And there was the story of the “Boston” tea … er beer … party, complete with locals in colonial dress, and kegs being emptied into the Great Salt Lake to protest a tax on beer.
These tidbits of information were all part of the Park City Food Tours, an historic journey down Park City’s Main Street that included samples at four restaurants and, sigh, a spa treatment for my ski-wrinkled hands.
What better way for an old silver mining town to showcase its food while still celebrating its history?
Park City long-timer Shirin Spangenberg started the tours a couple of years ago. It’s more than just a food sampling. It’s a chance to learn about the city and also taste at restaurants that run the gamut from casual to gourmet. Plus, there’s at least one extra … hand treatment at a day spa or specialty olive oil tasting or perhaps popping into an art gallery.
And best, it all goes downhill, which is no small thing on a street that has a 215 foot vertical drop (that’s like 20 stories) in just a few blocks.
Starting with the Old Days
We started at Treasure Mountain Inn with its old photos of the early mining days.
“In 1869, the First Transcontinental Railroad (sic) was joined just two hours from here,” said Shirin. “Meanwhile, gold was being found everywhere so folks looked here as well.”
Not much gold showed up, but the consolation prize was silver … some of the richest strikes in U.S. history. There are grainy black and white pictures along a hallway at the inn, showing miners, and the town in its early days before a massive 1898 fire, as well as photos of early skiing.
We learned, among other things, that at the height of prohibition in this heavily Mormon state, there were 26 bars serving booze.
So it’s fitting that our first stop was Wasatch Brew Pub.
In 1986, Stu Brown had an idea … open a brew pub for thirsty skiers. For this, he needed legislation, not easy to come by in Utah, where the question was “a brew … what?”
So he found a friendly legislator, who slid the legislation into a bill so overloaded with other stuff, no one apparently noticed.
Over the years, Stu has approached all this with tongue firmly in cheek.
There was the move by the state to slap a four percent tax on beer. So Stu rounded up some guys, dressed them in colonial garb and emptied kegs of beer into Salt Lake. It made the newspapers and, yes, a compromise was struck.
And of course, there’s Stu’s Polygamy Porter.
Onto the Food
At Wasatch, our food tasting included giant, butter-tender shrimp coated in coconut batter with a mango/tabasco dipping sauce. It was accompanied by a jalapeno cream ale that screamed Mexican chilies–without the burn. (Check out Stu’s recipe for Coconut Shrimp with Mango Sauce.)
Yes, I had skied all day. Yes, I was famished. Yes, it was mouthwatering. I nearly ate the tails.
Down the street, Shirin pointed out Red Banjo pizza, which, in an earlier life, was a bar with separate doors for men and women. The two doors are still there.
From here, we went to the French flavor of 412 Bistro where the tasting of the day was a “wild forest mushroom sauté” on toast with a goat cheese brandy cream and balsamic reduction.
Japanese beach mushrooms, maitakes foraged from Washington state, and something called hog’s hedge. Who knew there were that many tasty, edible fungi to be had? The dish was earthy, creamy, and spirited yet still mild.
Then off to the Park City Museum where we roamed a room with early ski day relics, saw a giant sidecut of what the mines looked like in their heyday and learned about Thaynes Lift, a left-over mining train and elevator used for decades to take skiers up the mountain.
Back in the day, Thaynes wasn’t particularly convenient … three miles in an open mining car, then a spooky ride 1,770 feet up in an ancient mining elevator. The whole trip took 90 minutes and was a conversation piece that few folks undoubtedly wanted to do more than once. Fortunately, accessibility for today’s skiers has improved.
Next up was Talisker on Main, voted best restaurant in Park City by Salt Lake magazine three years running.
Chef Briar Handley came out to chat about his braised pork belly that our group voted best taste of the tour. With all that was going on … pork and pickled apples and celery and celery root puree and lobster roe in white wine … we were somehow able to taste each individual ingredient even as they blended into their own earthy tapestry.
Behind us we could see the restaurant’s chefs preparing that night’s food, which added to the special feel of the place.
And, now, on to our final tasting at Wahso, an Asian grill built to replicate the feel of Shanghai, circa 1930.
The place just drips antiques. There’s a 1,000 pound, 600-year-old Ming Dynasty cat, Mongolian statues with horsehair mustaches, teak columns and an intricately carved wood ceiling.
The offset to this opulence was a simple pear and endive salad sprinkled with currants, candied walnuts and topped with a citrus soy dressing. It was a perfect way to end the food portion of the tour.
We were neither full nor hungry. It was just enough.
But Shirin had one more surprise for us: Mountain Body day spa for a “hand wash.”
The treatment had four parts and even the guys gamely participated.
First, a moisturizer, then a grapefruit salt scrub, followed by honey butter, a rinse under the faucet and finally, creamy lotion which came scented (thank you no, not on top of grapefruit and honey) and unscented.
We scrubbed and rubbed and rinsed. And my hands were smooth for the first time that week.
Four hours had passed. Good food had been tasted. Nice beer and wine had been sipped. And now, our hands, along with everything else, were relaxed and blissfully hydrated.
With all the skiing of the day, how nice to have eaten and drunk without a shred of guilt. – story and photos by Yvette Cardozo, RFT Ski & Dive Editor
If You Go
Park City Food Tours run year round. Tours are limited to 12 people max, take from two to four hours and occur in the afternoon before main dining hours. Tour prices cover food but not alcohol. The winter tours include:
- Original Food Tour – $69, includes appetizer size tastings at four restaurants with a non food stop that might be an art gallery or a day spa
- Progressive Meal – $85, includes appetizer, main dish, dessert at successive restaurants.
- Gastrolounge – $55, includes stops at four Main Street lounges for food and drink.