Sunshine and climbing temperatures ignite the urge to maximize outdoor eating time. Whether a cookout on the deck, a backpack food bundle, a romantic picnic or a classy alfresco dinner, flavors somehow improve when the summer season approaches.
And, weather willing, exterior eating pleasures begin with the Memorial Day holiday weekend.A number of beautiful garden eating spots issue invitations to stop and smell the roses, or sidewalks expand into patio seating while diners indulge in satisfying seasonal fare. A handful of local stops combine particularly appealing outdoor tables with summer menu options:
The Aerie, Cliff Lodge, Snowbird, 801-742-2222. Sometimes described as the best view in the state, terrace dining at this classy mountain resort offers the snowcapped, craggy peaks of Little Cottonwood Canyon underscored by a top-notch Sunday brunch, a popular seafood buffet and an inventive "New American" cuisine. These high-altitude amenities carry an equally high price tag but are worth a summer splurge.
Cafe Molise, 55 W. 100 South, 364-8833. A skateboarder's hangout has been transformed to a convenient, shady nook in the midst of hectic downtown roadblocks and detours. The limited Italian menu always includes warm, freshly made bread, a pair of salad entrees, lasagna that some folks claim is to "die for" and a zesty Eggplant Parmesan.
Dodo Restaurant, 680 S. 900 East, 328-9348. This neighborhood favorite features a full sun-catching deck and a satisfying menu, anchored by a trademark garlic-based salad or a gooey Tollhouse pie. In between, crafty sandwiches, brie and fresh fruit or a predictable fish dish fill in to create a comfy, casual stopover.
Fresco Italian Cafe, 1513 S. 1500 East, 486-1300. One of the top restaurants in the state, offering inventive Northern Italian cuisine in a cozy room attached to the King's English Bookstore. It expands to a refreshing patio scheme during the summer. Abundant perennial gardens surround the outdoor setting, which is nearly perfect all around - unless the bees return for another season.
The Grapevine, 129 N. 100 East, Logan, 435-752-1977. A journey for a garden, but if you happen to be in Cache Valley, this restored historic home offers the ambiance of your great-grandma's back yard, filled with gentle blooms. Don't imagine grandma in the kitchen, however, where "wow" is the word for contemporary continental cuisine. Open only Wednesday through Saturday; call ahead for reservations.
Goldener Hirsch, Silver Lake Village, Deer Valley, 435-649-7770. Austrian-inspired decor stocked with antiques offers a wide-open view of the wildflower-covered Deer Valley runs, along with occasional critter sightings and mountain bikers cruising the trails. The versatile continental menu means hands-on touches from the creative chef, but the enticing view may require 10 courses to absorb. Summer season opens June 13.
La Caille at Quail Run, 9565 S. Wasatch Canyon Blvd., 942-1751. French-inspired gardens, complete with peacocks and ponds, suggest an unparalleled Old Country atmosphere. Unfortunately, the uneven French cuisine at La Caille falls well below the inviting grounds, and the price tag causes you to wonder if your dining check subsidizes the entire landscaping crew. Try a dusk stop for a more affordable dessert treat if dinner costs become prohibitive . . . or, perhaps sneak a walk with a clandestine picnic basket.
Lion House Pantry, 63 E. South Temple, 363-5466. This downtown favorite was recently renovated just in time to enjoy the spectacular blooms on the block. An intimate backyard garden provides a peaceful luncheon setting garnished with flora on all sides. Always dependable but hardly spec-tacular menus guarantee a sat-is-fying if predictable meal.
Log Haven, 3800 South and Mill-creek Canyon Road, 272-8255. A renovated cabin provides a total package with mountains, ponds, ducks and flowers all around. The creative and eclectic menu always proves interesting but also somewhat pricy. At least the canyon fees are covered with the check, and the drive up popular Millcreek could be classified as heavenly.
Market Street Broiler, 260 S. 1300 East, 583-8808. Ever-crowded, the historic fire station spreads to a comfy, front yard patio for seasonal eats. The dependable fresh fish entrees, blackened seafood salads and gooey ribs keep the lines coming for summer. If the wait seems too lengthy, the counter space broadcasts the sense of outdoors. Come early to grab an east-facing table, guaranteed to be filled with glorious summer options, even before the August salmon run.
Oasis Cafe, 151 S. 500 East, 322-0404. A sunny courtyard bounded by the Golden Braid Bookstore gathers a host of guests who prefer straightforward, primarily vegetarian dishes. Interesting combinations make vegetarian appealing to even dedicated meat lovers, while heavily-textured breads and trendy juice drinks complete an enticing meal.
Park Cafe, 604 E. 1300 South, 487-1670. Adjacent to Liberty Park, this longtime favorite sprouts its own garden borders to accent the patio extension come summer. Breakfast here, as the sun creeps through the trees, is enticing, and supper is comforting when the cool breezes from Liberty blow south. Hefty omelettes, crispy stir frys, generous sandwich stackings and always a pair of specials: fish and pasta create enough choices to satisfy the casual diner.
Tuscany, 2832 E. 6200 South, 277-9919. Often still fondly remembered as the Heather, but cutting its own swath through the cottonwoods, the stone-crafted, oversized cottage yields an English garden-type patio despite the Northern Italian interior. A variety of pastas, hardy chops and delicate fish plates grace the menu, which concludes with partner Mark Eaton's mile-high chocolate cake. Check to make sure private parties don't capture the garden on the evening you desire a respite there.
Dining Out Note: Folks anticipating a day or weekend outing to Park City should call ahead and make sure favorite restaurants are open. May is housekeeping month for many of the local stops; some re-open for the holiday weekend, but others have more chores or take a longer break into June.