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Food & Drink Blog

SL Mag Dining Awards: Post Mortem

by Ted Scheffler
- Posted // 2011-02-23 -

Last night, at the U. of U. Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake Magazine held what the organizers not-so-humbly call "the Academy Awards of Utah dining," the magazine's annual dining awards. The evening began with a bang - or at least, a pop from Champagne bottles - with good food and drink supplied by Libation, Inc, Southern-Odom Spirits West, Bohemian Brewery, Nicholas & Co. and Cuisine Unlimited. One of the highlights was Cuisine Unlimited's lobster corn dogs paired with mini-pils glasses of Bohemian Czech Pilsner. 

Things took a turn for the clunky, however, when the crowd - mostly restauratuers - were stripped of their food and booze and ushered into the Museum's auditorium for the award presentations, hosted primarily by SL Mag editor Jeremy Pugh and the dining award panelist/judges: food writer Virginia Rainey, Downtown Alliance Director Jason Mathis and wine educator James Santangelo. Gone, but fondly missed, are the days when a tipsy Randall Carlisle used to emcee the event, which sometimes teetered on disaster but was aways entertaining, which this event wasn't. The evening began with magazine publisher (who seemed like she didn't really want to be there) Margaret Mary Shuff feeling it necessary to assure attendees that the awards are not influenced by advertisers. (A quick tally of my own indicates that of the 31 award-winning restaurants only 13 have advertisements in the current issue of Salt Lake Magazine.

In full disclosure, I should note that for a number of years I was one of the dining award judges, until I finally had enough of the in-fighting and twisted logic behind some of the awards and excused myself, permanently. Still, the folks at SL Mag, for some reason, courteously invite me to the awards event.

There weren't a lot of surprises last night. Squatters was inducted into the magazine's dining "Hall of Fame," which really means that like co-Hall of Famers Red Iguana, Log Haven and Cucina Toscana, they'd won so many awards in their category that they were retired to allow others to have a shot. In fairness, we have a similar situation with City Weekly's Best of Utah competition. Takashi Gibo was given a Lifetime Achievement Award, even though his restaurant has only been around for seven years and he's a mere 35. 

There were a handful of head-scratchers, however, such as Bountiful's Sego Lily Cafe being awarded Best Salt Lake City Brunch - huh? Next year, the panelists might want to consult a map. Eric DeBonis' Sea Salt received the Best Italian restaurant award although it's only been in business for a few months. Kathmandu won the Best Indian restaurant award and Downtown Alliance member Ekamai Thai somehow came out on top as Utah's best Southeast Asian restaurant, even though it's primarily a fast-food, quick service Thai eatery with a very limited menu. This, in a town brimming with great, full-service Thai restaurants. How in the world did that happen? Oh, and Log Haven's Ian Campbell won an unprecedented second Golden Spoon Award for service, the organizers failing to remember that when I was still a panelist we bestowed the first Golden Spoon Award on Campbell, seven years ago. Or, maybe they were just aware that someone actually filched Campbell's award from the restaurant last year and decided to replace it. 

There were a couple of nice surprises, such as the award for Best Wine List going to Alta's Shallow Shaft and wine manager Peri Ermidis; Zucca Trattoria winning Best Restaurant for Ogden & Northern Utah; John Murko of Park City's Talisker on Main winning the Best Chef award; Tulie coming out on top for Best Bakery; and J. Wong's Asian Bistro garnering the Best Chinese restaurant honors.

Now, a reminder: City Weekly's Best of Utah - where readers, not judges, decide who's best - is just around the corner, so be sure to get out and vote! 

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Post a comment
Posted // February 25,2011 at 12:10

Come on Ted, there is room for both Salt Lake Magazine and City Weekly dining awards in this State. Your critique sounds like sour grapes and as though you are trying to make the case that Salt Lake Magazine dining awards fell apart after you left. Perhaps you were not meaning to sound that way, but that is how you come off. I am a fan of City Weekly and Salt Lake Magazine and I have friends who work for both publications. A word of advice from one of your fans, take the high road and look to improve your Dining awards through greater realiability, creativity and marketing...not by trying to tear down another publication.


Posted // February 23,2011 at 12:58

Hey Ted—a couple of clarifications:

We limit the reception and the presentations because otherwise the evening lasts too long, a problem for a lot of folks on a Tuesday night.

"Bests" are always subjective, just like everything about matters of taste. That's why I invite a panel of pros to help me out. We do a readers' choice, too—it will be in the magazine—but we find that the results aren't always helpful to our readers because of lots of enthusiastic ballot-stuffing (we got votes for Wild Grape as Best Mexican restaurant) and because restaurants like Olive Garden are likely to come out on top.

Finally, we invite you because we care about your opinion, and you are a big part of the dining community.

So, thanks for coming. mm


Posted // February 23,2011 at 12:40 Awarding brand-new restaurants the "Best" in almost any category is silly and from a consumer standpoint, misleading and suspicious as hell. I mean, if it's the ONLY African Fried Beetle Wrap drive-through in the state,then perhaps, if the judges and editorial board are absolutely bored to tears, they could award it the "Best African Fried Beetle Wrap" drive-thru." Beyond that, it's a very thinly-veiled pay-as-you-go scheme. And from what I can glean from the environment at SL Magazine, Margaret Mary Shuff probably didn't want to be there. She's not a very nice lady, according to my contact. Did you notice, Ted, how Jeremy Pugh is the only token male working there who's higher up than a staff graphic artist? I fear they have taken a glossy, full color luxury-lifestyle magazine and turned it into a whiny, bitchy women's magazine. Thumb through the latest issue. It's a woman's magazine by women. Articles, ads, general editorial personality.


Posted // February 23,2011 at 11:45

I have to pull you up on Kathmandu, Ted. Over the last year they have really got things running great in my very humble opinion. We've had some really great meals there, and they are worthy winners of best Indian restaurant in my book.

I can't wait to see this years City Weekly awards, always a great read.


Posted // February 23,2011 at 12:45 - Fair point Ted. Hopefully one day we will have so many great restaurants we could viably support a best Nepalese category too :) --


Posted // February 23,2011 at 12:25 - Stu: I don't really have any issue with Kathmandu winning. They do a great job. I just thought with so many dedicated Indian restaurants around that it was a bit odd for a Nepali-Indian eatery to win.