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For those of you who mourn the passing of the original Junior's Tavern, I feel your pain.

That dim, beer-infused jazz joint on Salt Lake City's 500 South represented a vanishing breed of neighborhood taverns where everybody knows your name.

But there could be no better epilogue to what once was Junior's (relocated to 30 E. 300 South) than what it has become - a beautiful extension of the venerable Cannella's, another long-time, locally owned establishment that has undergone some changes since The Tribune's last review in early 2003.

When we last left Joe and Missy Cannella and the rest of the crew, they were serving legions of loyal customers in one cozy room crowded with tables. Now, a piece of brick wall between restaurant and bar is gone and Cannella's flows west into a serene space with creamy walls, booths built of dark wood and hanging lamps that cast an amber glow.

The bar in the corner is fully stocked, because Cannella's now has a full-service liquor license and a wine list that includes a selection of "interesting" (their word, and it's true) Italian selections. For an eatery with an Italian-themed menu, that is a long overdue upgrade.

Along with better beverages, Cannella's has a new chef in Dave Sonkens, who studied at the Culinary Institute of America and has made "major tweaks" to the menu, according to the owners. One of them is more small plate items, like Sonkens' risotto cakes ($7), a blend of aborio rice and wild mushrooms enlivened with the tang of Asiago and Parmesan cheeses. A host of traditional appetizers join the cakes, including roasted garlic with purchased foccacia ($4), bruschetta ($6), steamed clams ($12) and a grilled portobello mushroom, topped with fresh crabmeat and perched in a pool of sweet/tart butter sauce that made us long for a spoon ($12). It looked as good as it tasted: Sonkens, it seems, has a good eye for presentation. A special of crab cakes came in a triad, richly brown and firm, again in the citrus butter sauce. The crab was fresh, but there could have been more of it, to give the cakes a softer texture.

The dinner menu offers salads ranging from house greens to a meaty Italian version ($7-$9); the Italian sausage and house-made meatball sandwiches which have long been mainstays at lunch ($9-$10); and traditional pastas, from spaghetti with meatball ($11) to the house specialty, a loosely-constructed five-layer lasagna ($14). The latter is a generous portion and full-flavored, with fresh green spinach adding punch to a rich red sauce flecked with cheese.

Entrees run the price gamut from a grilled portobello layered with vegetables and served with a balsamic-glazed potato cake ($14) to a New York strip steak dressed with pesto butter and served with penne and sautéed veggies ($21).

In the middle is a grilled salmon lapped with piquant sun-dried tomato cream sauce, cooked a bit firmer than I like but not to the point of dry ($18). The best part: It comes with that lovely risotto cake. Veal piccata was also a hearty portion, placed atop linguine with a caper-studded sauce infused with lemon and flecked with dollops of tart goat cheese ($19). The meat could have been more tender, but the flavor was first-rate.

Entrees come with a salad that hasn't been tweaked and was the meal's one weakness - a plate of iceberg lettuce, none too crisp, studded with a few kidney beans and strips of yellow pepper, overburdened with dressing and cheese. It isn't appealing, either visually or nutritionally, and should be scrapped in favor of a more vibrant mix of greens with a lighter dressing.

Finishing the meal involves choosing from half a dozen desserts (all $6). We tried the incredibly rich house-made chocolate cake that gets its moist texture from beets ($6) and is large enough to share among four people, and a crème br~lée infused with espresso, a different and delicious take on a classic. There's also house-made tiramisu and key lime pie, as well as two cheesecake varieties made by a local baker.

Service was casual but friendly and efficient, and the food came out of the kitchen at an appropriate pace.

The lunch menu is loaded with sandwiches and salads (about a dozen each, from $6.50 to $8), plus daily specials ($6.50) that range from a French dip sandwich to clam linguine and include salad, plus garlic bread if the entree is pasta.

Cannella's has become a downtown institution after nearly 30 years in business, not only because the food is reliable and reasonably priced, but it's still the kind of place where at least the owners know your name if you're a regular.


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* NOISE: 3 bells

* IN A NUTSHELL: A remodel and menu tweaks make this well-established family restaurant even better.

* WHERE: 204 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City; 801-355-8518

* HOURS: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and until midnight on Friday and Saturday.

* CHILDREN'S MENU: No, but will provide half-orders

* PRICES: $$$

* LIQUOR: Full bar

* CORKAGE FEE: $7.50 per 750 ml bottle, $12 per magnum






* CREDIT CARDS: All major

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The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.