Silver Star Cafe owners open Mediterranean bistro in Salt Lake City
Fenice means ‘phoenix’ in Italian
Jeff and Lisa Ward are expanding their neighborhood-centric, mom-and-pop philosophy to Salt Lake City’s arts and culture district.
The owners of Park City’s Silver Star Cafe opened Fenice Mediterranean Bistro, located at 126 Regent St., on Oct. 13, and have already made connections with patrons and the surrounding businesses, including the Eccles Theater, which is just a few yards away, said Lisa Ward.
“When we opened they came in with flowers and welcomed us to the neighborhood,” she said. “They also put out a newsletter to their patrons with a link to our website, and encourage people to dine here before going to their shows.”
In addition, Parkites and Summit County residents who are long-time patrons of the Silver Star Cafe are making the drive to the Wasatch Front to try out the menu that features an array of salads, pasta, pizzas and other small-plate offerings, said Jeff Ward.
“That’s exciting for us,” he said. “To have people who support us at the Silver Star Cafe make the drive down from Park City to see us is so appreciated. It’s great to see familiar faces.”
For the past couple of years, the Wards have thought about opening a sister restaurant to the Silver Star Cafe, which was featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in 2014 and 2019 and on “Triple D Nation” in 2020.
“We wanted to do something that was more in Italian/Mediterranean vein, because we love the cuisine,” Jeff said. “We’ve always had good support with the pizzas we make at the cafe, so we always joked about spinning off a couple of years ago. But when we looked at a couple of spots in Park City and western Summit County, the timing wasn’t right.”
The Wards discovered the Regent Street space in the summer of 2019, and acquired it that winter, Lisa said.
“We knew what we wanted to do with the space, and then COVID-19 happened,” she said. “So we had to sit on it throughout 2020.”
The building is owned by the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Authority, and it is the former home of another eatery called Fireside on Regent, which folded a few months prior, said Lisa, who designed and decorated the space.
“The redevelopment authority were awesome,” she said. “They didn’t charge us any rent at the time, and they let us come and go and explore the space until we started to feel confident enough that people would start coming back downtown.”
The extra time allowed the Wards to conceptualize the restaurant’s design, Jeff said.
“We weren’t planning on ripping everything out and doing structural work, but we did want to update the decor, and make some operational layout changes,” he said.
The Wards decided to name the restaurant Fenice, which is pronounced fa-NEE-chay, which means phoenix in Italian, Lisa said.
“We felt it was fitting, because we were coming out of the space where Fireside on Regent was,” she said. “It was also metaphoric, because we were rising out of COVID.”
In order to ensure Fenice would offer what the Wards envisioned, the couple took extra time to prepare the menu.
“We looked at whether or not we wanted to go straight up Italian, and then we then wondered if that would be too restrictive, because we love the whole southern Mediterranean region — Spain, south of France, Italy, eastern Mediterranean and north African flavors,” Jeff said. “It came down to us wanting to play around with all of that, and if you look at our menu, more than half is our own spin on Italian flavors.”
Lisa was also mindful that she and Jeff aren’t Italian.
“We just love the produce, olives, cheeses, herbs and spices that are found in that part of the world,” she said. “So, when we added the word ‘Mediterranean’ to the name, it gave us more space to play with, and make things more interesting.”
Stylistically, Fenice food is a little more urban than the mountain fare the Wards serve at Silver Star, Lisa said.
“Here we wanted to do a lighter and more contemporary style, and we focus mostly on small plates, which are shareable dishes,” she said.
Fenice offers an array of salads and soups, and items that include roasted olives, burratas and sherried grapes.
Other dishes include polenta with Balsamic roasted mushrooms, roasted garlic with white bean hummus as well as patatas bravas, which are fried Yukon gold potatoes in a lemon-paprika aioli.
The house-made pasta offerings feature duck confit baronara, mushroom risotto, bolognese bianca and bucatini polpetta, and the pizzas include salumi, Italian sausage and agrodolce, roasted artichoke and garlic and vongloe, which combines fresh clams in the shell with garlic, Pecorino, oregano and olive oil.
The menu also includes larger entrees such as New York Steak au poivre, seafood cioppino, Moroccan chicken and osso bucco, a Niman Ranch pork shank with red wine and tomato-braised polenta.
“We have a long list of other things we want to introduce, but we still are getting everyone comfortable with the kitchen,” Jeff said. “Our plan is to keep the menu concise, but rotate things through to see what people respond to.”
Since Fenice is a full-service restaurant, it is licensed to sell cocktails with the food, but since the liquor is stored less than 10 feet away from the dining tables, state law won’t allow anyone under the age of 21 to enter the eatery, according to Jeff.
“The fact that this is a small and contained space didn’t bother us,” he said. “But it does mean that we can’t serve minors.”
Still, people are already responding to what the Wards offer.
“We already have regulars,” Lisa said. “People who live in the Avenues and in the high rises that are within walking distance are coming in a couple of times a week.”
Those connections mean a lot to the Wards.
“It’s the direct connection with what we do with the Silver Star Cafe in Park City,” Jeff said. “We consider ourselves a neighborhood restaurant and have long ties with the community up there, and we would like to replicate that here in a new way.”
Where: 126 S. Regent St., Salt Lake City
Hours: 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays
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