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Bay Leaf Cafe restaurant review

Evening dinner review

Sometimes it’s tough following the local restaurant scene so keenly. Okay, “tough” is a slight exaggeration, it’s not exactly like working in a mine or anything. But sometimes, the analytical nature of the whole thing means it’s hard to dine out without some preconceptions. Due to following local food reviews so closely, I usually form a detailed idea of a restaurant will be like in my mind, before I walk inside and sit down.

Bay Leaf Cafe is a great example of this. By the time I finally dined at Bay Leaf recently, I had already heard so much feedback, opinion, and information, I felt as if I knew exactly what to expect. I had heard nothing but universal praise. When we sat down to dine, I was expecting so much already, it probably wasn’t fair to expect Bay Leaf Cafe to hold up to the dreamy image I had in my mind.

For those of you who don’t know about Bay Leaf Cafe, let me bring you up to speed. It opened downtown in late 2009, with a couple of very unique concepts, namely the menu and the opening hours. The menu is a mix of comfort foods straddling both East and West. Meatloaf and chicken fried chicken sit happily on the menu alongside congee and adobo chicken.

The second interesting element of Bay Leaf Cafe are the operating hours. The cafe is open Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then Friday from 6 a.m. clear through till Sunday at 6 p.m., offering breakfast and lunch for the downtown office crowd during the week and 24-hour dining through the weekend for late night revelers. Denny’s no longer needs to be your only 4am Saturday morning option.

First impressions of the service at Bay Leaf Cafe weren’t great. There were approximately three or four tables of people in the restaurant. It wasn’t at all near capacity or particularly busy. We walked in and waited at the entrance ready to be greeted. We noticed a sign asking us to wait to be seated and after hanging around confused for a few moments, a waiter clear over at the other side of the restaurant, finally took notice of us and pointed arms length at a table. Walking over to say hello was seemingly a bit too much of an effort for him. We weren’t completely sure what his gesticulation implied, so we walked on over. It appeared he meant that was to be our table for the night, although he still kept completely silent, as menus were tossed onto the table and he quickly departed. Okay, then. (We later learned that he could in fact speak as he shouted random requests to the musician performing that night at regular intervals.) Thankfully, our actual waiter, who was entirely more friendly, appropriate, and verbose approached the table next.

The general mood of the cafe is casual and relaxed, unless of course like us you are seated right under the nose of the musician. Despite many tables being free we were seated inches away. I think we were still a little in shock from our abrupt ‘greeting’. I sheepishly grinned at Wendi, who isn’t thrilled or delighted by live performers during meals, as we started mulling over our menus. We had that creeping feeling that we might regret having come through the door.

Our waiter was engaging and energetic though, and things started to look up. We ordered a jasmine tea ($1.50) each and placed our food orders. As our waiter walked away, we noted he didn’t tell us about the day’s specials we had noticed (and since forgotten) on the blackboard up front. Darn.

We started with the Fried Pickles ($4.99). Our waiter remarked upon our ordering these, that they were his favourite. After a few bites, we both saw why. Indeed we both promised to each have no more than a few bites, given the salty/fried goodness of the dish. Several ‘oh just one more then’ moments later and we had demolished the whole plate, with lots of guilty pleasure. Far from the worlds healthiest dish, but dipped in the accompanying aioli for extra unhealthiness, oh so good.

For our main dishes, I went with the Chicken Fried Chicken ($8.99) with sides of hoppin john and mashed potatoes. Wendi rejoiced in breakfast for dinner and went for the Goat Cheese Mushroom Omelet, grits, and english muffin ($8.99)

bay leaf fried pickles

bay leaf chicken fried chicken

bay leaf cafe

My chicken fried chicken was great. Being a complete novice to the “chicken fried” concept, I didn’t know what to expect. Wendi mentioned she thought the chicken might be ground and then fried, but instead it was a moist chicken breast with an enjoyable crunchy breading, perfect. The creamy gravy topping was deliciously rich. The two sides brought mixed reactions. The mashed potatoes were wonderfully creamy with small hunks of bacon scattered on top. A healthy meal this was not. The hoppin john was a first for me. I’ve never tasted this dish before, but I felt it needed to be a lot more spicy than it was, so judicious use of Tabasco was in order.

Wendi described her omelet as average. She enjoyed her cheesy grits, but commented that they should be described as cheesy grits on the menu because she prefers her grits sweet with butter and touch of maple syrup.

Things went from bad to better throughout the meal. Service remained bright and the guy on guitar, who was quite good, but again, live entertainment just isn’t out thing, soon packed up and left us able to actually talk to one another. Water (served in mason jars) was kept full and the check came up nice and fast. Our meal of an appetizer, two main courses, and two teas was a pocket friendly $28.01 before tax and tip. Heck, I don’t think there was anything on the menu much more than $10. The place is very affordable. Neither of us completely cleaned our plates either, portions are filling without being over the top.

Initial service gripes aside, our main server was attentive and genuinely friendly. The food came up pretty quickly, and I loved every bite. If I hadn’t heaped on so much expectation prior to my visit, I would have been far less disappointed with a few of the issues we had. I’m assuming for the mainstay of their business hours (breakfast and lunches) there is no live music.

Speaking of the cafe’s hours, I’m still not convinced. The continual weekend opening is brave, does SLC really have the foot traffic downtown to support the concept. Moreover, only opening for dinner service ‘properly’ on Friday and Saturday just doesn’t feel right to me. I have an issue with restaurants that seem to open only on a whim. If you walk past at 5 p.m. on a Thursday, and note the Bay Leaf Cafe closed, are you really going to come back at the same time on a Friday night, or will you assume it’s closed?

The Bay Leaf Cafe takes the traditional American diner concept, throws it in the blender with a variety of Asian fare, and the result is tasty comfort food, a casual atmosphere and very reasonable prices. If I worked downtown, I’d certainly be checking them out for breakfast and lunch. Needless to say, next time I find myself with a late night/early morning craving after a weekend night out in SLC, I’ll definitely turn to Bay Leaf Cafe before considering Denny’s, which can only be a good thing.

Bay Leaf Cafe
159 South Main Street, Salt Lalt City, 84111
(801) 359 8490


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9 thoughts on “Bay Leaf Cafe restaurant review”

  1. I live downtown, about 3 blocks from the Bayleaf, but I work in the suburbs. The schedule is one of my favorite things about this place. I try to support downtown restaurants that show some kind of commitment to the people who stick around the city center after 5:00 p.m. and on weekends (I’m glaring at The Judge Cafe).

    The owners are both extremely nice people. I have never had anything off the menu that wasn’t well beyond “average”, and if you’re not convinced about the hours, go to The Beerhive on a Friday or Saturday night, enjoy a couple of glasses of something nice, then walk across the street to the Bayleaf after last call. The place is usually packed at 2:00 a.m.

  2. Justin: The problem with the hours I have is that for most of the week, they aren’t open after 3PM. This can surely only hurt the number of customers who will try them on a Fri/Sat for dinner service. The comment was meant in a constructive fashion. Indeed I checked their website again today, and it seems they are mulling over this too themselves.

    Food wise, mine was great. To be fair, I’m not sure how one would elevate an omelette from average to great, it is what it is.

    Great to see you supporting your local restaurants!!!

  3. Hello Stu,
    Thanks for sharing your personal experience. There are quite a large choice of restaurants in Slat Lake City, So finding personal opinion about them can be really useful. At Fox Rent A Car Blog we also shared about the best restaurants in Salt Lake City. We like to give travel tips about different cities to help readers organize the best trip possible
    thanks again for sharing.

  4. Great post. Its fun to hear more about the lunch/dinner offerings at the Bayleaf. Seems like overall their food is consistently good. I will post a link to your post on my blog of their breakfast.

  5. Just got an email from Bay Leaf Cafe about their liquor license too:

    January 29th, we will serve a variety of imported and domestic beer as well as a modest but carefully selected wine menu.

  6. Cheers to any restauranteur that tries something different. Give the critics something to talk about. I say open and close when you want- your true clientele will let you know if it’s a good thing.

  7. Pingback: Bayleaf Cafe in Salt Lake | A Couple of Foodies

  8. The Bayleaf has come down a notch in my personal estimation but the reason might be good news for you, if you don’t have kids. The reason? We were told, on our last visit, the reason they discontinued their kid’s menus was they get enough business with their new liquor license they no longer really care to serve families. Yep, that’s right. We were politely told we could take our business, and our brats, elsewhere. Now, the food is still good, the servers are always friendly and the atmosphere is as grunge-chic as it always was, but if you have a family, the manager is not shy about telling you he doesn’t need your business and, to quote him, “That’s just the way it is.”

  9. Pingback: The Bay Leaf Cafe, Salt Lake City UT | SLCfoodie

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