Intersection of culinary diversity: Cottonwood Heights area revitalized with new eateries
Mar 09, 2020 10:56AM
By Josh Wood
Root’d Café celebrates its Utah and Cottonwood Heights roots. (Joshua Wood/City Journals)
By Joshua Wood | [email protected]
A busy area near the heart of Cottonwood Heights has undergone a transition that can be described as a culinary revitalization. The intersection of 2600 East and Bengal Boulevard has exchanged a gas station and an old café in need of a makeover for three new eateries that have the neighborhood buzzing. Their international flavor adds a degree of diversity that should give foodies heartburn trying to decide which to choose on a night out.
Authentic Middle Eastern experience
Sumac Café is a Persian restaurant that has undergone a makeover over the past year. Until January 2019, it was the Bengal Café coffee shop. Now its owners serve the Persian dishes they love from back home in Tehran.
“My partner is an extremely good chef with Persian food, so she decided the main talent that she has is cooking, and so we did that,” Sumac owner Mosen Panah said. “She has contact with Tehran, and if anything becomes popular there, she learns about it and tries it.”
The food at Sumac Café celebrates the food Panah and the Persian community in the area enjoyed with their families in Iran. The restaurant’s offerings can be grouped into two main categories — kabobs and sauces — each served with a good helping of saffron-infused basmati rice.
“It is original, authentic Persian food,” Panah said. “If you are eating here, or if you go to Tehran, it is the same thing. Everything is homemade. There’s no other way to do it.”
The restaurant’s interior enhances the Persian cuisine. From a painting depicting Persian markets hundreds of years ago to Middle Eastern pillows, music, and of course, sumac flowers, the entire package whisks guests away for a truly international experience.
The neighborhood has responded well to Panah’s conversion from coffee shop to authentic Persian cuisine, from five-star online reviews to its popularity with locals. “We are very fortunate that we get good support from the community.”
Old World flavor
From the family kitchens of Palermo to their new home in Cottonwood Heights, the Mirenda family has opened six Sicilia Mia restaurants in just four years, including its location next door to Sumac Café in Cottonwood Heights. Old World traditions and classic Italian recipes match the festive Sicilian décor.
“The neighborhood is very happy we are here and have been very supportive,” said manager Jerry Bermudez. “This is a family-style restaurant. We have been in Utah for four years, and for the past three years, we have won the best Italian restaurant in Utah.”
Sicilia Mia encourages a leisurely dining experience. Guests can enjoy classic Sicilian appetizers and handcrafted cocktails, sip wine with their meal, and then enjoy a casual cappuccino with their tiramisu. While enjoying the hearty food, guests can take in the Old World interior that includes traditional checkered tablecloths, Mediterranean walls and portraits of Italian greats.
“Our main dish is the carbonara. We toast the pasta inside a cheese wheel over fire,” said Sicilia Mia owner Giuseppe Mirenda. “We are Italian family–owned with authentic Italian, Sicilian food with European-style serving.”
Root’d in Cottonwood Heights
Across the street from Sumac and Sicilia Mia is a building on the north side of Bengal Boulevard that has housed a number of Cottonwood Heights eateries over the years. Now it houses the newest addition to the area, Root’d Café. The restaurant just opened in early February and received a warm welcome to the neighborhood.
“We didn’t announce it, we just opened and took down the parchment paper, and we’ve had very consistent traffic,” said Jess Donald, general manager and part owner. “We had over a thousand guests in the four days of that opening weekend. We were not prepared for such a positive response.”
One day, not long ago, Donald was approached by friends Sean and Allison Steinman about a new project, and they wanted her on board. “They grew up here and they met here,” Donald said. “When the café here shut down, they just said, let’s save it.” With Donald and two additional partners on board, they did just that, remodeling and opening Root’d in a matter of weeks.
Like its predecessors in the building, Root’d Café has already become a weekend breakfast and brunch hotspot. Unlike the others, though, Root’d is also open for lunch and dinner and offers wine and beer with its eclectic menu of American favorites.
“We want you to come and enjoy, have a bottle of wine, share those small plates and enjoy the dessert that we’re making daily and putting in the case,” Donald said.
The interior was made over by the team to celebrate Utah, Cottonwood Heights, and the outdoor recreation that make them home. The Root’d team plans to open its patio for additional seating this spring. They also hope to expand its outside area to accommodate live music in the summer.
“We want it to be the spot where everyone in the community knows to come and hang out and have a personal experience,” Donald said. “That’s why we’re called Root’d. We want to be rooted in the community and rooted with the people.”
Adding flavor to the area
The new culinary additions to Cottonwood Heights have helped add life to the neighborhood and greater diversity to the local cuisine. While the offerings of the three establishments are diverse, they share a commitment to authenticity.
“What they have is original Sicilian food, and what we have is original Persian food,” said Panah of Sicilia Mia and Sumac Café. “What we have is authentic.”
Locals have responded by filling tables and spreading the word. As early as 5 p.m. on a Saturday in February, the parking lots on both sides of Bengal at 2600 South began to fill. The energy each owner and manager uses to talk about their food is returned by eager guests.
“I’ve never been welcomed to a neighborhood more often than here,” Donald said. “Everyone has said, ‘I live down the street’ or ‘I live around the corner, and we’re so glad you’re finally here.’ I wasn’t expecting this much of a response, but it’s been awesome.”