Fenice, From the Ashes

Since opening in 2010, Silver Star Café has been a not-so-secret secret favorite for Park City locals. Owners Jeff and Lisa Ward built a spot known for its welcoming mountain ambiance and fresh, original comfort food, winning acclaim and awards from practically everyone (including us).

Silver Star’s not going anywhere, but the Wards have set their sights on a new concept in a new town with an entirely new menu. After searching for years to find the right location for a second restaurant, Jeff and Lisa settled on the former site of Fireside, right next door to the Eccles Theater in SLC’s arts and culture district. Fenice (pronounced feh-knee-chay, which Siri hasn’t yet figured out) translates to “phoenix” in Italian, which Lisa notes is appropriate: repurposing a closed restaurant during a pandemic is nothing if not rising from the ashes.

The interior of Fenice
The interior of Fenice, a Mediterranean bistro in downtown Salt Lake City (Photo by Adam Finkle/Salt Lake magazine)

Before opening, the couple warmed up the restaurant’s industrial interiors, replacing metal with wood, adding plenty of greenery and covering pillars with retro-cool floral wallpaper. Opening during a pandemic was an unforeseen challenge. “It turned out to be a bit more of a risk than we anticipated,” Lisa says, but the two forged ahead at the end of last year. The intimate space, a quirk of downtown real estate, has just 49 seats. “We weren’t put off by the small size, because that’s what we do at Silver Star,” Jeff says.

Moroccan chicken with roasted vegetable-chickpea couscous at Fenice
Moroccan chicken with roasted vegetable-chickpea couscous (Photo by Adam Finkle/Salt Lake magazine)

Jeff and Lisa, who developed the menu with Rafael Zamora and Silver Star chef Derek Gherkins, wanted the food at Fenice to be distinct from the cuisine they are known for in Park City. The menu is anchored by classic Italian staples, like pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven and house-made pasta. The four, though, take broader inspiration from the larger Mediterranean region, incorporating flavors from Greece, Spain, southern France and North Africa. This gave the Wards the chance to play with a broader range of flavors—and took some pressure off these non-Italians experimenting with a cuisine that often prizes authenticity. “We didn’t want to pretend to be something that we’re not,” Lisa says.

Polpetta and bucatini at Fenice
Polpetta and bucatini (Photo by Adam Finkle/Salt Lake magazine)

The small kitchen, which has limited space for ingredients and no walk-in cooler, means that the menu has been pared down to essential favorites. This may be a blessing in disguise—with the variety of cuisines represented, there is plenty of food to explore, but the relatively small menu feels curated and intentional. “We’re putting out food we really enjoy eating,” Lisa says.

Fenice is a 21+ only restaurant with a wine list that emphasizes regional wines from Italy, Spain and southern France ordered especially for the restaurant. The cocktail menu from mixologist Fathom Croteau reinvents old classics. In the Pink, inspired by our late editor Mary Brown Malouf, is a variation on the Last Word cocktail, with a homemade raspberry shrub and mezcal replacing the traditional gin. Croteau says the drink includes some of Malouf’s favorite things: the color pink, bold flavors and, of course, mezcal.

Lisa and Jeff Ward
Fenice co-owners Lisa and Jeff Ward (Photo by Adam Finkle/Salt Lake magazine)

When Jeff and Lisa opened Silver Star, they were well-known in Park City—both have lived in the community for decades. In a new—and larger—city, the Wards in some ways are starting over. “We’re asking for a lot of trust from people,” Lisa says. That trust is already being built, both from other downtown restaurateurs and businesses and from a growing number of fans, ranging from Gov. Spencer Cox to writer David Sedaris, who gave Fenice glowing marks before performing at the Eccles Theater. While growing their business, the Wards continue to focus on the most important thing—the food. “I have pages and pages of menu ideas,” Jeff says. With any justice, Jeff and Lisa will have plenty of time to test out those ideas to a cadre of loyal regulars in SLC.

If You Go

126 S. Regent St., SLC

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Josh Petersen
Josh Petersenhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Josh Petersen is the former Digital Editor of Salt Lake magazine, where he covered local art, food, culture and, most importantly, the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. He previously worked at Utah Style & Design and is a graduate of the University of Utah.

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