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Park City • I have to confess that I'm a big fan of actor Ty Burrell, who plays the punster dad in the sitcom "Modern Family." Salt Lake City became a lot more hip in 2010 when he and some partners bought and refurbished Bar X, a fixture on 200 South in downtown Salt Lake City.
Three years later, the partners debuted Beer Bar in the space adjoining Bar X, serving an impressive lineup of brews and a menu heavy on quality grilled sausages and delectable french fries. I don't like to admit this, but whenever I went there, I secretly hoped I would run into Burrell so I could see if he and Phil Dunphy shared any personality quirks.
That hasn't happened yet, but now there's a new Burrell sighting spot, the longtime Park City restaurant The Eating Establishment. The actor and his partners purchased the diner, remodeling it somewhat while condensing and revamping the menu. One big change is that breakfast items are available all day.
If I did happen to see Burrell, I'd have to tell him he might have bitten off too much with this venture. Quality control seems to be an issue.
My first visit came in late October, shortly after the Eating Establishment reopened after being closed for two weeks for the remodel. A sign on the door alerted customers to the menu change and pleaded to "please be patient with us while we learn."
Duly warned, we decided to test drive the upgrade. The most dramatic décor change is the attractive, dramatically lit bar on one side of the restaurant. You have to be 21 and older to sit in that room. The main dining room, which now features a breakfast counter, has a gas fireplace that helps create that cozy mountain ambience. From either room, you can indulge in a menu of craft cocktails, beer and wine without ordering food.
A couple of things did go wrong during that first visit, including three pieces of fried chicken ($18) that were so overdone the server apologized and didn't charge us. The chicken was nicely seasoned, however, and I looked forward to sampling it again. Also, no one at the restaurant had keys to the bar, so our choice of wine and cocktails was limited. Still, the staff did their best to keep us happy with what was on hand. And we had been warned.
Things that went right included the Established Burger ($12), cooked perfectly to order and accompanied by fresh lettuce, tomatoes and a choice of cheese. The skin-on french fries were medium cut and crisp.
A diner staple, Salisbury steak ($24), was topped with mushrooms, onions and a rich red wine gravy that lapped against a mound of flavorful mashed potatoes that were studded with just enough chunks. A serving of diced roasted veggies that included squash, onions and beets complemented what was already on the plate.
The wedge salad ($11) was big enough to share, sporting a piquant dressing spiked with Champagne that played well with large chunks of gorgonzola cheese. Crisply fried shards of shallot added flavor and crunch.
A Caesar salad ($12 plus $3 extra for chicken) was less adventurous but still a respectable rendition of that classic. While the spinach and artichoke dip ($12), stuffed somehow inside a single onion ring that was battered and fried, tasted mostly of garlic and cream cheese, I predict it will be a hit with ravenous skiers.
We ended with another high-calorie item, the blond brownie sundae ($8). There was absolutely nothing to dislike about this treat two butterscotch brownies, coffee ice cream, real whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce that tasted subtly of bourbon. Oh, and a few raspberries. It's big enough for a group to share.
I didn't go back to The Eating Establishment until mid-December. That seemed like enough time to refine the new menu. But the meal was uneven at best, and one of the dishes we ordered was inedible. That was the pork hash ($14), a medley of roasted pork shoulder, beets, butternut squash, sweet potato, mushrooms, kale, onion and tomatoes, topped with two eggs. It's reportedly one of the most popular breakfast items, but the flavor was so rank it conjured a memory of sweaty gym socks.
The fried chicken was gone from the menu because the quality had been so inconsistent diners kept complaining, according to our server. While that's a sound business decision, it's curious that a modern diner kitchen is incapable of cooking fried chicken.
And there were other misses. The aforementioned wedge salad that night was devoid of bacon, forcing our server to produce a bowl of meat after the meal had begun. Fontina cheese was listed as an option for the burger, which again was perfectly cooked, but there was no fontina to be had.
The country style ribs ($19) were rib-sticking meaty with a sauce spiced with cayenne pepper. But the potato salad that came with them was unevenly cooked, with some of the taters a notch or two beyond al dente. Eggs atop the potatoes served with the Cuban sandwich ($12) were overcooked, and the sandwich itself tasted mostly of mustard.
Other sandwiches were more tasty, especially the Cobb salad ($14), which featured chicken, avocado and bacon. The bread was flavorful too, but it just disintegrated, a problem that also plagued the otherwise respectable BLT ($14).
Having to eat a sandwich with a fork isn't the worst problem in the world, of course. I only mention it because there were too many dishes where things didn't come together as they should. In a town like Park City, where dining is more than just a way to fuel the body, such laxity can be lethal for a restaurant.
Eating Establishment still has a couple things in its favor: a prime location near the top of Main Street and a price point with more range than many other Park City eateries. The sleek new bar will be a draw for thirsty skiers, and I have no doubt the craft cocktails will be the equal of its Salt Lake City sibling, Bar X. But I'm less certain how long diners will continue to be patient for that menu upgrade to hit the sweet spot.
The Eating Establishment
Food • Hhj
Mood • HH
Service • HH
Noise • b
This longtime diner has new owners and a new menu, as well as a glittering new bar. But the kitchen is still struggling to hit its stride. Good bets include the Established Burger, Salisbury steak and the country style ribs. Breakfast items are served all day and liquor is available after 10 a.m. Parents will appreciate the kids menu.
Location • 317 Main St., Park City; 435-649-8284
Hours • Daily, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner service, 5-9 p.m.
Children's menu • Yes
Prices • $$-$$$$
Liquor • Full service
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
On-site parking • No
Credit cards • Yes