March 13, 2013

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Upper Crust

Park City Dining Scene Coming into its Own

Di Lewis

March 13, 2013

When Hans Fuegi moved to Park City in 1980, the city was still a relatively sleepy mountain town with a dining scene that reflected that.

“It didn’t take much to satisfy skiers on the slopes,” says Fuegi, co-founder of the Park City Area Restaurant Association and owner of the Grub Steak Restaurant. Most of the food options were the standard mountain fare of burgers and soda.

“At that point we weren’t on the map, not just for dining obviously, but the number of restaurants and quality of dining experience wasn’t here,” he says.

Tipping Point

Fuegi believes the Park City dining scene began to change with the arrival of Deer Valley.

Julie Wilson, Deer Valley director of food and business, says Edgar Stern opened the resort in 1981 with the philosophy of giving guests exceptional food and service. The focus on a better experience created a friendly competition for better food both in and out of Park City, Wilson says.

That attitude raised the bar for on-mountain food, says Fuegi, and drew the attention of national press.

World-class resorts like Deer Valley and events like Sundance brought out-of-state visitors, and those visitors, especially ones at high-end resorts, really led the initial push for fine dining in Park City, says Heather King, a freelance food writer/reviewer for The Salt Lake Tribune.

“The luxury resorts are certainly attracting clientele who know and expect high-end dining options, and the resorts have, for the most part, gone to great lengths to install fine restaurants within their own confines. But these sophisticated visitors also afford other Park City restaurants an opportunity to offer more daring, cutting-edge cuisine,” King says.

She adds, “In part, I think the opening of High West Distillery has brought much-deserved attention to the Park City dining scene. Theirs is an intriguing and distinctive story worth telling about Utah, and with their recognition has come national acclaim for many other restaurants in the area.”

Innovation Explosion

“We had some catching up to do,” Fuegi says of Park City’s restaurants. “But in the last 30 years, we’ve gone there and frankly surpassed many of our competitors.”

King says the city has seen an even greater growth in creativity and sophistication during the past five years. A lot of the credit for that growth belongs to the award-winning chefs who have moved to Utah, she says.

Park City can still attract world-class chefs despite a seasonal business because the area is so beautiful and welcoming, says Wilson. And those chefs have attracted guests who want them to exceed expectations.

“Restaurant-goers’ palates, both locally and nationwide, have become more sophisticated so chefs are getting the opportunity to be more creative with their offerings because diners are more interested in experimenting and broadening their food horizons,” says King. “With the recession, experiences instead of possessions became the trend, and new and interesting dining experiences are some of the most attainable for the general population.”

Dining has become such a large part of what people expect when vacationing that Fuegi says more people are choosing Park City now that its dining scene is on par with or better than competitors.

Looking Forward

The addition of events like Savor the Summit and the Utah Food and Wine Classic have brought more attention from local and national press, Wilson says, which helps combat some of the more persistent stereotypes outsiders have about Utah’s liquor laws.

These events also make Park City dining accessible to more Utahns, King says, and brought a new level of camaraderie between restaurants.

Food events are not the only positive changes Wilson sees in the future. Park City has gained new attention for mountain biking, and that, with other events, is bringing more summer tourists. Working in a Park City restaurant is a hard industry to be in year round, she says, and things that bring summer tourists allow the area’s talented chefs’ restaurants to stay open.

The recent attention elevates everyone, Fuegi says, and even smaller restaurants have stepped up their offerings. Despite all of this, he says Park City is still “a little undiscovered, but that’s changing quickly.”

Part of what Fuegi loves about the area is that locals also get amazing options because of the guests. He notes that it’s not often that a town of 8,000 people has more than 100 places to eat.

Evolution in Park City dining has Fuegi excited to see what will come next. “It used to be a struggle to find a quality place. Now the problem is you don’t know where to start.”

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