Dining Out, Memoir
“Lamb’s Good Food”
The patrons of Salt Lake’s iconic Main Street restaurant seen through the eyes of a young employee
Way back in 1992, I worked as a cashier at Utah’s oldest restaurant, Lamb’s Grill. Saturday mornings I would cash out oldies with cataracts. Tuesday nights the Toastmasters met in the back dining hall. Those were my two shifts. I was 18 years old. Little did I know, at the time, the precious slice of Americana I was experiencing.
Sadly, Lamb’s is no longer. But my memories are still with me. For English 101 I wrote a little story about Lamb’s Grill. Many years later, my mom stumbled upon it while going through some boxes. Reading it was a trip down memory lane.
Finding an establishment that shuns the trendy is rare. We have all seen places that have gone as quickly as they came—places trying to keep up with the latest food concepts or looks in interior design. It is nice to find a place that sticks to what works the first time—a place that serves the same time-tested food and still has an atmosphere of the past. That place is Utah’s Lamb’s Grill. Since 1919, Lamb’s has been attracting colorful clientele. There are the old who have been coming since they could remember, neighboring businessmen/women, politicians, the homeless off the street, the weary traveler. Lamb’s delivers a comfortable and familiar atmosphere welcoming anyone and everyone through its doors.
In any restaurant, there is a certain small eclectic group known as “the regulars.” They show up daily for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and sometimes all three. Lamb’s has its share of these regular patrons. Each one claims a seat at the long black marble bar as if it were their own and they each possess their own unique and interesting story.
Les enters for the third time today in an entirely different outfit from the two times before. Determined to get to his chair at the end of the bar as quickly as possible, he rushes past and avoids the turned heads that wish to greet him. He slides into his chair and buries his face into a menu, although no one knows why. Since Les has been coming here, he orders the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner—an open-faced cheese sandwich with exactly two slices of tomatoes and a pickle. All the waitress needs to say to the cook is that Les is here and he immediately slides the bread with a slab a cheese on the grill. Les doesn’t talk much but, like a magnet, he attracts people who want to talk endlessly about the goings-on in the world.
Neil Smith, or Mr. Neil as he is called, is the social one. Always talking about women, Brigham City peaches, or how he is going to win the lottery. He has a grin so wide you get a glimpse of all the gold crowns, and a raspy laugh that comes easily.
Then there is Herb, a small man with big friendly blue eyes that seem naïve to the ways of the world. One day Herb stopped into Lamb’s while he was waiting to catch the bus. He was dressed extra fancy and clutched a red silk rose poking out of a rumpled paper bag. Herb sipped at his coffee and tried hard not to smile as people started in with the questions about him having met a woman. With a boyish smirk on his face, and never saying a word, he paid for his coffee and was off with a wave. His bus had arrived.
A waitress named Iris walks by in her stiffly starched white waitress’s uniform and splashes coffee into the half-empty cups that stare her down as she passes. It’s something she has done hundreds of times during her 15 years at Lamb’s and it shows. She never spills a drop. With a round plump figure and an endearing habit of calling the customer “darlin’” or “luv,” she is a permanent fixture in the place.
Jay, who claims algebraic equations keeps him sane, looks up from an old math text and reaches for the cream and sugar. He can sit here for hours plugging in formulas over cups of coffee and Melba toast, occasionally looking up to have a conversation—which usually has something to do with the correct solution to a math problem.
These people have been coming in here for years. Leaning heavily over the same black bar, over the same cup of coffee and saying the same things day after day, year after year. This has become part of their daily routine. These folks have come to rely upon the familiarity of Lamb’s in the fast pace and ever-evolving world that you meet when you step one foot out Lamb’s front door. Lamb’s is the bread and butter, the slice of cheese on your sandwich, and the crackers crumbled in your soup. It is the no-frills, come-as-you-are kind of place where one thing is certain: You will always be welcomed here. That same friendly smile will greet you at the door and bring you a menu as you sink down in your seat. Slide a piping hot cup of coffee in front of you and serve up your “Lamb’s good food,” as it has come to be called. This, you can expect to see every day. It was seen yesterday, somebody is seeing it now, and lucky for us it will be seen tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that. Lamb’s restaurant… a second home to many.
Lamb’s Grill closed in 2017. Collette Holmes has returned to SLC after a 12-year stint in San Francisco. She likes classic yellow mustard and adjusts the lighting in public places whenever she sees fit. Life is meant to be enjoyed.