- Alex Springer
Whenever I visit a local establishment like Finn's Café (1624 S. 1100 East, 801-467-4000), I can't help but think of Michael Showalter's film Hello, My Name Is Doris. Sally Field's endearingly batty performance as an eccentric sexagenarian who becomes the epitome of cool and "realness" for a group of contemporary 30-somethings is the quirky neighborhood diner in a nutshell. These institutions either fade out quietly when the money runs out or live long enough to become embraced as a bastion of non-commercial authenticity for the younger generation.
To be fair, Finn's did a little bit of both. The first iteration opened in 1952 on Parleys Way, an unofficial southern cousin of Ruth's Diner in Emigration Canyon. Finn's Norwegian-inspired menu made it a popular place for East Bench residents until it closed in 1997. During the hiatus, Finn Gurholt Jr. bought an ice cream parlor on 1100 East and turned it into the current café iteration in 2006. The few years between its closing and reopening was serendipitous—Salt Lake's food scene was just starting to bloom into the fragrant arboretum that it is today. Thus, Finn's Café 2.0 was enough of a rebrand to make it an attractive alternative to the student housing of Westminster College while rekindling the culinary romance that older generations had with the Norwegian hotspot.
You'll typically see both generations represented if you visit Finn's. Wealthy ex-Mormon women clad in jewel tones happily cluck about neighborhood gossip, while college students enjoy a post-hike brunch. The menu caters to several different tastes, but I go for their sourdough pancakes ($8.29, pictured). They arrive looking like pancakes you could get anywhere—simply plated with slices of fresh strawberry, a cup of pearled butter and a small pitcher of warm maple syrup. Upon taking that first bite, however, you understand how truly deceptive appearances can be. The intensity of the sourdough flavor varies from visit to visit, which gives this dish a high replay value—try them as often as you can. They're born from a sourdough starter that originated in the Bay Area, which also serves as the crux of Finn's famous sourdough loaves, and it's a lineage you can taste.
Once you've experienced the sourdough pancakes, check out anything on the menu that sounds Norwegian. The Norsk omelet ($13.89) is a good middle-ground dish that combines a fluffy omelet with some melted Havarti cheese, tender bay shrimp and capers. For those of you who wish that seafood featured more heavily on a breakfast menu, this has you covered. It's a balanced mix of flavors that pops when blended with the salty capers or creamy Havarti cheese. I also tried the pyttipanna ($12.89) a hash of cubed roast beef, potatoes, carrots and onion topped with two beautifully poached eggs and garnished with fresh tomato and cucumber slices. I like to think of this as ideal for someone who wants a lighter version of steak and eggs in the morning. Roast beef mixed with root veggies and onions is always a crowd pleaser, and slicing into a lovely poached egg to let all that silky yolk blend itself with the other ingredients is a fine way to spend a morning.
For options that are more sweet than savory, the cardamom-infused Norwegian waffles ($9.49) and the jule kake French toast ($10.89) are excellent bets. The waffles are served with sour cream and fresh lingonberries, which let the tongue dance with flavor complexities that traditional waffles just don't produce. I'm all for some sweet on sweet golden brown goodness, but every so often, it's nice to get a waffle that bites back. Fans can go the extra mile and get some of Finn's fried chicken and waffles ($12.49), which lets the unique flavor profile of the waffles play around with some delectable fried chicken.
The French toast is made from slices of Norwegian jule kake, a sweet bread with raisins and citron that are battered in a heavenly mixture of cinnamon cream. Although it's traditionally baked around Christmas, jule kake's density and pops of sweetness make it the perfect candidate for French toast transcendence. Should you want to take a loaf of jule kake home, simply visit the well-stocked cart near the cash register on your way out—they always have some freshly baked and wrapped.
My heart might always belong to Finn's sourdough bread and pancakes, but repeat visits have yielded some interesting options for when I want to venture off this well-traveled path. It's a place that shares some characteristics with many of the local neighborhood diners that we know and love, but the creative blend of Norwegian and American favorites gives this place its own niche.
the sourdough pancakes?