Sept. 28, 2011
Dining out: Creative sandwiches make Black Widow Cafe a lunch standout in Sugar House
By Stuart Melling
Special to The Tribune
With such a unique name, the Black Widow Café could all too easily suffer from an excess of puns in a review. So, Ill get that out of my system right away and simply say the Black Widow has definitely got its fangs into me.
Just a few months ago, the Black Widow Café moved into the space formerly home to Sugarhouse Bread Co., springing to life from an existing catering business.
The café is relaxed and casual, with a mix of two- and four-top tables. Flashes of black- and red-lacquered wood accent the room with an eye to the cafés name. A deli case highlights various specials, which change frequently, especially given the kitchens home-style approach. The restaurant roasts its own meats, bakes its own bread, pickles in-house and even makes its ketchup from scratch.
The restaurants tagline is affordable eclectic cuisine, which initially had me perplexed. Over several meals, though, it became clear the owners simply love great food, and that slogan allows creative license.
From the starting point of salads, soups and sandwiches, I saw nods to cuisines from all over the globe, starting with classic American, as well as Indian, Greek, Latin American and Asian.
I started sampling the appealing sandwiches, all made with freshly baked bread. The steak tip sandwich ($9) is an explosion of flavor. A generous portion of juicy steak tips came bathed with garlic aioli, topped with slightly smoky sweet onions and peppers, finished with mozzarella and provolone.
Kevins Cuban ($8) tasted even better, consisting of roasted ham, smoked pork, Swiss, house-made pickles and chipotle aioli, all stuffed inside fresh focaccia. The bread is then slathered with butter and toasted under some gentle pressure, resulting in a tremendously enjoyable experience. A similarly rich grilled cheese ($7) underwent a gourmet makeover featuring local Beehive cheddar, smoked provolone and Swiss.
In contrast, a pulled pork ($8) sandwich was pedestrian, especially considering the flashes of flair that populate much of the rest of the menu. The dish came as three small sliders with smoked pork, topped with shredded, crunchy carrot.
Far more inspiration came in the turkey three ways ($8), comprising roasted turkey, turkey bacon and mixed greens. Completing the trio of turkey came a serving of rosemary-inflected turkey jus. This was another top-notch sandwich, brought together by a fine cranberry aioli.
One special I eagerly ordered one evening was a lamb gyro ($8), a satisfyingly hefty affair served in a soft, fluffy pita, which wrapped up mounds of juicy lamb, sharp onions, creamy tzatziki and bright red tomatoes. The taste made me crave this as a menu staple, not just a special.
All sandwiches come with a side of either house salad or house fries (think skin-on potato wedges). With the menu changing daily, every meal is liable to offer something new to discover, such as the curry-infused potato salad I enjoyed with one meal.
For an additional couple of dollars, you can also choose a cup of soup. Over several visits, it seemed a flavorful clam chowder was a regular selection. Thai bisque was brought to life with plenty of vivid Thai basil, whereas the gazpacho wandered more towards salsa. Anglo-Indian soup mulligatawny was the biggest letdown, marred by excessive salt.
Beyond the solid sandwich selections, there are also a handful of entrées, although none of the selections jumped from the menu and ultimately they seemed superfluous. Chicken pot pie ($15) was executed well, perfect for the coming fall and winter season. Despite all of its creamy excellence, at $15, it made my wallet wince.
Similarly, a dish of steak tips ($18) with sautéed vegetables was completely eclipsed by the $9 steak tip sandwich. Personally, Id nix the entrées altogether and make room for more of those terrific sandwiches.
Dessert changes daily, but on at least two outings I sampled a mighty fine bread pudding ($5), which I had to seriously consider as a challenger for my favorite in town. I mentioned this to two of the chefs, who chuckled and told me they had worked previously at Tin Angel Café, home to my other all-time favorite.
A slice of chocolate torte ($5) was thoroughly dense and rich, so much so you might want to consider sharing, if tackled shortly after something like the hearty Cuban or grilled cheese. On one trip, I also closed a meal with a couple of pecan, caramel and white chocolate cookies which arrived at our table gratis from our server.
A word of caution about the operating hours. Despite the cafes listed hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., I arrived one evening to find the place locked up, a note on the door explaining the restaurant was closed for a private catering event. On a subsequent day, I called the restaurant to check hours, only to find the same story echoed on the answering machine. I also encountered the restaurant closing up at 7:30 one evening.
An owner I spoke to said it was due to a temporary lack of demand in the evening. For the time being, I would advise calling ahead to confirm the days operating hours.
Yet with fabulous sandwiches like the Cuban and turkey three ways, its surely only a matter of time before this casual café generates buzz and attracts a regular crowd. Im certain that once that happens, the hours will stabilize and the Black Widow Café will just get better.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.