- Alex Springer
When I first started my journey to map out the latitudes and longitudes of Utah's food scene, it wasn't long before I got to the intersection of Holladay Boulevard and 6200 South. Despite the other developments that have emerged closer to the canyon itself, something about this cozy, arboreal section of Holladay has always felt like a true gateway to Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Though this part of town is home to Franck's and Tuscany, two heavy hitters in Utah's fine dining scene, I couldn't help but be attracted to The Cotton Bottom (2820 E. 6200 South, 801-849-8847, thecottonbottom.com). Because garlic burgers.
I visited Cotton Bottom a few times when I was dating my wife, and the juxtaposition of a dive bar and Franck's was not lost on me. Over the years, I grew to see Tuscany, Franck's and Cotton Bottom as representative of the diverse group of people that hold Big Cottonwood Canyon dear to their hearts. The former two catered to the après-ski fine dining crowd, and The Cotton Bottom was there for the droves of bikers who took in the mountain air on the backs of their motorcycles.
Like most of our fellow patrons, my wife and I were there for their famous garlic burgers. Cotton Bottom was doing the specialized menu long before it became on-trend—their menu was so specialized, in fact, that it only included the one item. Their garlic burgers arrived on a square bun, teeming with that savory aroma of roasted garlic, and were big enough for the two of us to split. A bag of Lay's potato chips was the side du jour, and we spent many nights devouring these perfect burgers while enjoying the brisk mountain air as the sun set around us.
When the Bar X Group acquired of this local treasure, those of us with a soft spot for Cotton Bottom crossed our fingers. This local restaurant confab—whose luminaries include Bar X, Beer Bar in Downtown Salt Lake and The Eating Establishment in Park City—seemed like a good fit to carry on the Cotton Bottom legacy. Based on the other restaurants in the Bar X Group's portfolio, they knew how to cultivate a gastropub that could successfully juggle a great food and drink menu, while creating a distinctly Utah atmosphere.
Cotton Bottom reopened under the Bar X banner around two months ago, and I was eager to see what they had done with the place and their signature garlic burgers. I ordered a garlic cheeseburger ($12) online, and noticed a few additions to the menu, such as the Skier's Chili ($8) and BLT ($9). Vegetarian diners can also get an Impossible Burger ($14), which is always nice to see on a menu.
When I arrived onsite, the place looked as charming as I remember. I was pleased to see newly painted parking stalls for motorcycles—the place will always be a biker bar to me—and a convenient walk-up window for takeout orders. On the outside, Cotton Bottom looks pretty much the same in all the right ways, and I was hopeful that the garlic burgers would receive the same treatment.
I wanted to destroy this thing as quickly as possible, so I drove to a nearby park and dug in. Once I opened the takeout box, the familiar aroma of garlicky goodness wafted upward—so far, so good. The two-patty burger is still housed on a square bun of grilled French bread, and it is dressed up with lettuce, tomato, onions and mayo. You can get them with and without cheese, but I have to suggest getting a layer of melted American cheese for the full effect. After bite one, I knew Cotton Bottom was in good hands.
I've had several people ask me what sets the garlic burger at Cotton Bottom apart from others, and I've even had a few blasphemers snarkily opine that burgers aren't nuanced enough to be truly great food. My answer is, as it was in the days before Bar X took over, harmony. Even though it's called the garlic burger, garlic is not front and center. It's there, mind you, but it exists in perfect harmony with the other flavors lovingly packed within.
I'm not the biggest fan of onion or mayo on a burger, but these are crucial layers to the garlic burger's overall foundation. The combo of onion and garlic on a perfectly grilled burger is a no brainer, and the mayo exists to keep those big flavors from going rogue and wrecking the party. Lettuce and tomato are there for a bit of crisp freshness to cut through the fat, and melted cheese just makes everything better. If you don't think burgers can transcend their humble spot in American cuisine, get thee to Cotton Bottom.