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Valerie Phillips: Station Park chock full of food and fun

Published: Tuesday, June 19 2012 2:57 p.m. MDT

Johnny Rocket's has a retro atmosphere of a 1950's malt shop.

Valerie Phillips

Quick! Name me a new shopping center anchored by a state-of-the-art Harmon's supermarket, a "dancing" water fountain, and a mix of both familiar and new-to-Utah restaurants and shops. Sounds like City Creek, you say?

About 20 miles north of Salt Lake City lies the 67-acre Farmington Station Park, at the crossroads of I-15, Highway 89, the Legacy Parkway and UTA FrontRunner stop.

Like City Creek, it's been a construction zone for the past few years. Last year, the Cinemark movie theater and Harmon's store were surrounded by acres of construction zone. Then the "power center" lineup of stores, such as Sports Authority, Home Goods and Marshall's, opened.

But it took longer for the restaurants to arrive. The only place for lunch or "dinner and a movie" was Harmon's, with its well-stocked salad bar, wok bar and other prepared meals.

Now the restaurants are finally opening. In the past couple of months, a Panda Express, the locally owned Settobello Pizzeria Napoletana, the Utah-based Cafe Zupa's and Johnny Rocket's retro burger chain are all waiting to take your order. And more restaurants are on the way, according to the developer, CenterCal Properties.

With unveiling of a "dancing waters" fountain last weekend, Station Park is becoming a fun destination. This isn't a play pad for kids to jump in; it is choreographed lights, music, color and water shooting up to 60 feet high. The fountain at Disney's California Adventure is the only other one in the world with similar technology. The water show takes place every hour on the hour, rotating songs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to midnight on weekends. The state-of-the-art fountain features a waterfall that flows into a lower pool.

Several months ago, I talked to Craig Trottier, vice president of development for CenterCal Properties. He said when the project was stalled in 2007 due to the economy, the company spent that waiting time redesigning the 1.5-acre pedestrian park so that it would attract people year-round.

"We engaged Lifescapes International, the architect firm that did the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas, and they took our fountain idea to a whole different level."

The restaurants next to the theater offer a great view of the fountain because they have retractable glass walls that will allow customers to dine al fresco in summer.

Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana is a second location for owner Michael Brooks. It already has a reputation in downtown Salt Lake City for its authentic Neapolitan thin-crust, handmade pizza cooked in a wood burning oven from Salerno, Italy.

Settobello is one of a handful of Italian restaurants in the nation certified by the Vera Pizza Napoletana. The VPN's goal is to protect the integrity of the pizza-making tradition as it began in Napoli more than 200 years ago. VPN protocols require using only Italian flours to create the pizza dough, working the dough by hand, never using a rolling pin, and baking the pizza directly on the surface of a bell shaped wood-burning oven. The charter also requires the use of specific Italian tomatoes and fresh milk or buffalo milk mozzarella.

The retro burger chain Johnny Rockets opened a couple of weeks ago, the first in Utah since a Trolley Square location in the 1990s. It's owned by franchisees Alex Ghomi and Max Javadi, who operate four additional restaurants in California. They plan to open two more locations this year, including one in City Creek, according to general manager John Collins.

Yes, Collins acknowledged, you can get a decent burger in a lot of other places. But Johnny Rocket's also gives you atmosphere straight out of the 1950s malt shops, with red leather banquettes, shiny chrome accents and tableside juke boxes. Servers in crisp white uniforms pause occasionally to break out in dance routines to oldies such as "The Hippy Hippy Shake."

And speaking of shakes, there are lots of them, including the Strawberry Oreo that our server highly recommended. The restaurant also offers a dinner-and-a-movie deal; buy a meal and you can buy a movie ticket for $7.50 to the Cinemark theater next door.

I'm not knocking City Creek. It's a great showplace in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, with its sophisticated urban vibe and swanky stores such as Tiffany's and Nordstrom. Not to mention the ever-popular Cheesecake Factory.

But as a Davis County resident, I'm happy to have a close-to-home option where I can enjoy the fountain, food and free parking.

"The idea is to create an environment where people want to come and hang out for the day," Trottier said.

I'll admit, though, that Station Park's sprawling layout and acres of parking would be hard to navigate entirely on foot. The commuter rail train stop is quite a distance from the stores, restaurants and theater.

"If someone came on the train just to see a movie, that's quite a hoof for them," Trottier said. "But the way the project is designed, we hope people will make a day of it, and take their time and wander and shop as they make their way down to the theater."

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.

Email: vphillips@desnews.com

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