In its day, the Embers Steakhouse was one swanky supper club. And in keeping with the style, it was as gaudy as it was grandiose. It sported a huge entryway, a big ol' bar, nice carpeting, tables with linen cloths, a performance stage and dance floor, elegant powder rooms, bowls of shrimp on ice ...
At the time, Embers was located on what was considered the edge of town -- Wahsatch Avenue between Pikes Peak and Colorado. For those who had recently settled into comfort with middle-American values, a trip to the Embers Steakhouse was sometimes a daring act of rebellion, a trip into uncharted experience. House specialties included fine steaks, highballs and Las Vegas--style entertainment. Drinking and dancing abounded. Gossip was slung. Deals were closed.
But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. The Embers, in its glorious steakhouse/supper club incarnation, closed its doors in the late 1970s and lay dormant, housing only memories and transients, until about three months ago. Now, in its new incarnation as the Embers Restaurant, it no longer sits lonely on the edge of town, but mere blocks from the heart of a thriving downtown.
A stone facade entryway with a small fountain and stone benches welcomes you in through one set of doors, which then opens into a space akin to a miniature hotel lobby, consisting of a small reception space, wood benches, a green tiled floor and a wooden table supporting a lovely vase of flowers in the middle of it all. Just beyond that is an enormous dining area.
Breakfast and lunch are now the house specialties, and there is no liquor license as of yet. But the revamped Embers makes a great addition to the downtown breakfast and lunch scene.
They open at 6:30 a.m., or maybe even 6:00, depending on which sign you read and whom you ask. Doesn't matter though, 6 a.m. seems awful early to be dining out, that is unless you're topping off your evening with some corned beef hash.
Anyhoo, for breakfast, the basics are covered: steak 'n' eggs, huevos, French toast, pancakes, omelets, biscuits and gravy, and even the long-lost continental breakfast -- coffee or tea, juice, fresh fruit, an English muffin and assorted cold cereals. Embers is also one of the few places that serves breakfast until 3 in the afternoon -- which is good, because if you are on your way home at 6 a.m., you won't be getting up for breakfast until about 3 anyway.
For lunch, which begins at 11 a.m., Embers sticks to a list of about 20 classic sandwiches, including the Rueben, Monte Cristo, Philly, club, chicken, grilled cheese and a variety of burgers and melts. Sandwich accompaniments include chips or fries and, I must say, the fries are some of the best around -- golden brown, crisp and lightly salted.
But the lunch highlight is the buffet ($6.95). It changes daily and tends to have a theme, such as Italian, Asian, Mexican or down-home meat and potatoes. It includes soup, a full salad bar, a beverage and yummy-looking desserts, like hot pecan pie or warm cherry cobbler.
Sitting at the giant picture window facing Wahsatch on an unseasonably warm fall afternoon, I watched the cars and people go by. The sun reflected brightly off of the long stream of flowing traffic, and most of the pedestrians seemed hurried -- except for one guy who took the time to press his shaggy bearded face up against the window to stare back at me.
I tried to imagine what the place and neighborhood must have been like in the '60s, back when people actually dressed up to go out for a nice dinner or night on the town. There seems to be a certain energy still present, and I wished that the walls could talk. It was then that I overheard a group of older women reminiscing about the old days. One had been a bartender there; "way back when" was all she would say. As she walked by on the way to pay her bill, I asked her about those "way back when" days. "Oh, honey, that was a different time and this was a different place." She then patted my shoulder and turned the corner.