249 East 400 South, Salt Lake City
Monday–Wednesday, 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Thursday–Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Sunday, 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

After over a decade of providing gourmet thin-crust pizzas and pastas in their second floor digs overlooking the Salt Lake Public Library on 400 South, Stoneground is unveiling a new face to the world—and looking up to the sky.

In the first of a multi-phase renovation, owners Bob McCarthy and Marsha Merrill have spruced up the main dining area, replacing some of the previous dark and heaviness with a warmer and more rustic look while keeping the stone wall that inspired the restaurant’s name. New, rough-hewn wooden tables still keep watch over the bustling TRAX line below through huge windows—McCarthy says he may even open up a small balcony off the main dining area over 400 South, if the city allows it. The dining area is engaging and warm, family-friendly yet spirited. Local art hangs over each table and along the hallway, along with bits of world décor and cute, little succulent plants. (Perhaps my favorite touch was the hilariously worded sign in the elevator discouraging folks from putting the weight limit to the test. Whoever wrote that sign is a genius.)

The big reveal of the evening was the new open-air deck at the back of the restaurant. There’s not much of a view out that way, just the free parking (which is an awful nice perk in that area of Downtown), so they’ve instead made the deck itself picturesque. High walls of rough-hewn, dark wood keep you looking up at the sky instead of down at the parking lot. Even quainter and more appealing is how they’ve brought the outdoors inside: a long, communal table in the middle of the deck features a rock garden down its center, with cute, purple flowers growing right in the middle. Two small maple trees have their own planters at the corners. The result is a slightly Asian feel—still rustic, but simple and uncluttered and perfectly balanced.

Chef de Cuisine, Liz Guerra (who has stepped up from her place on the line at the Copper Onion where I first met her, and who has been working at McCarthy and Merrill’s other venture, The Garage on Beck Street), has designed new dishes in keeping with McCarthy’s goal of a generally hearty Italian selection. When I asked if there was any particular area of Italian cuisine where he planned to focus, McCarthy explained that while his family roots are in Southern Italy, he has no direct connection—he, his parents, even his grandparents are all American. “It’s New York–style Italian,” he finally declares.

During the event I attended, the food was as delicious as it is every other time I’ve been to the restaurant. The unpretentious Linguine Bolognese was my date’s favorite, with crumbles of braised beef, veal and pork, studded with full-flavored rips of tomatoes, ricotta and basil ($18) over thin pasta. I was similarly thrilled with the Prince Edward Island Mussels ($12) swimming in a broth of roasted fennel and tomatoes with chorizo.

While I’m no fan of beets, I had to admit that the marinated beet salad ($10) was tasty—the bitter arugula was an excellent counter to the sweet beets and the tart goat cheese, while the pistachio vinaigrette topped it off nicely. The watermelon salad was a light, crunchy and delightful affair, and I hope it shows up on the menu. I enjoyed the cups of gazpacho as well—the cool, refreshing soup of spicy tomato with a dollop of avocado and cream in the center was just what I wanted on a hot evening.

The famous Stoneground thin-crust pizzas are here to stay as well. Our selection of pizzas didn’t have names attached, but I’m sure there was a forest mushroom pizza and another must have been a classic Margherita with slices of ruby-red balsamic tomatoes and fresh cheese. There was at least one more type in there as well. All were perfect combinations of spicy sauce, sweet, thin crust and super fresh toppings.

Back on the deck, my date and I savored the perfectly creamy chocolate and coffee flavors of Stoneground’s famous tiramisu ($7) and hot, cinnamon-coated fried apple fritters ($5). As the sun set, a server pulled back the retractable canvas shades, and the crowd of Salt Lake restaurant folks and other gorgeous people all rocked back to take in the darkening sky and cooling breezes while they sipped wine.

McCarthy’s menu will be taking advantage of the fantastic local produce available at the Famers Market during the summer. If the farm-to-plate model is one that inspires your palate, don’t hesitate to check out Stoneground while the summer produce is on the menu. I’ll see you there sipping a drink and watching the stars come out over Salt Lake’s newest and coolest deck.