Marketplace: Firewood brings the heat to Park City |

Marketplace: Firewood brings the heat to Park City

Owner, once a mainstay in restaurant scene, returns to town

John Murcko, who has a long culinary history in Park City, recently opened Firewood, a restaurant on Main Street that cooks its food over an open flame. Murcko says he hopes the restaurants concept -- and its menu -- resonates with diners.
(Bubba Brown/Park Record)

In nearly three decades in the business, John Murcko had opened more than two dozen restaurants, of all kinds, for other owners.

But this time it was different. He was finally going to open a place of his own, so one of the most vital decisions he faced was creating a concept that felt authentic. With that in mind, he took a close friend down to his cabin in southern Utah and mulled it over.

They were smoking meats outside in a fire pit, enjoying the tranquility, when the idea struck him.

“I looked at him and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could bring this to a large scale?’” he said.

Months later, what began with a spark around a campfire has become a reality. Murcko recently opened Firewood, a restaurant near the top of Main Street serving up American cuisine cooked over an open flame. For Murcko, who helped open restaurants such as Chimayo, Ghidotti’s and the former Talisker on Main, it’s the culmination of his long culinary history in Park City.

“It’s very personal when it becomes yours,” he said. “You’re putting the little touches on the place that speak to you, and you have a say in every component. I can take those lessons that I’ve learned through opening so many restaurants and apply it with even more heart.”

Murcko hopes customers feel at home when they sit down at the restaurant and look at the menu. He described the culinary theme as “heirloom” American, offering the kind of recipes that could have been passed down through generations. Flavors can change depending on the kind of wood used to fuel the grill, and the menu features a range of dishes, including pork tenderloin, short rib, spiced duck and pork belly — all made with ingredients sourced as close to Park City as possible, he said.

“I don’t want to be a steak house,” he said. “I want to take some old family recipes and other things I’ve learned — because America has such great influences of all the people who have settled here. … The food, and the method we cook it, tells the whole story.”

Upstairs, many diners will have a front-row seat to the action in the kitchen. In the middle of the restaurant is a line of windows that offers a look behind the scenes, where staff can be seen hustling over the firewood grills. Following dinner, customers can retreat to the bar and lounge area downstairs, which is designed to achieve an industrial, turn-of-the-century feel. The atmosphere is completed with worn leather chairs, aging machinery serving as décor and a bar top finished with hundreds of nickels.

The energy is supposed to make diners feel like they’re in somebody’s home, Murcko said. That’s one reason he wanted customers to be able to peek into the kitchen and the flame being used to cook the meals.

“What do you notice when you have a fire burning?” he said. “Everybody stares and gathers around. I think the fire is very warming and is a great focal point for the dining room.”

As well as being the first restaurant Murcko has opened for himself, Firewood marks a homecoming for the chef. He established himself in Park City after moving to town in 1991 but left earlier this decade to open restaurants in Sun Valley, Idaho.

When it came time to create his own restaurant, he knew he had to return to the place where he’d invested so much of himself over the years. After basking in a warm reception in recent weeks from others in Park City’s restaurant scene, and from customers who will fill Firewood’s dining room, he’s happier than ever to be back.

“My family and I, we do consider Park City our home,” he said. “When we left, we left our friends and the town we loved, so we wanted to come back. I feel, personally, like I’ve put a lot of equity into the restaurant community here, so I didn’t see a better spot to open up my place.”

306 Main St.

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