Monday, July 27, 2009

The Park Cafe

Weekend big breakfasts were something that I always looked forward to as a kid. During the week we always ate something quick like cereal or toast – usually on the go on our way to school. But on the weekends my folks would cook up big meals, with multiple meats like sausage and bacon, eggs, and additional items like pancakes or French toast. The tradition of the big breakfast is something that lives on in my own household now; similarly, we seldom get a chance to eat big during the weekday mornings. Usually a cup of coffee, some cereal or yogurt, or a smoothie suffices during the week before work. But on the weekends we continue the tradition of cooking it up big at home usually with French toast, bacon, and hash browns at least one lazy weekend morning. It’s either that or we go to our neighborhood breakfast diner – The Park Café. The Park Café is a restaurant that has been converted from an old house. It is located across the street from Liberty Park (hence the restaurant name – the Park Cafe) and is a breakfast and lunch joint Tuesdays through Sundays. If anything screams “local hangout” this is it. The outside is always packed with people eating at their tables, standing outside waiting for a table, or just people standing around hanging out. The atmosphere is vibrant and alive; you won’t find pretentious attitudes or gourmet nouveau cuisine here – it’s a simple hustle bustle diner, with simple fare - no doubt about it. And that’s this place’s charm.

The breakfast menu at the Park is very simple. They’ve got a number of omelets, typical breakfast items such as French toast and pancakes, sides of breakfast meats, and a number of breakfast specials or combos. My favorite breakfast special is the ‘Michigan Hash’ – house potatoes mixed with sausage, onions, mushrooms, and green peppers topped with cheddar cheese and two eggs, served with toast. It’s huge…it’s filling…and oh so delicious. Are you kidding? It’s like a perfect mix of everything you love about breakfast rolled into a crispy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside type of casserole. It’s a complete savory mindblast. Luckily you can balance out the savory with some sweet with your toast. At the table you’ll also find house made jams – strawberry, apricot, peach - depending upon what’s in season and/or available at the time. With some of this homemade jam slathered on a piece of wheat toast or sourdough, you can round out your breakfast nicely.

If you’re more into a basic breakfast, more like something you might make at home yourself, check out the huge portions of the ‘Double Play’ with meat (either ham, bacon, or sausage), eggs (however you like), and house potatoes served with toast. For sweeter menu items, don’t miss their delectable, thick pieces of French toast or the super fluffy, enormous pancakes. I’ve eaten most things on the menu, including the occasional specials such as chile rellenos or the ‘eutaw omelet’ and everything is great. It’s total diner food to the max. I must say that the breakfast menu is the highlight for me, but they do have a selection of burgers and sandwiches for lunch. But if all else fails for lunch, they do serve breakfast all day.

What I really love about the Park is its homey environment. I always feel welcomed when I come through the door and what I really like is that it’s always really loud and alive inside. It kind of reminds me of my family home growing up; I grew up with a pretty loud, large, extended family. It’s very appropriate that the restaurant is located inside an old converted house. That definitely contributes to the homey feeling you get from the place. Continuing my tradition of big family breakfast feels right at the Park Café. I may not be making the food myself, but I know someone back in the kitchen is putting some love into this food. You can taste it…and it tastes good.

The Park Cafe ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

604 East 1300 South

Co-owners: Sean and Randi


Park Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Located in the trendy, high-end Hotel Monaco, Bambara is a modern fine dining establishment in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. It has a central, open kitchen as well as an adjoining bar that serves gourmet cuisine at a reasonable price. Once you walk into the restaurant it definitely has the feel of a fine dining establishment but with somewhat of a relaxed edge (a very common feel for fine dining places in Salt Lake City). In the same style as the Hotel Monaco itself, Bambara is outfitted with a funky and modern - yet elegant and classy - decor. Bambara has been a long time favorite of mine for over 10 years. And within those 10 years the position of the executive chef who runs the restaurant has changed a few times over - and hence so has the menu to reflect the individual styles and specialties of each head chef. Within the past year, Nathan Powers took the helm and has been acclimating to Bambara. He began by taking over his predecessor’s menu but slowly incorporated snippets of his own over time. The current menu is now his unique creation and it has been exciting to see and taste the development of his own take on what Bambara means.

There is a list of about 5-6 starters that you can begin your meal with. The blue cheese house cut potato chips is a Bambara classic and has been kept on the menu throughout the years regardless of which chef is running the kitchen – they are a Bambara staple. These crispy, savory, and tangy chips are a great way to start the evening. If you’re looking for a heartier appetizer you might try the crispy fried rock shrimp and calamari which offers some kick served with a spicy remoulade. Also on the menu are a variety of salads. Right now it seems like Salt Lake is in love with beets – every restaurant has their version of a summery beet salad these days. Bambara is no exception putting up a roasted baby beet salad served with blood oranges, goat cheese and pistachios. The roasting of the beets brings out the woody beet flavor that is cut with the sweetness and tang of the blood oranges. The goat cheese and pistachios offer some texture with creamy and crunchy side notes. Beets seem to be ‘en vogue’ right now – but if being ‘in style’ means eating this good…I’m happy to jump on the beet bandwagon.

Interestingly, Chef Powers’ menu also offers what are called middles. These are medium portion sized plates such as mussels or pastas like gnocchi that are offered after the salad course. At one point a hand rolled tagliatelle carbonara was offered. The soft, made-from- scratch pasta paired nicely with crispy, salty pork and a creamy, pecorino Romano sauce. However, this item must not have been very popular as it has since been replaced by a similar fresh pasta served with tomatoes and arugula. This is unfortunate because the carbonara was quite delicious and it showcased the Chef’s ability to take a classic Italian dish and put his own unique spin on it. However, the main entrée items do demonstrate the exquisite skill of the Bambara kitchen in executing dishes such as cast iron roasted Colorado bison with pomegranate au jus and Cabernet braised Angus beef short ribs with truffled macaroni and cheese. The maple brined pork porterhouse chops served with apple fennel slaw and calvados cider butter is a very nice dish that highlights a sweet and savory flavor profile. Served with cheesy grits, it is a very hearty main course. The Chef’s signature steak frites (steak with fries) is also a lovely, classic French meal. You have the choice of a flat iron steak or dry aged New York - and your steak is cooked to order, served with crispy herbed fries, a peppercorn jus and béarnaise…a true classic cooked to perfection.

With a long history of fabulous food, Chef Powers had some big shoes to fill indeed. I’m happy to say that he’s been able to fit his unique menu in without losing the spirit of the restaurant I’ve come to know and love over the years. I look forward to many more years of good eats to come.

Bambara ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

Executive Chef Nathan Powers

Executive Sous Chef Brad Murphy

Bambara on Urbanspoon