Park Cafe, The
604 E. 1300 South, Salt Lake City ; 801-487-1670
Regulars crowd this neighborhood cafe for straightforward, ample breakfasts, brunch and lunch items.
Cuisine: Cafe, American
Hours: Daily, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
Corkage: $ 0
Reservations: Not accepted/necessary
Recommended Dishes: French toast foolishness, omelets, Michigan hash, patty melts.
September 8, 2010
Re-energized Park Cafe serves Salt Lake City’s breakfast club
By Vanessa Chang
The herd mentality makes even the hungriest of beasts — homo sapiens, for instance — well-mannered, patient creatures. That is most easily observed at restaurants habitually crowded with regulars and acolytes. They jostle for parking, find the all-knowing leader with the clipboard, give their vitals, and leave with a vague timeframe and the promise of a hearty meal.
I’ve witnessed normally impatient personalities smile happily and step back out onto the curb among the throngs and wait anywhere from 20, 30, even 45 minutes for a table. For some reason, this routine is acceptable when it comes to the weekend brunch ritual. It’s almost a given, especially if the place is good.
The only instance where the ritual didn’t go according to plan was when the diner was severely lacking his morning caffeine. His grumpiness spread like a virus in the sunny waiting area.
If this person had been waiting at the Park Café, just south of Liberty Park, they would’ve had the caffeine at a moment’s notice from an urn placed prominently by the door. I assumed it was for the staff to refill diners’ mugs, but when I noticed a table-less patron help himself to a refill, I recognized it as a genius anger management tool for potential Sunday morning mobs.
The Park Café has undergone many alterations under various owners, while the current offering presents its best face yet. The small and sunny restaurant doesn’t overhype or overpromise. In fact, it’s actually loyal regulars with hyperbolic word-of-mouth or online endorsements that take it a bit far. Still, the venue satisfies with straightforward breakfast and lunch options, quick-paced service, and a revamped ambience that allows diners to take in the sun and a bit of vibrant local art.
By far, the café is most crowded on weekends for breakfast and brunch. If you want to experience quieter charms, head over during weekday lunch times. No crowds, same quick service, and the same menu. Yes, the café serves breakfast until closing at 3 p.m.
It would be a shame to miss the burgers ($4.95 to $5.95) and patty melt ($5.75), though. Both feature one-half pound ground sirloin. The bacon burger is less greasy than others in town, but it’s a huge undertaking. If you order mushrooms (50 cents) with it, be warned: They will tumble out. The patty melt’s square pieces of toasted rye can barely contain the beef and cheese and mushrooms. It makes for a decadent, if fairly grotesque, midday meal. More genteel diners can always opt for a turkey sandwich.
Park Café’s crowds know a good thing — breakfast is the short menu’s strength, and Park Potatoes ($2.25 as a side) are the starchy bedrock. This house specialty comes heaped on the plate, the potatoes steamed, bronzed and well-seasoned. It’s the sort of food people desire when they are famished or hung-over. As a component to Michigan Hash ($6.75), it adds bulk to sausage, onions, mushrooms and peppers. The final accessories are the tangle of melting cheddar and a side of eggs. For anyone who likes taking food home in a doggie-bag, this is a good dish to re-heat later.
Within minutes of ordering, pancakes and omelets arrive on overflowing plates. The Odelay omelet ($7.25) presents the same mélange as the Michigan hash, only with the potatoes on the side, versus meshed in with the scrambled, formed eggs. The pancakes are standard, and they’re well served when dressed with the squeeze-bottle faux-maple syrup we all grew up with.
For as popular as the venue is, it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. The cafe’s casual vibe is appealing and refreshing, compared to other breakfast temples that seem to revel in rubbing our faces in smug attitude. White walls, big bold pieces of art including side-by-side portraits of Jay-Z and Jimi Hendrix, reflect abundant sunlight.
More problematic is the spacing between tables, which is cozy, to say the least. Servers who look as if they just came from the skate park or Liberty Park’s drum circle do a marvelous job of weaving between folks and keeping water and coffee full.
As a waiting diner, I appreciated their quick pace and turnaround. But a few tables around me weren’t too keen when the tab arrived right after they got their entrees. Truly, though, I’ve never felt rushed. You pay at the counter whenever you’re ready. By the time you turn around, there’s another party sitting at your freshly cleaned-and-set table.
The pace is particularly gratifying when you’re starving. On a recent visit, literally minutes after ordering, the French Toast Foolishness ($7.95) arrived, piping hot. I consider a composition like this an ideal breakfast equilibrium of carbs to fatty proteins. It’s two thick pieces of French toast, flanked with the Park Potatoes and two slabs of darkly cooked bacon. The two eggs cooked your way ensure you stay just shy of the inevitable sugar coma.
Perhaps the “foolish” name comes from the way I felt after finishing the entire plate. But then again, that title could be the feeling I get whenever I decide not to order the dish to start a lazy day.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.
May 27, 2005
By Nancy Hobbs
The little cafe across the street from the south end of Liberty Park has survived for as long as memory serves, but with a seemingly constant rotation of owners and/or concepts. And with each transition, there were new hours and days of operation. Over the years, I've probably gone there two times for every time it's been open, and likely, so have others. You start crossing those places off your mental list of standbys.
The newest owners hope to change that and make the latest rendition of The Park Cafe an "old reliable" for their customers. Based on history, they have the know-how to pull it off.
One of the partners is Sue Schwieger, owner of the venerable Over-the-Counter Cafe in Millcreek for almost two decades. She sold that cafe to some employees/friends several years ago, according to her nephew and partner, Sean Miller, and started looking for something closer to the heart of Salt Lake City.
The duo bought The Park Cafe a little more than a year ago, remodeled the interior (again) and set out to take it back to its roots as a mom-and-pop diner serving hearty breakfasts and simple lunches.
Much of the menu -- always in front of you, pressed between the tablecloth and glass table cover -- is replicated from Over-the-Counter, including the ballyhooed fluffy omelets and mondo half-pound burgers. That's the Schwieger influence, which is proven to bring in the crowds. Miller's influence comes largely with more contemporary frills -- fresh fruit and romaine lettuce salads instead of iceberg -- and his daily presence, running the show with a small staff of young, friendly faces.
"We're kind of a health-conscious greasy spoon," he says, using the term in only the fondest sense, as the kind of place where people gather and visit over hearty grub.
My dining companion and I tried both sides of the menu recently, dropping in for a late breakfast on one of the first warm, sunny days of the season, when several of the the half-dozen patio tables were finally seeing some use.
Inside, we found a comfortable corner table where the banquette intersects along two walls, with a nice view of the park from north-facing windows. We noticed the windows have been sealed shut, probably either for security reasons or to ensure more efficient air conditioning. That's unfortunate, because they are the same type of window we have seen on beachfront cafes that, when opened, allow for pleasant air circulation and a look of leisurely comfort. If I had a vote, it would be to revive their use.
Nonetheless, our main focus was food, and my Michigan hash -- made with the tasty, grilled house breakfast potatoes, sausage, green and red peppers, mushrooms and a topping of melted cheddar cheese and two fried eggs -- was delicious.
Combine it with a couple slices of ordinary toast made extraordinary with a generous slathering of the cafe's frozen strawberry jam, and a never-empty cup of coffee thanks to our attentive server, and it was a nearly perfect breakfast. The ham and cheese omelet also lived up to its billing.
You can go heavy or light on the lunch side of the menu, with a bacon cheeseburger on one end of the spectrum and a generous chef salad layered with meat and cheese over romaine, tomatoes and cucumber slices (half-sizes available) at the other. The deli sandwiches -- ours made with ham -- are simple, but certainly good, with lots of lettuce and fresh tomato.
I couldn't help but notice that another diner's house club looked especially inviting.
As the menu notes, if there's something you would like that's not listed, simply ask and they'll do their best to accommodate. We tested that by asking for an Arnold Palmer -- a mix of iced tea and lemonade -- even though neither item was even listed separately on the menu.
No problem, according to our server, who retreated to the kitchen where we could hear the staff tackle the challenge: "You take this order to my table, I'll be making the lemonade."
I was still feeling a tinge of guilt when our server delivered the drinks, apologizing in advance for the possibility that they were on the sweet side. They were fine, and the extra effort was much appreciated.
It's that kind of service, combined with good food, that fosters loyal customers. It has been working for Miller and Schwieger at The Park Cafe for more than a year now, and they claim to be in it for the long haul -- with history as their guide.