Unique, local restaurants bring cultural value to Utah

Story and slideshow by William Phifer III

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In Layton, Utah, there is a strip of real-estate running along the east side of Interstate 15 that the locals call “restaurant row.” Littered with a copious amount of national chains, the area also has a few unique, local restaurants that bring an irreplaceable cultural value to the community.

Corbin’s Grille is one of those restaurants. Located at 748 W. Heritage Park Blvd., Corbin’s is a family-owned business that is operated by Jake Garn, whose father is the landlord of the location. Since its opening in 2006, Garn has learned a lot about running a small local restaurant.

“I’ve learned that appreciating the local food, instead of chains, isn’t something that comes automatically to most Utahns,” he said in a phone interview.

However, as time has progressed and people have learned about Corbin’s Grille, Garn said, “I’d like to think everyone is starting to appreciate the value of local flavor a little bit more.”

Garn said his favorite way to make the restaurant a unique place for patrons is by “bringing something that’s a local creation – something people out of town can try and look forward to.”

To help him consistently achieve this goal, Garn appointed Jimbo Snarr the executive chef in 2014. Snarr understands that the owners of Corbin’s Grille are looking to provide a unique experience for their customers.

“Our goal is to take good classic dishes that people really like and make them classy and higher-end,” Snarr said.”[To do] this we use a lot of fresh ingredients and we make everything in house.”

One example of a popular dish that is made at Corbin’s Grille is the spinach artichoke dip. While almost every restaurant has its own variation of this common appetizer, Snarr said most receive it pre-made and frozen from other vendors. Unsatisfied with any of those inexpensive variations, Snarr said that Corbin’s Grille preps its spinach artichoke dip in-house using fresh ingredients.

Another popular dish at Corbin’s Grille is the lemon asparagus salmon, created at the restaurant during a cooking competition among the cooks. The fresh sushi-grade king salmon is pan-seared in a sauce consisting of white wine, lemon juice, fresh tomatoes, asparagus and other ingredients. This particular salmon dish is one of three offered at Corbin’s Grille and it is the only one that is not cooked over a wood fire grill.

Chefs utilize a white almond wood fire to grill everything from steak, seafood, chicken and burgers, to asparagus and lemon wedges, which are used on seafood dishes. Snarr said the intense heat sears the edges of the steak and really locks in the flavors and juices.

While the food itself is a unique part of Corbin’s Grille, Snarr says that is just part of what makes eating there a distinctive dining experience. Snarr believes the open kitchen and experienced staff also create an inviting atmosphere for the clientele.

“We’re an open book, come on in. We have an open kitchen. Anybody can walk up,” Snarr said, “and watch my guys cook. We do it proper, we do it right … and everybody can see it and know it. I think that’s what makes us popular.”

In the spirit of transparency, Corbin’s Grille does cooking demonstrations where restaurant management share their recipes and techniques. Snarr said some people don’t understand why they are divulging “restaurant secrets” and giving people the tools to make their dishes at home.

In his experience, Snarr said, “People are still going to come to us when they don’t want to cook, because they still like to come out” and have a fine dining experience.

Anthony Lella also recognizes the value of unique restaurants, which is why he is entertaining the idea of opening his own Italian restaurant in the Ogden area.

Lella, formerly the general manager of Iggy’s Sports Grill in Layton, is from a family with strong Italian roots.

He has identified a lack of quality Italian restaurants in the northern Utah area. He also has recognized an increasing trend toward homemade food and cultural culinary diversity.

Recalling a visit to Utah years before he moved to Ogden, Lella said he went out to eat with someone who had never eaten prosciutto, which is an Italian cured ham.

“I was so shocked that this grown woman had no idea what this was, that I’d been eating all my life,” Lella said. “So I think things like that, specialty markets, are just emerging in Utah.”

Lella has considerable experience working in restaurant management, both in and out of state, and knows that location is a key factor in making a restaurant unique.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned about running a restaurant the last 13 years – location is key,” Lella said. “Think about where you’re at now [and] what has the opportunity to be there in five years.” If someone else builds a similar, competitive restaurant right across the street, he said both restaurants can lose their unique quality.

Lella has been searching for an ideal restaurant location in the Davis County area to bring authentic Italian food and culture to the beehive state.

He already has a clear vision of what the menu will include: four different risotto dishes, homemade fettuccine and gnocchi. He has also considered making his own sausage, meatballs, mozzarella and ricotta.

Like management at Corbin’s Grille, Lella is eager to provide a unique venue where patrons can enjoy fresh food made in-house.

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