Ed Allem died last spring. His passing was not remembered with any announcement or obituary. That was his final wish. He was in his 80s and had lived a full life, as a firefighter, fitness advocate and restaurateur. Just a few years prior to his exit from this world, the restaurant he had originated also died; nor was its closing marked with any formal remembrance.
The Cinegrill, probably one of Salt Lake's favorite places, had been sold in the early 1980s by Ed and his wife who had anticipated retiring.But the new owner was unable to keep it open in one location for any reasonable period of time. The original site on 100 South was absorbed into more parking lot space for Mountain Fuel. The other locations included the Elks Building on South Temple, Trolley Corners and finally, Exchange Place.
During this time, Ed could be found in the kitchen, licking his fingers after whipping up a batch of salad dressing. Even in retirement, he could not leave his creation behind. Loyal fans, and there were many, could barely keep up with the address changes.
The only things that lingered were fond memories, from Eugene Jelesnik playing "Hot Canary" for high school couples on their first date to a salad dressing that assumed almost legendary status among area foodies. An underground copy circulated a few years back, keeping more than a few kitchens awash in olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, capers and chunks of Gorgonzola cheese. Invariably the repeated efforts to replicate a classic and complex recipe came up flat.
A little more than a week ago, the Cinegrill reopened its doors in yet another location. The co-owners are either former cooks who worked with Allem or are related to his family. Waitresses claim direct lineage from prior help. Except for one new item, the menu is the same. And many of the old customers were as much relishing their old friends during our visit last week as they were the rich tomato sauce, toasted garlic rolls and, of course, the aromatic salads. The latter - torn not chopped lettuce - are adorned with the traditional slices of pepperoni, mozarella and a spicy yellow pepper.
In one corner of the cleanly appointed, quaint dining area, there is a small framed photo of Allem, wearing his chef's attire. There is little question that this current reincarnation would meet with his approval.
Our minestrone soup was terrific, full of beans, chunks of vegetables, herbs and pasta bathed in a peppery tomato broth. The lasagna ($7.25), served in the metal bowl that was one of the little trademarks that Cinegrill fans relished, is awash with cheese and rich, robust tomato sauce. Two homemade meatballs were perfectly done. The corned beef sandwich ($5.65) was piled high with lean, hot corned beef. Even the shish-kebob ($9.65) was tender and flavorful, a dish we had overlooked in earlier times.
Other items on the menu include the assorted cold plate ($6.25), Cinegrill chicken ($8.55), dark meat quarter baked in tomato sauce and served with either lasagna or spaghetti ($7.15). Most dishes include salad and side of pasta but can be ordered a la carte for a few dollars less. The spumoni and Kahlua cup desserts (each $2.25) are very good though not authentic replicas.
There might be little areas for improvement, such as the slightly underdone crust with the pizza and the need for just a bit more vinegar with the dressing. But for a restaurant in its first weeks to completely reconstruct the past will take time. And it's obvious from Bernie's piano stylings to the wonderful mural on the wall that this is a reborn-again Cinegrill which will give its attention to both the heart and cuisine of the original.
Rating: * * * * 1/2
Cinegrill, 344 S. 300 East, 328-4900. Open Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. Accepts checks with guarantee card and major credit cards. No reservations. Items prepared to take out.