations and excellent service. After speaking with him, you begin to understand how each of his concepts are able to execute his vision so well, and each one so uniquely. He gets it, and is passionate about bringing a new type of culinary experience to Salt Lake. McHenry sent out a few other dishes for us to try. The steamed Snake River Farms pork belly buns were pillowy soft, and the hoisin, pickled cucumbers, and scallions provided a nice counter balance to the rich pork.
Crispy Duck Rolls
The crispy duck rolls were a hit. Tender duck is wrapped up and fried, then wrapped with Thai basil and finally an outer casing of rice paper to provide the perfect contrast of crunchy and soft. Wrapping the basil outside of the cooked portion of the roll allows the basil to really shine through and retain its texture and punch.
The green curry has the right amount of spice (if you’re more brave than I with spice, get the red curry). The sauce features charred eggplant, cauliflower, red bell pepper and basil. Again, a steal at $10. Other items I can’t wait to come back and try include the fried spicy chicken sandwich and the caramelized lemongrass shrimp.
Curry Vanilla Soft Serve
Passionfruit Ice Cream Sandwich and G Bar
There is an extensive drink menu, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. We had the Naam Manao, a fresh-squeezed Thai limeade that was tart and punchy in all of the right ways. Desserts are provided by Jane Anne, formerly of Vinto, Stanza, and Normal Ice Cream. Ginger Street features a rotating menu of soft serve flavors, and we tried the curry vanilla, which was rich and delicious, and had just the right amount of curry flavor to get the point across but not make you feel weird about eating curry for dessert. An ice cream sandwich with a cocoa almond crust and passionfruit ice cream, as well as a rich “G Bar” with a gingersnap crust, were both top-notch delicious.
I really like Ginger Street. I like that they’re trying something different that what we’re used to. They’re bringing a level of quirkiness and character that the city doesn’t have enough of. But it’s not a gimmick, either. They’re backing this innovation up with a solid menu and excellent execution from the kitchen. I look forward to seeing what they accomplish, and am optimistic that they’ll do very well.
After 18 months, Alamexo Cantina, the sister project of Matt Lake’s Alamexo downtown, is shutting its doors. I am personally very sad about this, since I admire Matt’s passion to create a neighborhood gathering place and his devotion to innovative dishes, and scratch cooking using only the best ingredients. Sadly, it seemed like the Cantina could never gain the traction necessary to succeed.
Their announcement, posted to Instagram, says in part: “With the months of upcoming construction that will surround our restaurant and the tight margin that all restauranteurs operate on, we can no longer continue on in this space. We have made every accommodation to insure the jobs of our staff members, who are like family, and they will all be joining us at our location on 268 South State.”