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Restaurant Reviews

The Copper Onion

Broadway Smash: The Copper Onion is the city’s best new restaurant.

By Ted Scheffler
Posted // March 10,2010 -

Once in a while, though not often, I come across a restaurant that sparkles and shines so brightly that it actually makes my job difficult. Difficult, because it’s a challenge to do justice to all that is right in a single column. The Copper Onion—a new, gleaming gem of the downtown dining scene—is one such restaurant.

I admit to being biased toward the scale of places like The Copper Onion. It’s not an in-your-face, flashy eatery. Rather, this is an attractive, modest enterprise, independently owned, along the lines of Eva, Pago, Forage, Meditrina and such. You won’t necessarily be bowled over by the design or decor—although, as I say, it is a very visually appealing restaurant and a comfortable one. You will be bowled over by the food. After five visits, that’s something I’m certain of.

Ryan and Colleen Lowder are the owners of The Copper Onion, which opened in sync with the Sundance Film Festival—a smart move, given that the restaurant sits adjacent to the Broadway Centre Cinemas. Ryan runs the kitchen and Colleen manages the front of the house. Together—and again, this has to do with the scale of the restaurant—they can view what’s going on at every table and counter seat, which helps assure quality control. Ryan watches virtually every plate go out from the exhibition kitchen, and Colleen patrols the dining room with an eagle eye. Servers like Clint and Johanna are sharp and professional, yet casual and friendly.

Come to The Copper Onion for a big meal or a small bite. The menu is set up to accommodate any size appetite. You could, for example, share a quartino (small carafe) of wine and a sampling of cured meats and cheeses and call it a night. If you do, be sure to order the sensuous gran biscotto (the creme de la crme of cured hams) and decadent, French double-cream d’affinois (cow’s milk cheese). Or, perhaps, enjoy a bowl of Lowder’s uber-peppery steamed mussels ($12) with toast points. This dish replaces the mussels with chili and basil that were featured upon the restaurant’s opening. One day, I stopped in for lunch and Chef Lowder asked me if I liked black pepper. “I love black pepper,” I replied; it’s almost impossible for me to get too much of it. So, he tested out his new mussels dish on me and hit a home run: Lots and lots of black pepper add plenty of snap to the creamy mussels’ sauce. It’s delicious.

Another fantastic small plate is the ricotta dumplings ($9). Warning: These suckers are highly addictive. Lowder forms the dumplings by combining his own fresh ricotta, eggs, parmesan cheese, flour, nutmeg and spinach. He rests them on semolina overnight, and then they’re sautéed in brown butter and tossed with parmesan. The result is light, luscious pillows of ricotta greatness.

Although he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve, Chef Lowder has a highfalutin pedigree. Originally from Salt Lake City, Lowder discovered his passion for cooking in Portland, Ore., before moving on to attend the Culinary Institute of America and cook at restaurants including Jean-Georges, Mario Batali’s Casa Mono and Mercat restaurants in New York City, as well as the Michelin-starred El Raco D’En Freixa in Barcelona. Not to be outdone, Colleen Lowder worked at New York’s posh Four Seasons Restaurant, and also managed the renowned Grand Central Oyster Bar. Any food enthusiast should be thrilled that the Lowders have chosen to make their gastronomic stand here in Utah. I know I am. After tasting multiple entrees, starters and sides at The Copper Onion, there’s only a single one that I didn’t love— but, more about that later.

The wine list is small, but filled with well-chosen, food-friendly wines. A glass ($6) of Li Veli Passamante pairs nicely with a hearty bowl of thick, homemade pappardelle noodles tossed in a Berkshire pork ragout and ricotta ($10). Accompanying this Bolognese-style pasta dish for lunch, I chose a side of Brussels sprouts, which were just awesome. Lowder simply shaves the sprouts thinly, then tosses them in olive oil on a super-hot grill and finishes them with garlic and lemon. It’s deviously simple, but superb. Other interesting sides include roasted cauliflower with anchovy cream and capers, snap peas with horseradish and garlic, and “thrice-cooked” fries. It’s those fries that were the only flaw in my otherwise divine meals at The Copper Onion. I just don’t like big, thick, wedge-cut fries, even if they’re cooked three times. You might, however; tastes vary. I’m just a skinny-fry guy.

I love pasta Carbonara, but it’s rarely made in restaurants here the way it ought to be, with a raw egg yolk on top to mix into the warm pasta. The Copper Onion serves the real deal: al dente house-made fettuccine bathed in a creamy sauce with Niman Ranch smoked bacon and raw egg yolk ($9). Another winner is housemade merguez sausage, served atop a vibrant green basil-thyme puree ($8), which I enjoyed with Four Bears Cabernet ($6).

The tombo tuna ($18) entrée is superb: a thick filet of high-quality tombo, rapidly sautéed on a fiery griddle—just to the done side of rare—and served with burnt lemon, kale, julienned Niman Ranch bacon and root veggies. Equally impressive is The Copper Onion’s way with trout. The large, skin-on Utah trout filet is topped with a fascinating and (deliciously) unexpected mélange of grilled lemon, shaved fennel salad, olive tapenade and chili oil ($16)—just killer.

Simply put, restaurants like The Copper Onion remind me how much I love my job.

111 E. Broadway


Ted Scheffler:

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Post a comment
Posted // March 12,2010 at 12:55

Ted, loved your review and agree with everything you said, as a 3x diner at The Copper Onion. Love the lamb, love the chick peas, love the steak, love the mussels. love the pork belly, love the brussel sprouts, love the black beans even.

However, we sadly disagree on the fries. I am a devotee of the fat fry and have searched far and wide for that perfect blend of crispiness and potato fluffiness. TCO's fries provide both and I find it hard not to moan while eating them.

I'm working my way toward an honorary seat at the bar, and loving every bite.


Posted // March 12,2010 at 18:05 - Like I said, I'm just a skinny fry guy. I hold no grudges against lovers of the fat fry.


Posted // March 11,2010 at 15:43

This article sounded so fantastic; I quickly checked the menu on the restaurant's website. There are zero vegetarian entree options. Even the semi-vegetarian option of pasta has bacon.

In order to be a restaurant worthy of such high praise, they need to serve a few healthy and or vegetarian entree options. I won't feel compelled to visit this new restaurant when so many healthier gourmet options currently exist downtown.


Posted // April 1,2010 at 13:22 - Valerie, you said "In order to be a restaurant worthy of such high praise, they need to serve a few healthy and or vegetarian entree options." If your narrow opinion of "healthy" does not include hand-made, locally sourced food made by people who are passionate about what they do, you need to re-examine your prejudices. A great restaurant is great because there is care and creativity in the food and the atmosphere. A great restaurant is great because of the time, attention and love of the owners and staff. Greatness is created out of the best ingredients and great skill. Vegan, vegetarian, omnivorous, carnivorous, insectivorous, whatever -use any category or label you wish, but none of these adjectives speak to the quality of the restaurant. You never hear people remarking about how a vegan joint would be great if they only had pork on the menu: "you know what this tempeh needs? -roasted beef marrow!" Unless you are in elementary school, shouting out "yucky!!!" when people mention foods you don't care to eat is considered bad form, even on the internets.


Posted // March 30,2010 at 21:23 - I had dinner tonight at the Copper Onion. I am a vegetarian, and found the menu to be limited, but enjoyed 2 sides - potatoes and brussel sprouts - very well prepared and quite tasty. I would like to see another option rather than pasta, and a vegetarian soup would be nice. Amazing service and nice atmosphere.


Posted // March 11,2010 at 19:20 - I'm a vegetarian and I've been into the Copper Onion several times. I know it looks like the entree selection isn't very veggie friendly, but I've had the carbonara with no bacon and they've made me a veggie pasta before (which was delicious!). A lot of the 'plates' on the menu are vegetarian too--the dumplings, the mushroom dish, and a few salads to choose from as well. I usually go for a smaller plate and a board of three sides, all of which are vegetarian and leave me feeling totally full!


Posted // March 10,2010 at 13:55

Ted - what a well done review. Nice! And I can't wait to try the Copper Onion!