204 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City ; 801-355-8518
A remodel and menu tweaks make this well-established family Italian restaurant even better.
Hours: M-Th, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; F, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; S, 4:30-11 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Recommended Dishes: Wild-mushroom risotto cakes, lasagna, veal piccata, chocolate cake
April 11, 2007
Genial mood, culinary tweaks refine downtown's old faithful
By Anne Wilson
For those of you who mourn the passing of the original Junior's Tavern, I feel your pain.
That dim, beer-infused jazz joint on Salt Lake City's 500 South represented a vanishing breed of neighborhood taverns where everybody knows your name.
But there could be no better epilogue to what once was Junior's (relocated to 30 E. 300 South) than what it has become -- a beautiful extension of the venerable Cannella's, another long-time, locally owned establishment that has undergone some changes since The Tribune's last review in early 2003.
When we last left Joe and Missy Cannella and the rest of the crew, they were serving legions of loyal customers in one cozy room crowded with tables. Now, a piece of brick wall between restaurant and bar is gone and Cannella's flows west into a serene space with creamy walls, booths built of dark wood and hanging lamps that cast an amber glow.
The bar in the corner is fully stocked, because Cannella's now has a full-service liquor license and a wine list that includes a selection of "interesting" (their word, and it's true) Italian selections. For an eatery with an Italian-themed menu, that is a long overdue upgrade.
Along with better beverages, Cannella's has a new chef in Dave Sonkens, who studied at the Culinary Institute of America and has made "major tweaks" to the menu, according to the owners. One of them is more small plate items, like Sonkens' risotto cakes ($7), a blend of arborio rice and wild mushrooms enlivened with the tang of Asiago and Parmesan cheeses. A host of traditional appetizers join the cakes, including roasted garlic with purchased foccacia ($4), bruschetta ($6), steamed clams ($12) and a grilled portobello mushroom, topped with fresh crabmeat and perched in a pool of sweet/tart butter sauce that made us long for a spoon ($12). It looked as good as it tasted: Sonkens, it seems, has a good eye for presentation. A special of crab cakes came in a triad, richly brown and firm, again in the citrus butter sauce. The crab was fresh, but there could have been more of it, to give the cakes a softer texture.
The dinner menu offers salads ranging from house greens to a meaty Italian version ($7-$9); the Italian sausage and house-made meatball sandwiches which have long been mainstays at lunch ($9-$10); and traditional pastas, from spaghetti with meatball ($11) to the house specialty, a loosely-constructed five-layer lasagna ($14). The latter is a generous portion and full-flavored, with fresh green spinach adding punch to a rich red sauce flecked with cheese.
Entrees run the price gamut from a grilled portobello layered with vegetables and served with a balsamic-glazed potato cake ($14) to a New York strip steak dressed with pesto butter and served with penne and sautéed veggies ($21).
In the middle is a grilled salmon lapped with piquant sun-dried tomato cream sauce, cooked a bit firmer than I like but not to the point of dry ($18). The best part: It comes with that lovely risotto cake. Veal piccata was also a hearty portion, placed atop linguine with a caper-studded sauce infused with lemon and flecked with dollops of tart goat cheese ($19). The meat could have been more tender, but the flavor was first-rate.
Entrees come with a salad that hasn't been tweaked and was the meal's one weakness -- a plate of iceberg lettuce, none too crisp, studded with a few kidney beans and strips of yellow pepper, overburdened with dressing and cheese. It isn't appealing, either visually or nutritionally, and should be scrapped in favor of a more vibrant mix of greens with a lighter dressing.
Finishing the meal involves choosing from half a dozen desserts (all $6). We tried the incredibly rich house-made chocolate cake that gets its moist texture from beets ($6) and is large enough to share among four people, and a crème brulée infused with espresso, a different and delicious take on a classic. There's also house-made tiramisu and key lime pie, as well as two cheesecake varieties made by a local baker.
Service was casual but friendly and efficient, and the food came out of the kitchen at an appropriate pace.
The lunch menu is loaded with sandwiches and salads (about a dozen each, from $6.50 to $8), plus daily specials ($6.50) that range from a French dip sandwich to clam linguine and include salad, plus garlic bread if the entree is pasta.
Cannella's has become a downtown institution after nearly 30 years in business, not only because the food is reliable and reasonably priced, but it's still the kind of place where at least the owners know your name if you're a regular.
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.
February 14, 2003
At Cannella's, Quality Has Been Its Bond for Nearly 25 Years
By Nancy Hobbs
If a restaurant survives consumer whims, business trends and roller-coaster economies for more than a couple of decades, it becomes an institution, a place where loyal customers find comfort and new customers are influenced by its staying power.
In Salt Lake City, restaurants that have attained "institutional" status would certainly include Lamb's, a landmark on Main Street for 84 years; Little America's Coffee Shop, which has been part of the hotel's tower for 26 years, but served diners for several previous decades in the same spot; and the New Yorker, which many credit with jump-starting the Wasatch Front's entree into the "fine dining" arena a quarter of a century ago.
Less well-known, but just as venerable, is Cannella's, a small Italian eatery crowded at lunchtime with school board and library employees, attorneys and judges, and diners who carpool from distant offices for a tasty, reasonably priced meal.
Joe Cannella, who also owns Dewey's Bail Bonds a couple of doors to the east, opened the restaurant 25 years ago next May. From the start, its exterior has beckoned with green cloth awnings striped in red and white, suggestive of the Italian flag that forms a background for Cannella's sign. The decor is modern and casual -- tile-topped tables and walls hung with local artists' work, available for purchase.
There aren't many tables, however: The place seats only four dozen. During the noon hour (weekdays only), seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, but turnover is quick and most diners at larger tables don't mind sharing the extra space, if necessary. Customers order and pay at the counter, then find a seat where the meals are promptly delivered.
The fare is basic Italian, from minestrone to lasagna, with nothing too fancy and no surprises. An order of cappelini, with either marinara or garlic butter sauce, is served with a large, delicious meatball or, for a little more, a spicy Italian sausage made by Colosimo Market in Magna -- another food institution.
At lunch, the pasta of choice (besides cappelini, there is spaghetti, rigatoni, manicotti or lasagna) is served with a generous salad and slice of garlic bread for $6.50 to $7.50.
The lunch menu also offers sandwiches, from a tasty meatball or sausage version ($6.50 and $7, respectively) to a cheeseburger, reuben or turkey, all $6.25 with salad and garlic bread. Six-dollar lunch specials are offered daily, generally a choice of pasta dish or sandwich.
Also popular is Cannella's pasta salad with Italian sausage ($7), easily a meal and a half. If the staff -- many of whom are family members, including cashier and co-owner Missy Cannella -- are doing several things at once, as they often seem to be, help yourself to one of the take-home boxes on the counter.
Dinner, served only Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, is more leisurely and generally not as crowded. The menu changes quite a bit, with only a few sandwiches, including the meatball and sausage, all of the pastas, and "specialties" that include chicken parmesan ($11) or a choice New York steak ($14). Most nights there also is a fish special, the choice of many Cannella's regulars.
Cannella's homemade dessert specialty is dark, moist and delicious chocolate beet cake ($3.50). The restaurant also usually has at least one kind of cheesecake, and sometimes tiramisu, all made in-house.
Because Cannella's was always across the street from Salt Lake City's Main Library, a liquor license has been out of the question. With the library's move further north, it is now more than the state's required 600-foot distance for serving alcohol, so Cannella said he has applied for a license to serve beer and wine.
Until then, he still is in the vice business with an espresso bar that gets things rolling at the cafe every weekday morning. That enterprise might face some competition from the new library's coffee bar, but still the close proximity of the grand edifice, which Cannella toured on opening day and says is "absolutely incredible," will undoubtedly keep his bookish regulars, and then some, visiting for lunch and dinner.