In the movie world, sequels are often greeted with more skepticism than optimism; for every Godfather II there’s far too many a Blues Brothers 2000. When I took an hour to sit down with Ryan Lowder (impresario of the likes of Copper Onion, The Daily etc) this week it was to talk about the recent reboot of his downtown bar, Copper Common.
The bar first opened in 2014 supplanting the much loved Plum Alley; a glorious accident of a restaurant that never was meant to be. Plum Alley was ultimately an embarrassingly successful place holder Lowder explains, a stop gap on the way to securing their ultimate goal, an impossibly rare liquor license. Lowder Jokes, “it’s been eight years now and people still ask me on a weekly basis when Plum Alley will make a return.”
If this were a blockbuster franchise, and you’ll permit me to keep murdering metaphors, CC2.0 would be the origin story for Lowder. The retooling and update link together a globe trotting journey and career to date.
As we talk, time and again Lowder’s attention drifts to NYC – the city where he honed many of his culinary sensibilities. If you’re playing catch-up, Lowder worked under célèbre-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the time the chef’s NYC flagship secured three Michelin stars. Adventures in South America and Europe beckoned before his ultimate return to the big apple with time spent at the Mario Batali restaurant group. Catalonian focused Mercat was a final step along the way before a return home to Utah in 2010. All those waypoints have left indelible imprints on Lowder and it shows in the reboot of Copper Common. Thankfully this is a sequel worthy of enjoying over and over.
The worldly menu and indeed the bar as a whole, have a relaxed swagger, falling comfortably on the side of cool, not pretentious. The wine list is all natural, the next BIG think Lowder reckons, “think organic food circa 2000, why would you want all that crap in your glass?” Speaking of which, Lowder points to simple glass tumblers. There’s no Riedel stemware, the impossibly delicate stuff that causes anxiety attacks in dexterously poor oafs like myself. The update hopes to capture some of the Euro-fun and flair from Lowder’s overseas exploits. Grab a seat, relax, have a little fun.
I chat to bar tender Sam Miller about everything and nothing, and then a little more. I don’t recall the last time I had such an enjoyable conversation at a cocktail bar; which in my mind tend to be standoffish affairs (hey the bartender needs 20 minutes to make that gin and tonic, they ain’t got time for plebs like you). Miller, a recent San Francisco expat, and former tiki-bar owner (Great Escape) – knows his stuff. A copy of the eminently reliable Flavor Bible (every house needs one) stands reassuringly behind him. The speaker system plays a just loud enough mix of soul and blues and rock.
I pick three random dishes and can’t fault any. There are those aforementioned boquerones, pungent and acid sharp anchovies with good crusty bread and butter. There are mussels bathed in spicy nduja, which in turn are poked and prodded by buttered toast points seeking broth. And the star or the show, a ridiculously good charred radicchio salad. The composition is a dome of blackened and charred red leaves, capped with pine nuts and bright raisins. It’s all supported by a subtle puree of cauli and Marcona almonds; a reminder that when the veggie dish wows you, you’ve found somewhere special. The whole shebang is made more remarkable by the paltry $6 price tag – right now the bar has a select food happy hours run Wed-Thu -5-7).
Much like I left the opening evening of the Copper Onion some twelve years ago (dear god how is that even possible), I depart with a similar sensation. It feels like Salt Lake is on the cusp of taking another step up the culinary ladder. The likes of Lowder and Miller and a star studded cast of so many others, all bringing their experience and talent back to SLC – it’s an exciting time.
Moving forward the story is far from over for Lowder. Holladay’s Copper Kitchen was recently closed, affording Lowder time for myriad other projects. In recent years he formed Plowshare Partners with James Beard winner Zakary Pelaccio. The consultancy helps conceive and organize hospitality spaces for operators. That means creating bespoke food and drink concepts with legs, ones that help anchor a new build and put bums on seats for the long haul. Here’s an example you can expect from them soon enough (CC2.0 was their ultimate work together too). 2023 will also see Lowder open an all new restaurant in Salt Lake City, tapping connections and talent from back East. The details on that though, well, that’s for another story…
111 E. Broadway, Salt Lake City, UT
Wednesday – Sunday
5:00 PM – 1:00 AM
Disclosure: I was an invited guest of the bar. All thoughts are
my own those of the small mouse that runs around the wheel in my brain.
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with multiple local publications from Visit Salt Lake to Salt Lake Magazine, not least helped to consult on national TV shows.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for the better part of fifteen years. I’m largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of big words I don’t understand. What they’re saying about me: “Not inaccurate”, “I thought he was older”, “I don’t share his feelings”.
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