New Salt Lake City restaurant is part coffee bar, part neighborhood hangout

Emigration Cafe, in the old One-O-Eight space, is serving elevated coffee and ‘not quite diner food.’

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Emigration Cafe's opening night, Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Emigration Cafe's menu features Roman style wood fired pizza, salads, sandwiches and mains.

When the Salt Lake City restaurant One-O-Eight Bistro closed in February, it left behind a custom Italian wood-fired oven and the only ModBar espresso system in the city.

For restaurateur Scott Evans, whose Pago Group took over the space at 1709 E. 1300 South, that equipment and location was a chance to anchor a new restaurant, Emigration Cafe — and to collaborate with Nick Nelson and Eric Lo, owners of Salt Lake City-based Logos Coffee.

“This is a really big space — 4,000 square feet — and I really wanted to break it up in a way that made sense,” Evans said of his new venture, when opened its doors to a “soft opening” on April 27. “It had a coffee bar, as well as one of the most expensive espresso machines you can buy.”

The space “seemed underutilized” by One-O-Eight, which was only open for dinner, Evans said.

Evans said he lives in the neighborhood, “so I know what I hear from my neighbors, which is that a coffee shop that’s walkable would be great.”

That connection, and Evans’ approach of using neighborhood needs to guide his projects, was what clicked for Nelson about the collaboration.

“A huge part of this is community. … Coffee is a community, and a whole experience,” Nelson said of his coffee business — which has grown from a one-kilo roaster in his backyard shed to a mobile coffee counter to selling beans and coffee online and at farmers markets from Daybreak to Park City.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Emigration Cafe's opening night, Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Emigration Cafe is holding a brunch buffet for Mother's Day.

‘Third wave’ of coffee

Nelson said he became a “coffee nerd” when he was burned out on cubicle life working for the city of Denver as an urban planner. He moved back to Salt Lake City, studied for a few months with Rock Kim at The Bean Yard in Sandy, and took a deep dive into coffee’s history, art and science — sometimes, he said, “through the school of YouTube.”

“I love the culture of it,” he said. “I love the attention to detail. I’m kind of a perfectionist, and you can really get into a perfectionist mindset with it. It’s very scientific.”

Logos is part of what’s called the “third wave” of coffee, emphasizing high-quality green coffee beans, roasted lightly to bring out cleaner, more complex flavors. (The “first wave” of coffee is a cup of joe from a diner or a can of Folger’s; the “second wave” is symbolized by the barista, whether at independent cafes or the corner Starbucks.)

Logos makes a medium-roast with beans from Sumatra, which brings out the smoky, earthy flavors. Naturally processed coffees from such places as Ethiopian, Panama or Costa Rica get a lighter roast to preserve their fruity, floral flavors. And the espresso is made with a blend “to bring out a balanced, sweet-acidic cup.”

“It’s like a filet mignon,” Nelson said. “You want it rare, or medium-rare — you don’t want to cook all the flavor out.”

The roasting process employs software to track variables, like air flow and temperature. But a roaster’s trained eye is still indispensable. Nelson brought on Lo as a partner, handling the business side of the company, so Nelson can focus on the roasting. (They met last summer when Nelson’s instrumental rock trio, Vinyl Koala, was recording at a studio Lo co-owns.) Nelson is working to expand his crew, which includes a roasting apprentice, Sapphire Jensen.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Emigration Cafe bartenders Aaron Jeffers and Gabe Spiegel fill drink orders opening night, Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Emigration Cafe's menu features Roman style wood fired pizza, salads, sandwiches and mains.

Inspirations from around the world

While Logos concentrates on the cafe side of Emigration Cafe, Evans and Pago Group’s executive chef, Phelix Gardner, are focusing on the menu for lunch and dinner.

What Evans’ neighbors want in the space, he said, is an elevated casual restaurant.

Emigration Cafe serves “not quite diner food, but everyday food with a couple of dishes on the menu that are special occasion — splurges and a couple of fancy steaks,” Evans said.

Gardner’s menu finds inspiration in the restaurant’s name — and its connection to Emigration Canyon, the historic gateway into the Salt Lake Valley, not just for the first pioneers but for immigrants from Greece, Mexico and South America.

The menu references foodways from those countries as well as the Middle East, finding overlaps between spices and flavors. There’s a lemon-rice soup, long a staple at local Greek restaurants; mushroom queso birria tacos; an aguachile appetizer; chicken souvlaki; split pea falafel; and a chicken shawarma skewer.

The other inspiration for Emigration Cafe, Evans said, was Australian cafes. “They have these all-day cafes where everything’s made from scratch,” he said. Aussie all-day cafes — including the ones in California started by Aussie expats — also focus on coastal cuisine, “so we’re doing a mountain version of that,” he added.

Not only will Emigration Cafe’s dishes — even the pastries they will be making for Logos — be made from scratch, but the ingredients, wherever possible, will be from local farmers and producers. Some herbs will come from a small garden on the premises, another thing left behind by One-O-Eight.

Even the wood in the oven is local, Gardner said: “We’re using fruitwood, primarily apple and cherry, coming out of the Santaquin area.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Emigration Cafe's Zucchini pinsa with ricotta, basil, mint and preserved lemons, $13, April 27, 2022. Emigration Cafe's menu features Roman style wood fired pizza, salads, sandwiches and mains.

So what’s pinsa?

Another consideration when creating the menu, Evans said, was their neighbor: Nomad East, which serves Neapolitan-style pizza across the street.

“We wanted to use the oven in a way that allowed it to shine, but not be a competitor,” Evans said. “And we want the neighborhood to have different styles of food.”

The solution was to make pinsa — pizza’s older cousin, first baked in ancient Rome.

The dough for pinsa is made with a low-gluten mix of wheat and rice flour, cold-fermented for 72 hours, then baked into an oval. The crust is crunchy on the outside, with an interior that’s often described as “cloudlike.”

The cafe’s pinsa uses a sourdough starter and a biga — a remnant of the dough from the day before, a technique used in sourdough baking that also sets it apart from traditional pizza dough.

“It has a higher hydration, and a longer fermentation, so it lasts up to four days,” Gardner said. “It just gets more and more airy and flavorful as it continues to ferment.”

Pinsa is versatile, Gardner said. He said his kitchen is looking at using it for pizza, pita bread, rolls for sandwiches and for frybread for their Navajo taco salad.

Since the cafe eventually will be open all day, and appeal to a wide variety of eaters, the menu also includes a burger, a smoked turkey club, ice cream sandwiches and a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes. The cafe also has a list of natural, sustainable wines and ciders, and 15 to 25 high-end beers, including local craft brews.

Emigration Cafe is in its “soft opening,” but within a few weeks, Evans said, it will add breakfast dishes, which will be served at the bar, diner-style, though people can take their coffee or food out on the expansive Mediterranean-style patio.

Even though the menu is built around the wood-fired oven, Evans said, the food and drink menus will be adjusted based on diners’ responses. Trinity Steffensen, a chef from New Orleans, is overseeing the kitchen, and Evans said she eventually will be the person primarily developing the recipes and writing the menus. (The Cajun cream pasta on the menu is her recipe.)

“We’ll just try to anticipate what the neighbors want, and hear them,” Evans said. “But our version is to also give them the things they didn’t know they wanted.”

Emigration Cafe is in its “soft opening,” and is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays, with a Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The schedule is expected to expand in the coming weeks.

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