It’s as simple as this: We ask our readers where the best place is to throw a company event, combine work with pleasure or spend an extended coffee break. We add up the results and pass them back to you. Utah Business magazine’s 2009 corporate cuisine awards, presented by Sysco Intermountain, speak loud and clear about returning to tried and true mainstays—establishments with a history of reliability and excellence—when the economic climate is unpredictable.
More than half the winners this year were recognized last year in the same categories, and a few of the companies have been a part of the cuisine awards since their inception. Some restaurants, such as the 90-year-old Lamb’s Grill Cafe, have been such a part of Utah’s business culture that they are unspoken extensions of the businesses that patronize them. Lamb’s owner, John Speros, says some companies meet weekly in his café, year after year, as part of their regular business routine. And from being the first in Utah to offer fresh salmon and premier fine dining, to providing the site for Governor Jon Huntsman to sign Utah’s new liquor legislation, Gastronomy restaurants remain a favorite in the business community. But as well as you know these old haunts, we’ve uncovered some unknown tidbits that are sure to add flavor to your next experience.
Best Kept Secret: The Wild Grape
Word is spreading fast about The Wild Grape’s fresh, local, organic food prepared over an authentic wood-fired grill. “Anything we can cook over it, we will,” says Manager Stephanie Bailey-Hatfield. The lamb burger is gaining a following, as well as the prime rib sandwich and spinach and flava bean salad. Another secret The Wild Grape doesn’t mind getting out: Hatfield says the restaurant is in need of a pig farmer to take its food waste so it can be 100 percent sustainable. Pig farmers: here’s a place that will keep you in business.
Best Place to Impress Clients:
The New Yorker
Interestingly, until 1978 the The New Yorker building wasn’t very impressive—it was considered a flophouse hotel, and the Odd Fellows building, which is in the process of being moved next to The New Yorker, was a residence for transients and the homeless. “The architectural design that [the two buildings together] bring to the table will truly be one of the more unique points of interest for historic preservation in downtown Salt Lake City,” says Gastronomy General Manager, Tom Guinney, who adds that New Yorker guests say the restaurant has an urban quality that would make it successful in any major metropolitan city. And, with Utah’s new liquor legislation, private club fees are no longer required to dine there.
Best Coffee Break:
Salt Lake Roasting Company
The perfect coffee break usually comes down to finding a place with warmth and friendliness, and that’s what people know they can find at the Salt Lake Roasting Company, says owner John Bolton. “I always stress to my employees that you can have the greatest product in the world, but if you don’t make people feel welcome, they’ll go somewhere else.” Bolton says he is literally seeking to provide the greatest cup of coffee in the world, traveling the globe for his beans and researching them extensively. He blogs about his travels on www.roasting.com
Best Ethnic: Bombay House
The chicken tikka masala is what Bombay House owner, Daniel Shanthakumar, says is by far the most popular dish in his restaurant and the most popular Indian dish around the world, as a matter of fact. And guests have been returning for it since the restaurant opened 16 years ago. Bombay House has received numerous recognitions for dishes cooked with the freshest spices and delivered with excellent customer service. And besides its popularity in the business community, Shanthakumar says his restaurant is well-loved by families. “We always encourage people to bring their children,” he says.
Best Steak: Spencer’s
It used to be, says Spencer’s General Manager, Scott Stanfield, that people didn’t give much thought to where their food came from. But he says that’s changing now. “We tell the guest that their wild King Salmon came from the Copper River in Alaska or where their pork or lamb chop came from.” People know the Spencer Steak, the most popular steak on the menu, comes from Stockyards Beef of Chicago, the oldest meat packing plant in the country. But soon people will also see an all natural version from Creekstone Farms in Kansas. “They actually track to what ranch the cow was born on,” he says.
Best Business Lunch: Market Street Grill
Market Street Grill has won numerous awards for having one of the best New England clam chowders in the country. “We make it with French leeks, wonderful clams and gallons of whip cream—that’s the secret ingredient,” says Gastronomy General Manager, Tom Guinney. And it’s not expected you should have to wait for it. “If you request it, we guarantee that from the time you sit down to the time you leave it will only be 45 minutes or we buy your lunch,” Guinney says. The servers are well practiced, with many of the employees serving your favorite dishes at the restaurant for more than 25 years.
Best Party Venue: Zermatt
From hosting company groups with entertainment such as Cirque Du Soleil and the U.S. Olympic gymnasts, you could fairly say Zermatt is prepared for anyone, especially in its Bernese Exhibit Center. “With 32-foot-high ceilings, you can get a lot of jump in there,” says Zermatt General Manager, Jan McCormick. Small companies have a place too, with rooms designed for groups as small as 15. Despite its star-status clientele and European accoutrements, Zermatt humbly grows its own vegetables and herbs for its award-winning buffets, and keeps the weeds down in the garden with its own goats.
Best Cocktails: Oyster Bar
The Oyster Bar is known for being one of the few places in Utah serving up to one and a half ounces of primary alcohol in a beverage at no additional mark-up to customers. And Tom Guinney, Gastronomy general manager, says the bar offers fine cognacs at prices hard to beat anywhere in the country. But what you might not know is that bartenders will literally squeeze orange and grapefruit juice to order. “When you order a screwdriver, you have someone back there squeezing three oranges and pouring it into the glass. No one does that—it’s unheard of.”
Best Hotel Restaurant: Bambara
Bambara remains popular for what General Manager, Art Cazares, says is aptly named the Powers Lunch. Named after Chef Nathan Powers, the meal includes three items from the regular menu bundled at a special rate. When returning for your favorite dish at the end of this year, you will also find a renovated restaurant incorporating actual remnants from the time it was the Continental Bank building lobby. Despite the changes, Cazares says two things are there to stay. “It would not be Bambara without blue cheese chips, and the corn bisque—it’s like heroin, [addictive].”
Best Business Casual: Red Iguana
Seven different kinds of authentic molé on the menu set the Red Iguana apart from other local Mexican restaurants, but it’s the house-made chili verdé that makes the restaurant the choice for a low-key late morning or early afternoon meeting. “We’re not fancy—people like coming here for the cozy, colorful atmosphere,” says owner Lucy Cardenas, adding that all of the restaurant’s dishes were created by her mother and father. In 1965, they opened their first restaurant, the Casa Grande, north of Sears on State Street. Now the Red Iguana is one of the most awarded restaurants in Utah.
Best Power Breakfast: Lamb’s Grill Cafe
From 7 a.m. in the morning since 1919, Lamb’s Grill Cafe owner, John Speros, says it’s the corned beef hash and finnan and haddie, a smoked haddock brought in from Novia Scotia, that keeps this historic restaurant the epicenter for deals made over the first meal of the day. “We have some groups that have met in the restaurant for 30 years,” says Speros. Even George Lamb, the original owner of the restaurant who died 24 years ago, believes Lamb’s Grill Cafe is the place to return to time and again. The staff says they frequently see him in his upstairs office and in the kitchen.
Best Business Catering: Cuisine Unlimited
Cuisine Unlimited remains the catering choice for companies because, says owner Maxine Turner, when it comes to the corporate event, timing is everything. “When it’s in-house, it has a time frame to it and I think people look to us for being on time with everything we need and that our quality of service will be unsurpassed.” Turner also credits the company’s success to 28 years of experience, keeping the business in the family with her husband and sons, and taking the time to thoroughly train her employees.