Shopping malls have not historically been known as centers of culinary excellence. Amid a sea of Sbarro, Orange Julius and Auntie Anne’s, your average chain-heavy food court is rarely a spot for interesting local cuisine. The Gateway, though, is bucking expectations. The mall-turned-entertainment-complex now has a growing roster of unique restaurants and bars in an unlikely dining hub.
These new (or new-ish) eateries are part of The Gateway’s larger revitalization. The Gateway opened in 2001, when the Winter Olympics were on the horizon and brick-and-mortar shopping malls still ruled retail. In its tumultuous second decade, though, The Gateway’s fortunes shifted. The $1.5 billion City Creek Center opened in 2012, snatching many of its big-name stores, online shopping sapped revenue from malls nationwide and the Rio Grande area was saddled with high crime and a bad reputation. By the end of the 2010s, there were tumbleweeds blowing through the once-bustling corridors.
Now in 2022, The Gateway still isn’t going to beat City Creek at the traditional mall game, such as it is, but do we really need more malls? The Gateway has had to, as business types say, pivot and get creative with its ample downtown space. From hosting the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival to regular events through the pandemic like flea markets, art strolls and yoga and beer, The Gateway is banking on experiences, culture, food and fun. Remember when Kanye stopped by for an impromptu Sunday Service back in 2019? Was that a dream?
The Gateway 2.0 wants you to hang out with a beer, throw a party or treat the family to a unique dinner (often in the same restaurant). This social, best-experienced-in-person model may be complicated as new variants are seemingly always around the corner, threatening our good time. But if you are venturing out again, The Gateway is worth a revisit.
This new concept, in the location of the short-lived Punch Bowl Social, bills itself as a kitchen and “sporting club.” What does that mean exactly? In Flanker’s case, it means that the huge space—17,500 square feet—has the elbow room to be a little bit sports bar, a little bit nightclub (they threw a New Year’s Eve party with Lil’ Jon) and a little bit entertainment venue, with a parlor and bowling alley, private karaoke rooms and a golf simulator. Their food offerings lie somewhere between elevated pub food and casual steak house. For starters, there are Greek-inspired taverna tots with tzatziki and a Mediterranean twist on pico de gallo, grill-your-own chicken wings and, if you’ve got a seafood sweet tooth, funnel cake lobster fritters. The brisket tacos with griddled cheese tortillas are yummy. For dessert, there’s golden-fried cherry pie—a turnover, basically—or a birthday cake milkshake topped with (deep breath) a cupcake, cookie, marshmallow, whipped cream AND candy. It looks as outrageous as it sounds.
This food hall (not court) is a first for Utah and comes from owner Reed Slobusky and chef Marc Marrone. Marrone developed the menus for several small fast-casual restaurants under the same roof, leaving room to experiment with new ideas. SkinnyFats divides the menu evenly between “happy” and “healthy” (though the buffalo cauliflower I tried didn’t taste like particularly “unhappy” health food.) At Graffiti Bao, an Asian street food inspired menu features kung pao chicken bao buns and Vietnamese spring rolls and is influenced by Marrone’s time cooking in Singapore and Vietnam. CodSpeed and Colossal Lobster sell fish and chips and lobster rolls. The draft room Beer Zombies has local craft brew on tap. And, because fried chicken is inescapable these days, Blaze of Thunder offers one main dish—Nashville hot chicken. (A manager promised me spice that went beyond “Utah hot.”) Marrone has an impressive command of a variety of cuisines—all of the menus are united by crowd-pleasing, affordable, accessible food packed with flavor. And, thank God, it’s open past 10 p.m. on weekends.
Besides HallPass, Marrone is developing another new eatery for The Gateway, a sit-down restaurant inspired by his Italian-American background. Marrone will be updating regional favorites from his childhood, including handcrafted pasta, red wine-braised lamb and salmon crudo over polenta. Marrone hopes to open Italian Graffiti sometime this year.
Perfect for a quiet nightcap, this cozy (read: tiny) bar on the Gateway’s upper level is a downtown hangout that feels worlds removed from the crowds on nearby Main Street. The menu is simple—a few snacks, a small variety of craft cocktails (the old-fashioned trades mezcal for the traditional whiskey) and homemade mixers to take home with you. Perhaps best of all is Seabird’s vast vinyl collection, because everything tastes better with a side of Fleetwood Mac.
Hungry for More at The Gateway?
Try shabu shabu, a Japanese hot pot dish that literally translates to “swish swish,” at Mr. Shabu. For dessert, there’s mochi donuts (glazed sweets made from rice flour and tapioca) at Momi or ice cream rolled in a “taco waffle” at Sweet Rolled Tacos. If you’re craving something more upscale, The Gateway also has Utah’s only Fleming’s location.