Black Widow Café
837 East 2100 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84106
Open Mon. – Sat.
9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
I must have driven past this place a dozen times before I noticed it. Located right in the heart of Sugarhouse, the Black Widow’s scant, xeriscaped storefront does little to attract prey. Much like a fly stuck to a spider web, once you find the place, you won’t get away easily. Thankfully for us, the trap they’ve laid is a culinary combination of quality and affordability, cleverly disguised as an eclectic café.
I have visited the Black Widow Café several times for lunch and it has always been the right choice. I’ve seen the place completely empty and completely packed, and in both cases, the service has been good and the food has been quickly cooked to order. Their strengths are their soups and sandwiches. Co-owners and chefs John Prescott and Kevin Murphy make everything in-house, and I do mean everything. The soups are prepared fresh daily and are hard to pass up, even in the middle of summer. The selection of soups varies from day to day, but the one consistently featured is the New England Clam Chowder ($5). I don’t even like clam chowder, but I can’t get enough of this stuff. It is velvety smooth and packed with tender potatoes and bits of flavorful clams. The process of making the chowder, and even the types of clams used, is a closely guarded secret. I was able to uncover that it is an old family recipe passed down from one of the chef’s grandmothers, but my server wouldn’t tell me anything else—and rightly so. This is one recipe that deserves to be kept under lock and key.
Along with a bowl of soup, I usually get a sandwich. My absolute favorite is Kevin’s Cuban ($8), a sandwich that marries so many flavors together that it’s difficult to know where to begin. The star of the dish is a mound of house-smoked shredded pork. This is topped with slices of ham that are roasted in-house. This double pig punch is held together with Swiss cheese, a tangy chipotle sauce and a pile of homemade pickles that are a bit too spicy for me on their own, but that work well on the ensemble sandwich. All of this is pressed together on the cook top between two slices of golden focaccia bread. Try as I might, I’ve never been able to eat an entire Cuban in one sitting. Still, this is the perfect comfort food—smoky, bursting with flavor and easy to share. It makes me think that Fidel Castro can’t be all that bad of a guy. Like all sandwiches on the menu, it is served with your choice of fresh salad or house potatoes, or skip the side altogether and add a bowl of soup for $2 more.
Another great choice at the Black Widow is the Marinated Steak Tip Sandwich ($9). This one features the café’s signature tri-tip steak, cut into bite-size pieces and marinated in a sweet and savory sauce. The steak tips are cooked medium and are served on a soft baguette with grilled onions and peppers, a garlicky spread and two kinds of cheese. The steak itself is so tender that it melts in your mouth, and the richness imparted by the marinade pairs well with the mellow flavors of the grilled veggies. This sandwich goes particularly well with the house potatoes, a sort of home fries that are heavily seasoned and grilled on the cook top. No one will tell me exactly what goes into the spice blend they sprinkle on the potatoes, but if I had to guess, I’d say rosemary, black pepper and coarse salt all make an appearance. They dress the potatoes up a bit by serving them with homemade ketchup—a clove infused, smooth and sweet tomato dip. If it’s just the steak tips you’re after, they offer a generous portion as an entrée, served with sautéed vegetables, for $18. They will also sell them packed in the marinade if you want to make Black Widow steak tips a part of your summer barbeque.
This is just the tip of the eating experience available at the Black Widow. They also do a Grilled Cheese and Marinated Vegetables ($7) sandwich that melts together local Beehive cheddar, Swiss and smoked provolone, and couples it with marinated veggies. It is especially good when it’s done with the crisp-grilled house-made focaccia. I have also heard good things about their ground beef, sausage and jasmine rice stuffed peppers ($12), and have heard that their house blend coffee is the stuff of legend. In short, the place is an incredibly smart lunch destination. The food is creative, fresh and beautifully presented, and the casual and tattoo-friendly setting will make the SLUG reader feel right at home. I can’t wait to go back.