‘Comfort food on steroids’ makes Sydney’s a dining destination
Although Sydney’s is off the beaten path in a Mantua campground, its self-proclaimed “comfort food on steroids” and down-home flair are attracting diners from all over Northern Utah.
As the camping season winds down, Sydney’s is still doing brisk business, serving up favorites such as the Mantua Monster burger, the Flintski chicken sandwich, street tacos, crispy potato spring rolls, chile relleno grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken-fried strip steak, house-made onion rings and decadent desserts such as carrot cake and cheesecake. On Saturday nights, there’s usually a waiting line for the prime rib special.
“We get good participation from locals, but we get a lot more customers from out of town,” said General Manager Denise Hardy. “The restaurant will help our business get through the winter. I’m excited to see how we will do.”
About five years ago, her brother, Steve Flint, bought the campground near the shores of Mantua Reservoir in scenic Sardine Canyon. He and Hardy expanded it into the Little Valley Country Store and Campground, with a convenience store, a campground with 35 RV spots, six themed “glamping” cabins and a small grill serving burgers and sandwiches.
“It wasn’t long before the grill began doing well enough to consider building a restaurant,” Hardy said.
She named it Sydney’s, after her late mother. It’s also Denise’s first name (Sydney Denise). And Denise’s daughter, who works at the restaurant, is named Sydney as well.
“My mom passed away from cancer and never got to see it,” Hardy said, with a catch of emotion in her voice. “Just to see her name on a building would have made her so happy. That’s the biggest joy to me.”
Since it’s Mantua’s only restaurant, it’s not hard to find the red barn-like building on Main Street. As you walk in, you’ll notice high wooden beams strewn with loops of vintage barbed wire, old cowboy hats and boots, bear hides and a saddle that belonged to Hardy’s great-grandfather. A rock fireplace is flanked by mounts of elk and buffalo heads, and other country-style memorabilia. The décor came from family, customers and yard sales that Hardy and her special-needs son like to frequent.
“It gives people something to look at while they’re sitting and waiting for their food,” she said. “I wouldn’t put anything on here that I don’t think my mom would like.
Hardy describes the from-scratch menu as “comfort food on steroids.”
“A lot of the dishes are family recipes,” she said. “And I hired a chef from a Salt Lake City pub (Matt Ricca from Poplar Pub) who brought in some things.”
For the past six months, the kitchen has been helmed by Ted Mathesius, who was chef of two former Logan landmarks during their glory days — the Copper Mill and Hamilton’s. He later became executive chef of Adobe Inc.’s corporate dining in Lehi, and then Vivint’s corporate dining.
But the COVID-19 pandemic forced staffers to work from home, wreaking havoc on corporate dining.
“I got lucky meeting Denise,” said Mathesius, who moved his family from Lehi to Tremonton. “I’ve been here six months now, and it’s been a rocket launch from the beginning.”
The crispy potato spring roll appetizers — mashed potatoes, bacon and white cheddar in crispy won ton wrappers — is a dish that Mathesius brought to the menu. “It’s one of the most popular appetizers, as well as our nachos and street tacos,” Hardy said.
The chicken-fried strip steak started out as a special and became so popular it’s being added to the regular menu, Hardy said. Most chicken-fried steaks use cubed steak. But Sydney’s begins with a real New York strip steak that’s breaded, fried until the coating is crispy and then smothered in savory gravy.
“It’s served all day — we even serve it for breakfast on Saturdays,” Hardy said.
Just about every restaurant has a specialty burger these days. At Sydney’s, it’s the Mantua Monster, made with two 5-ounce ground chuck patties, bacon, onion strings, a mound of thinly sliced pastrami and a choice of melted cheddar, Swiss or pepper jack cheese.
All the burgers and sandwiches come with a choice of hand-cut fries, onion rings, sweet potato fries, potato tots or a side salad.
The chile relleno grilled cheese sandwich combines a soft scrambled egg, roasted poblano chiles, avocado, pico de gallo, queso fresco and pepper jack cheese on toasted sourdough bread.
The Pauly sandwich features sliced roast beef, marinara, fresh mozzarella, provolone and basil on a parmesan garlic-buttered hoagie bun.
Porky’s Revenge showcases slow-smoked pork shoulder, sweet-and-hot barbecue sauce, bell pepper slaw, white cheddar and pickled onions.
Customers who want to take some of that smoked pork home with them are in luck. On Saturdays, Sydney’s smokes meat and sells it by the pound. Also on Saturday, the prime rib special, beginning at 4 p.m., has become an anticipated event among regulars. It includes soup, salad, vegetable and roll for $24.95.
Oscar’s Meats in Ogden supplies the restaurant’s meats, and the rolls and buns are from Salt City Baking Co.
A dessert case shows off thick-frosted carrot cake and oatmeal cake — both family recipes — and cheesecake inspired by pink-frosted animal crackers.
The restaurant offers takeout and delivers in Mantua. “And we cater, too. We have a few holiday parties lined up, and we will have our pies and rolls on sale for Thanksgiving,” Hardy said.
Pizza delivery is a future possibility, she added. She’s also bottling and selling Sydney’s chili sauce — a tweaked recipe of her great-grandmother’s. It’s now in 12 local stores, including Smith & Edwards and Ace Hardware.
Meanwhile, the restaurant’s reputation is growing as a dining destination.
“At a time when a lot of people can’t go on vacations due to COVID, I’d like them to enjoy themselves and feel like they’re getting a little bit of a vacation here at Sydney’s,” Hardy said. “I appreciate people coming in and spending their discretionary income here to support us.”
If You Go …
Location: 130 N. Main, Mantua
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday
Contact: (435) 723-1292 or https://sydneys-restaurant.business.site
Prices: Sandwiches, pizzas and entrees, $9-$25.95; kids meals, $5.95