Holladay • When you live in Utah, inspiration often comes naturally.
Cotton Kitchen owners Juliana Klein and Emerson Oliveira happened to find it at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, where they opened their third restaurant in March.
The name might be a little on the nose, but Juliana Klein said it holds a deeper meaning. Cotton, she said, reflects simplicity and purity. That’s what the couple hopes to achieve at the Holladay restaurant, which specializes in clean eating and what Klein calls “fast fine dining.”
It’s a departure from their Park City restaurants, Flying Sumo and Bridge Cafe and Grill. Both are full service, while Cotton Kitchen runs on a fast casual setup with an emphasis on plating and a higher service standard.
Cotton Kitchen serves an all-day breakfast and lunch, which Klein describes as international cuisine inspired by her family travels. While a global influence is apparent, the menu feels most cohesive around the clean-eating concept, particularly the focus on health-conscious and plant-based dishes made with as few ingredients as possible.
Of course, there’s still plenty of meat on the menu. It’s all roasted and/or grilled.
Whichever diet you prefer, you should be happy with Cotton Kitchen’s offerings. Most of the dishes I sampled not only looked Instagram ready but tasted delicious and had been skillfully prepared.
Except they weren’t nearly as hot as they should have been.
Of the seven dishes my guests and I ordered, six — all of the hot preparations — arrived lukewarm. (The seventh was a Nicoise salad ($14), which had a beautiful green olive vinaigrette.) Two of those came when my table was the only one seated in the restaurant at the time.
Although the deconstructed Fork and Knife Pork Tamale ($14) suffered from some temperature issues, the spicy salsa roja might be enough to warm you up for a minute. I really enjoyed Cotton Kitchen’s reimagining of the tamale — from the tender braised pork to chimichurri to the crispy polenta cake. But to get the most out of it, you really need to taste all of the elements together. That means either scooping the salsa roja on top of the pork or cutting it all up and mixing it together.
Likewise, the somewhat dry brioche sammy ($11) benefited once we painstakingly scraped the dijon aioli off the plate and spread it over the sourdough. With a hard egg, arugula and sharp cheddar, the sandwich isn’t overly heavy, although I’m still inclined to suggest adding bacon ($2) or maple sausage ($2).
The 2 Egg CK ($11) surprised me the most. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting an apple jam, the texture of which reminds me more of an apple butter or applesauce. But I adored the quinoa potato hash — especially the little pop, or crunch, from the quinoa — so much that I’ll probably try to replicate it at home.
The butter chicken ($13) and beehive mac and cheese ($4) were my least favorite dishes simply because they felt somewhat like false advertisements. While spot-on flavorwise, the mac and cheese wasn’t all that creamy or all that cheesy, except for the shredded topping. In fact, the penne was nearly dry.
The butter chicken also lacked the traditional rich, creamy tomato sauce. Instead, it tasted more akin to a tangy barbecue chicken. Despite the difference in flavor, the shredded chicken worked well with the jasmine rice, mango chutney, cilantro, parsley oil and sesame seeds.
Given a do-over, I’d try the pancakes ($10), which come with a maple mascarpone whipped cream that sounds incredible. General manager Bobbi Mack also suggested the pita and Spanish olive pesto ($4); braised short rib ($15), the only beef dish on the menu; and the Caesar confit salad ($12), for which the chicken takes two days to brine and cook.
Mack and her staff spend an incredible amount of time prepping each recipe, which helps expedite orders later on. No item, she said, should take longer than five minutes to prepare; most take 3 1/2 to four minutes. She figures that most people have about 30 minutes for lunch, so her team needs to create an awesome experience within that time frame.
With the temperature and other minor issues, I can’t exactly say I had an awesome experience on either visit. But both were pleasant — and both clearly showed that Cotton Kitchen can produce a flavor-forward, well-executed menu.
Cotton Kitchen • ★★1/2 (out of ★★★★) Cotton Kitchen features an all-day breakfast and lunch, inspired by global flavors. The elevated fast casual restaurant specializes in eating clean.
Food • ★★1/2
Mood • ★★★
Service • ★★1/2
Noise • 1 bell
Location • 3158 E. 6200 South, Holladay; 385-274-4749
Online • cottonkitchenutah.com
Hours • 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday-Saturday; lunch starts at 11 a.m.
Children’s menu • Yes
Prices • $-$$
Liquor • Wine, bubbles and beer
Reservations • Private events only
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • Yes