Restaurant shoots for experience as sweet as Tupelo honey
November 20, 2015
Matt Harris loaded everything he owned into his truck and set out on a journey across the country. Growing up in Georgia, he had never left the South and, at 21, he was eager to see the world.
"I sold everything I had," he said. "I was traveling across the U.S., working at different restaurants. And I got to Park City and was like, ‘Man, this is such a cool place.’"
Harris, with much of the country left to see, didn’t stay for long. But he jumped at the chance to return to town several years later when renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten asked him to help open J&G Grill at St. Regis Deer Valley. But again, Harris eventually left Park City, to explore the Northeast and its culinary culture.
Now, Harris is back in Park City once more, and this time he’s planning on staying. The cuisine connoisseur is putting down roots and chose the town to be the home of the first restaurant he’s owned. He describes Tupelo, at 508 Main St., as the culmination of the years and hard work he’s put into the restaurant business.
"I’ve opened a lot of restaurants for other people," said Harris, who is also the executive chef. "It’s definitely a labor of love, with a lot of passion and a lot of hard work. And after I opened the last one, I was like, ‘You know what? Dammit, I’m not opening another restaurant for anybody else. This next one is going to be mine.’ And it was."
Tupelo’s name comes, in part, from the Van Morrison song "Tupelo Honey" and reflects Harris bringing his Southern roots to Park City. He outfitted the building with new décor to give it "elements of both 20th-century industry and the modern farmhouse." With large exposed brick walls, intricate lighting and comfortable furniture, the restaurant has the feel of a place beckoning customers to escape the winter cold, kick back and stay for a while.
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"As an owner and chef, you fold soul into your establishment," Harris said. "There’s a certain part of you that you have to bring to the building, to bring to the space. And I think that defines what it is. We wanted to return the building to a comfortable place. We didn’t want it to be stuffy. A lot of the furniture is something you would see at your house. It’s very nice, but you can sit back and relax. When I go out to eat, I want to feel comfortable. And that’s what we want to bring with the food, the design, the wine — everything. Just come in and we’re all friends."
As for the food, Tupelo offers a bit of an atypical dining experience for a restaurant in a resort town, Harris said. The menu, littered with dishes such as roasted scallops, Maine mussels and butternut squash risotto, was designed to show of the authenticity of the ingredients. Harris has formed personal relationship with the suppliers of his ingredients — he’s gone boating with the woman he buys crabs and mussels from, for instance — and he wants his culinary skills to play a supporting role to the fruits of their labor.
"The goal is to highlight the people that are producing the food," he said. "We want to cook the ingredients in a way that best showcases the quality and flavor they’re producing. These people put so much time and effort into doing the right thing, as far as making sure their product is sustainable, making sure their carbon footprint is right. It goes unnoticed. And the biggest thing for me is to take those ingredients and do right by those people and make them known for all their hard work."
Tupelo opened for dinner last month, and Harris is targeting Dec. 12 to begin offering lunch and brunch. The reception has been warm so far, as customers have embraced what the restaurant is all about.
"People are getting what I’m trying to do," he said. "Without me going to the table and talking to people like, ‘This is what we’re after,’ but rather having them tell me that they understand what we’re doing. They explain it in different words to me, but that’s the message I’m trying to get across."
508 Main St.
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