The Copper Onion: Dinner at a Friend’s House

Photo: Barrett Doran

111 E. Broadway
Ste. 170
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Sat.-Sun.  10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Mon.- Fri. 11:30 a.m.-– 3 p.m.
Sun.-Thurs. 4 p.m.-10 p.m.
Fri.-Sat. 4 p.m.-11 p.m.
Afternoon Menu
7 days a week 3 p.m.-4 p.m.
T: 801.355.3282

I live downtown, I’m an urbanist, and if New York can’t be had, a similar set of cultural high notes certainly can be. I put on some good-looking shoes and walk to a bar for a drink, in my case, Junior’s Tavern, where I order a dirty gin martini with Bombay. Then I walk less than a block east to The Broadway Theatre, where, if there’s time, my friend and I will see a film after we eat at The Copper Onion, which sits directly in front and beside the cinema. It is, for me, one of Salt Lake’s no-brainer evenings.

If I had to eat out every day, and could only pick one place in town to eat at, it would be The Copper Onion. No doubt. Though, The New Yorker or Tin Angel would also fit the bill ... if there were no Copper Onion. The Copper Onion’s food flies against the wind of contemporary dining—it is simple, serious and from scratch. While one could complain that it is almost sentimentally traditional—think homemade fruit cream pies and hand-minced meat loaf—it’s tradition from a time passed and a place gone. I feel less like I am in a restaurant, and more that I am at a friend’s house, and they really know how to cook the hell out of cooking.

There is a sense of intimacy that this restaurant provides, which dark tables and lots of wine can only imitate, though a lot of wine is no bad idea. The wine list here is simple enough, and the servers know the stuff soup to nuts, never just pushing the priciest sip, but the one that they think will be just right. Priced between six and 11 dollars, a glass of wine is dead on target, but if you have friends to share it with, a bottle is always better—and cheaper—by the drink.

If you are alone, eat at the bar—it’s the best seat in the house. The chef and crew don’t put on a show for you: They perform a craft that has the beauty of labor and the grace of intelligence highlighting its ongoing event. They are focused and as one. It is a thing of beauty to see just how simple great cooking can be, and here it can be seen.

There are four different menus at The Copper Onion: brunch, lunch, late afternoon and dinner. The brunch is one of downtown’s best, if for no other reason than it is served on Saturday and Sunday. The Bloody Marys (5.00) are just fine, and until recently, the Huevos Rancheros (9.00) had pork belly in them, which was wonderful and memorable, though now they are using pulled pork, which is delicious, too, but not as special. They are nonetheless my current favorite version of this great meal. The Frittata (7.00) is excellent, as one might expect, with a particularly creamy finish and the lingering taste of sharp cheese and garlic. The French Toast (8.00), too, will impress enough that you will tell your co-worker about it on Monday.

Lunch here is, as it is the case with most restaurants, an abbreviated and economical version of dinner. It is the one meal that seems a little pro forma, if you will, which is too bad, because everything else here seems so meditated. I would love to see some farm-style noon food done with high-end grace—a casserole, or an imaginative cheese sandwich with soup, or a roasted chicken with vegetables. The Copper Onion Burger (11.00) is a great hamburger for the same price as the so-so hamburgers in other sit-down joints downtown. The Meatloaf (9.00 for lunch, 17.00 for dinner) features lamb, beef and pork, all locally sourced and ground for this particular meal. It has a particularity of texture and breadth of flavor not often found in my meatloaf-loving world.

All the dinner entrees come with some small side, but it is worth your time to try a small plate or two before your entree. The house pickles (3.00) are salty and snappy. The Pleasant Creek Ranch Waygu Bone Marrow (12.00) is here for your inner foodie to take home a new experience. Served with a baguette, it is a must-try if you haven’t. The Romaine Salad (8.00) is a sexy and well thought-out Ceasar salad. The Pork Belly Salad (11.00) … Is it Turkish in inspiration? Or is it Deep South? It is a go-to, wherever it comes from.

The Waygu Stroganoff (19.00) is one of my favorite meals ever. It’s platonic in its greatness, but expensive, considering how hungry I feel seconds after I get done with it. The Ricotta Dumplings (9.00) are strictly three par golf, and, though tasty enough, there just isn’t enough there for my fat American appetite. The Lamb Shank (18.00) is always good, but not always available—get it if you see it. The Clear Springs Farm Trout Filet (17.00) is a locally sourced fish served with skill and panache. Trout bores me, but this here is some fine water steak.
For goodness sakes, order dessert. It’s house-made, and it’s really good. I have been ordering the various scratch cream pies (7.00) during these review meals. Dessert is an expenditure I generally avoid at restaurants because most serve industrial product, plastic  crap. These guys don’t.

For the past year or so, dining at this trendy, hipster-sharp but friendly cafe has provided me with a number of transcendental experiences both in food and society. I will be reconsidering my several dinners here with a warm, if intoxicated, memory and fondness for years to come, and, though they will not fill my body with calories, these memories will fill my soul with some sense that I have lived well and beautifully.

Photo: Barrett Doran