Recession? What recession? Those who dine out frequently might be hard-pressed to provide evidence of an economic downturn. Sure, restaurateurs and customers both are belt-tightening, and many eateries are slinking by on the skinniest of margins. But I will remember 2009 for its optimists, those brave souls who decided—yes, in the midst of a recession—to buck the odds and open new restaurants.
I’d also like to tip my hat to each and every not-so-new restaurant that thrived (or at least, survived) in 2009. Some, such as The Paris, Tiburon and Acme Burger Company celebrated milestone anniversaries in ’09. Others just continued to do what they do year in and year out: please our palates.
This year was an exciting time for anyone who loves restaurant food. So here’s a look back at some of the noteworthy highlights from 2009.
While downtown Salt Lake City was abuzz with new eateries in 2009, not all of the tasty stuff happened there. Two notable restaurants opened in Davis County, for example. Taste of India (1664 N. Woodland Park Drive, Layton 801-280-5459) raised the stakes for Utah’s Indian cuisine with handcrafted dishes that went far beyond the standard fare offered by so many of its competitors. I’ve never tasted better chicken tikka masala anywhere. Meanwhile, Caffe Molise’s Fred Moesinger took a trip to Bountiful and opened Sego Lily Café (305 N. Main, 801-294-3327) in a beautiful old brick house, complete with a rooftop smoker. Specialties like ground sirloin meatloaf with house-smoked apple barbecue sauce and the stick-to-your-ribs pot roast make a trip to Bountiful not an option, but a necessity.
Across from Pioneer Park, Pierre Vandamme brought a bit of Brussels to Zion when he opened Bruges Waffles & Frites (336 W. Broadway, 801-363-4444). At Bruges, you’ll find authentic gaufres (Belgian waffles) along with equally authentic Belgian frites and a new power lunch item called the Machine Gun sandwich (mitraillette). A couple blocks away, J. Wong’s Asian Bistro (163 W. 200 South, 801-350-0888) opened in the Patrick Lofts building, adding a sleek, contemporary, stylish pan-Asian eatery to the downtown dining scene. Thankfully, the food at J. Wong’s lives up to the décor. The walnut shrimp might just change your life.
With the opening of Eva (317 S. Main, 801-359-8447), I actually began believing the propaganda about “downtown rising.” Serving wallet-friendly tapas-style dishes, Chuck Perry’s stylishly simple restaurant hits all the right notes: It’s friendly and informal, but the flavors at Eva are big and bold. The best brussels sprouts I’ve ever tasted are Perry’s: thinly shaved, flash-sautéed in lots of butter and tossed with cider vinegar and toasted hazelnuts. Down Main Street a couple of blocks, Bayleaf Café (159 S. Main, 801-359-8490) opened after what seemed like a decade of renovation, bringing an eclectic mix of Southern cooking and Asian cuisine to downtown Salt Lake. Where else are cheese grits and blackened catfish on the same menu as chicken adobo and bulgogi? Next door, Vasuvio’s Organic Gourmet Café (155 S. Main, 801-596-2052) specializes in healthy, convenient, Earthfriendly organic fare—even an organic peanut butter and jelly sandwich for kids. And next door to that, Braza Express (147 S. Main, 801-359-8009) opened in November, offering downtown diners a fast-food version of a Brazilian churrascaria, a must for carnivores looking for a quick meat fix. Just across the street, Del Vance’s Beerhive Pub (128 S. Main, 801-364-4268) is a new gathering spot for aficionados of beer and food, because we’re not talking about standard pub fare here. The Beerhive serves Austrian-inspired cuisine from the adjoining Vienna Bistro, meaning you can enjoy wiener schnitzel or a killer Reuben sandwich whilst sipping your suds.
The more things change, the more they remain the same, as evidenced by the hoard of old-fashioned burger joints that opened in 2009. The past year brought Five Guys Burgers & Fries (multiple locations) to Utah, along with Salt City Burger Co. (9176 Village Shop Drive, Sandy, 801- 495-4111), Smashburger (multiple locations), Tonyburgers (331 Parrish Lane, Centerville, 801-298-364) and, of course, the much-anticipated opening of In-N-Out Burger locations (three of them!) in the Salt Lake Valley. Down in Lindon, Marley’s Gourmet Sliders (555 S. Geneva Rd, 801- 229-2469) opened inside the Timpanogos Harley-Davidson. Meanwhile, The Counter Custom Burgers at The Gateway both came and went in 2009. And, in the final inning of 2009, Rich Shellene moved from the sidewalks of Main Street into the spot that formerly housed Esther’s and opened Rich’s Mighty Fine Burgers & Grub (30 E. Broadway, 801-355-0667). At Rich’s, you’ll find bodacious burgers such as Rich’s green chile cheeseburger and the blue cheese crumble bacon burger. They’re certainly the messiest burgers in town!
The year of 2009 was a banner one for fans of creative cuisine, with the opening of new restaurants such as Scott Evans’ Pago (878 S. 900 East, 801-532-0777), Bowman Brown and Viet Pham’s Forage (370 E. 900 South, 801-708-7834), Tipica at Caputo’s (314 W. 300 South, 801-328-0222) with chef Adam Kreisel at the helm, Sapa Sushi Bar & Asian Grill (722 S. State, 801- 363-7272), Kimi’s Mountainside Bistro (801-536-5787) at Solitude Mountain Resort, Spruce (435-647-5566) in The Canyons’ Dakota Mountain Lodge and, finally, Jean- Georges Vongerichten’s J&G Grill in the St. Regis Deer Crest Resort (435-940-5760). The year gave birth to many other Utah restaurants—more than I have room to list here. If even half as many new and exciting eateries come forth in 2010, it promises to be a delicious year ahead.