Each Year, Salt Lake Magazine hosts the Blue Plate Awards, honoring the growers, food evangelists, grocers, servers, bakers, chefs, bartenders, restaurateurs—basically anyone who has a hand in the essential act of feeding us and does so with grace, style, creativity and care. This past year, well, was “just awful,” as our dearly departed Executive Editor Mary Brown Malouf said often. It was especially hard on the hospitality sector. In many ways, as Mary and I discussed before her passing, this year’s awards are given for merely surviving. The 2021 Blue Plate Awards are the first-ever without our Mary bringing them across the finish line.
As Mary conceived, a Blue Plate is given to an establishment or an individual who has done more than put good food on the table. They’ve created culture, made acts of kindness and education and are paragons of service that goes beyond.
Mary spoke the language of the kitchen, the lingo of servers, the banter of the bar—the Esperanto of anyone who has ever waited on a table, slung a drink, cleaned a grease trap or prepped on the line. But she also knew the language of dining, being served and what a diner should expect. She was critical on both sides of that divide. Cajoling, teasing the best from the back of the house and lecturing Utah diners on not just where to eat but how to eat and to dare their palates and pocketbooks on local food.
She loved the classic Borscht Belt joke: “‘How’s the food?’ ‘Terrible but the portions are amazing!” She used it often as the punch line to what she saw wrong with the chain-heavy culinary experience in Utah. A doting aunt who urged us to sit up straight and at least try the foie gras. Mary preached constantly that food is about more than a price point—it is fun, friends, conversation. It was about living and, also, a living for the people who deserve recognition and love. “Eat this. DON’T EAT THAT, throw off the chains that bind you,” she’d say with her typical smirk.
These are Mary’s awards, the last that she’ll preside over. They were unearthed from a morass of scrawled notes, emails and random laptop files labeled “BLU PLAT.” And we dedicate them to her, our town’s biggest food fan, critic and champion, xoxomm.
—Jeremy Pugh, Editor
The 2021 Blue Plate Awards are sponsored by Spark Solutions.
This year, Fisher found ways to utilize their beer, taproom space and canning capabilities for good. They created special lines of limited edition beers in custom cans to help raise funds for local businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. For example, their custom line of Monkey Wrench Gang Cans—utilizing the famous artwork of R. Crumb—on behalf of Ken Sanders Rare Books, raised more than $25K, helping keep Ken in business. The event saw (socially distanced) lines out the door at the Fisher Tap Room. Read more here.
When COVID-19 hit Salt Lake City, Oquirrh co-owners Andrew and Angelena Fullers’ dream was seriously damaged. But the Fullers keep trying to follow the rules. The restaurant staff is down to Angie and Drew, a dishwasher and a cook. There are no days off and haven’t been for months. Any slight downtime is spent planning things like take-away Thanksgiving dinners or filling orders for food they never planned to serve, like a recently requested charcuterie platter. Read more here.
Seemingly out of thin air, the muscle behind Hive SLC—Missy Greiss, of Publik Coffee Roasters; Dean Pierose, owner of Cucina Wine Bar; Scott Evans, founder of Pago Restaurant Group along with a dash of tech wizardry from James Roberts, a founding partner of Redirect Digital—created an elaborate delivery and online ordering system. Solving this massive logistical puzzle helps out local restaurants, providing a consistent revenue source and keeping their employees working. As a bonus, Hive SLC gives us a local-first way to order directly from some of SLC’s finest establishments and reduce the heavy fees that other online ordering services demand. Read more here.
Owner Dean Pierose responded to the COVID-19 crisis with his signature manic energy, quickly expanding his outdoor dining experience, pivoting to curbside delivery while Chef Joey Ferran created takeout boxes of his elevated ingredients that could be assembled at home. Pierose’s outdoor spaces became a place where the neighborhood could gather safely. He offered free coffee in the mornings and encouraged his regulars to linger and commiserate together, preserving a semblance of society during a socially distanced time. Read more here.
Last summer, it seemed that Rico would be another victim of rapid gentrification in Salt Lake. After 18 years as a staple in the Granary District, new ownership threatened to evict owner Jorge Fierro from his plant, inspiring public outcry. Luckily, Rico was able to find a new home in Poplar Grove and now plans to add even more employees. It’s a last-minute happy ending for a community leader who literally wears his mission on his sleeve, courtesy a tattoo in bright red block letters: “pay it forward.” Read more here.
As grocery delivery becomes the new norm, The Store offers a personal touch that only an independent grocer can provide. Last March, high-risk and elderly customers began calling in their grocery lists over the phone, and The Store’s general managers personally delivered food to their homes. In a year when grocery store employees were rightly called essential workers, places like The Store proved why these businesses are so necessary for our communities. Read more here.
A distillery in Utah County? Is that even legal? Actually, yes. Just that no one had ever tried before. Owners Matt and Stephanie Eau Claire waded into the morass of city and county regulations, public meetings, zoning laws and skeptical Utah County officialdom to prove that yes, distilling is a legal venture, even in Utah County. Welcomed by the City of Pleasant Grove, Clearwater Distilling became the first ever legal distilling operation in Happy Valley. Read more here.
As the pandemic ravages independent restaurants, Hearth and Hill has reaffirmed its commitment to small businesses in Park City. Using its large dining room as an informal gathering space for the city, Hearth and Hill has donated to and hosted fundraisers for community organizations. They provided flu shots for their own staff and other neighboring businesses. And their generosity extends to their own employees, who received extra groceries and free Thanksgiving turkeys. Read more here.
This year Spice Kitchen Incubator, already an essential resource for refugees, became, well, even more essential. When coming to this country, refugees often have nothing but a few clothes and their cooking skills; Spice helps these displaced people find their financial feet again by sharing their culture and food. With COVID restrictions limiting dine-in service and the incubator’s event catering program, Spice-to-Go became the focus, allowing the kitchen to keep sharing international food experiences serving Utah’s vulnerable refugee community. Read more here.
The Demitasse Spoon Awards for COVID Creativity
Anyone who ever looked for a corkscrew in Mary’s overflowing drawer of silver utensils has commented, “Why do you have two dozen demitasse spoons?” Her reply? “One can never have too many demitasse spoons, my dear.” In that spirit, we offer this year’s Demitasse Spoon Awards for COVID Creativity. Hopefully, these nods will one day go the way of the Coronavirus. But this year we call out what, we know, is an incomplete list of hospitable creativity and problem-solving in response to chaos.
Helped to create an open streets program to support bars and restaurants on lower Main Street.
Built lovely heated greenhouses to accommodate small groups for year-round outdoor dining.
Taking outdoor dining to the next level, Butchers installed three private “Alpenglobes,” gorgeous little bubbles with a view.
Created beautifully lit, heated tents and warming spaces on its outdoor patio.
Took its popular cooking classes online, giving homebound cooks a chance to sharpen their skills.
To stay afloat they focused efforts on selling Amour Spreads a line of locally sourced jams and jellies.
Raise a Glass To…
This year’s awards are laced with plenty of sorrow. The toll the pandemic has taken on our restaurant community has caused casualties. Here, we honor the lost and underscore how important it is for us all to recognize the importance of supporting the places that continue to survive.
- Howdy Ice Cream
- Mazza (locations at 9th and 9th and in Sandy)
- Creek Tea
- Bar George
- Porcupine Pub & Grille (location on 1300 East)
- Red Butte Cafe
- Koko Kitchen
- The Olive Bistro
- Zucca Trattoria
Note: We have surely missed more than a few closures at our press time and invite you to reach out and share any that we didn’t list here.
The Rio Grande Cafe, forced from their location in the Rio Grande Depot following the 2020 earthquake was able to move in and occupy one of the city’s historic restaurant spaces on 1300 East.
All photos by Adam Finkle