Chef Profile: Liberty Park Grill
Relaxed dining with a view.
by Katherine Pioli
On a sunny afternoon, Liberty Park fills with activity. Young men play pick-up basketball. Families picnic under the old pines and cottonwoods. Children chase ducks around the banks of the pond; and the doors of the Liberty Park Grill, in the south end of the park overlooking the big pond (not to be confused with the Park Cafe, located to the south on 1300 East), are wide open. It is a friendly invitation for all to enter. While not every restaurant would appreciate being surrounded by this type of activity, park concessionaire Marilee Latta and restaurant manager Matt Robinson couldn’t imagine a better location.
“We think the setting is the best in the city,” says Latta, sipping coffee and gazing out the restaurant windows into a rainy sky. A few feet away, Canadian geese forage for food in the damp grass. From across the pond, the grey limbs of the cottonwood trees blend peacefully with the cloudy sky and one can imagine the stunning addition of the Wasatch peaks reaching above the branches on a clear day. “Even when the weather is not great,” Latta continues, “you still have a very nice view.”
It is a view that Latta has seen slowly change ever since she first began managing the Park’s rides and the concessions stand (which still operates on the north side of the building) in 1982. She remembers when 6th East ran right through the center of the park, until the day the street was torn up and a pedestrian walkway created in the mid-’80s. “You could park right in front of this building, get out of your car and order a hamburger or ice cream.” The newer concessions building, constructed in 2005, is enjoying its fourth summer in the park.
Evidence of an even earlier period of Liberty Park’s history hangs from the Grill’s walls in black and white photographs. One image shows the original carousel that stood with the other rides before burning down some time in the ’60s. “This park has been an important part of the city for years and years,” says Latta. “It was a busy place even in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Everyone came to Liberty.”
Many things have changed since those days, but the park continues to be a popular, family-friendly destination. Matt Robinson, manager of the Liberty Park Grill, loves seeing all the families who come sit at their tables. “It is a perfect place for children; they don’t have to be tied to their chairs. Parents can sit down and just watch their kids run around and play.”
Marilee Latta and Matt Robinson have made sure their menu appeals to those kids, but also to the adult customers. Open in the morning for breakfast and through the lunch hour until 2, the Liberty Park Grill makes pancakes, omlettes, salads and sandwiches. Of the morning items, eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine are popular orders.
Robinson says the menu may expand this summer to include a few frequently requested dishes; he also hopes to buy more fresh local produce as well as eggs laid by local hens.
In warm weather the Grill is open daily, with patio dining to beckon passers-by. “The nice thing about this place,” explains Robinson, “is that you can sit outside with your dog. We have a lot of dogs here in the summer.” Kids, dogs, and bikes. “People always ride their bikes here and just lean them up near the tables, but soon we will have a whole row of racks, too.”
Right now the Liberty Park Grill remains a destination for people living in the neighborhood and is a lucky find for everyone else. Warm days tend to bring in more business as people flock to recreate in the park. Robinson and Latta hope that soon the Grill’s good, fresh food will make the place a destination for everyone, rain or shine. Once word gets out about this family-friendly, good-food, dog-loving, bike-accommodating restaurant there is no doubt it will earn more attention. Then Matt Robinson can quit obsessively checking the weather reports, hoping for a sunny day to draw people in.
– Katherine Pioli
Liberty Park Grill
1150 S 600 E, Liberty Park
M-F, 8 am-2 pm
Sat & Sun, 8 am-1:30 pm