SLC Chefs: Robin Paluso of The Robin's Nest
How did you know you wanted a career in food? I didn't at first. But after years of feeding friends and family and them suggesting I do so, I was finally persuaded. The opportunity finally came and I've never been happier.
What made you to want to open a restaurant? I knew I was ready to have my own business and cooking is definitely my most marketable skill. I chose to convert a small bungalow on 3300 South into a fully functioning restaurant. I lived in Holladay, and wanted to bring a non-chain specialty restaurant into the area because I thought there were too few of them. It was a fine starter location, but I'm much happier downtown.
What training did you have to prepare you? I come from a traditional Roman-Catholic Italian family where cooking and eating equal family and life. All of the men in my family cook as well -- it's just who we are and what we take a lot of pride in.
What is The Robin's Nest's vision? To bring all walks of life together to enjoy great food in a friendly atmosphere. I also aspire to have multiple locations in the Valley.
What do you think makes The Robin's Nest unique? For starters, all of our ingredients are prepared fresh daily and are all of top quality; I also make by hand all of my specialty sauces and dressings. I use artisan breads baked fresh daily and in every sense, quality is paramount -- I even layer ingredients in the manner I've found to be best for handling and eating. Finally, my sandwiches, soups and salads are only available here -- you'll never taste them anywhere else, so that's part of being unique too.
What do you think it takes to be a good cook? Anybody can learn how to cook, but for some it's innate and some have more talented palates. The other thing is you can't teach anyone how to love to cook -- and I've always been able to taste the difference.
What's your specialty? Well, all of my sandwiches are my creations, so I like to think that they're all "specialty." But, if I were to single out one menu item, it would be my chicken salad sandwich, The Rooster Call. It's my own variation on an old Southern recipe. It has a mouth-watering combination of sweet red grapes, grilled chicken breast, halved cashews, red onions, and my homemade sweet honey Dijon that kicks up the grapes just a bit. Many are apprehensive when reading about it, but become hooked on the first bite.
What is your philosophy of cooking? You have to put your heart into it, keep experimenting until you find that perfect balance in flavor, and continually be open to learning new things.
How do you come up with ideas for flavor combinations? Trial and error, honestly. But I have the benefit of 30 years of that behind me.
What's the famous "squeak and bubble"? It comes from my childhood in a large Italian family. "Squeak and Bubble" is the generations-old family name for the preparation of the bread. It's lightly buttered and then broiled. The process would cause the bread to do just that -- squeak and bubble. When the warm bread is then used to make a sandwich, all of the condiments meld into it, yet the toasting (somehow) remains. You don't get a goopy sandwich, and every bite has the intended flavor. In my restaurant, the sandwich is then toasted a second time to melt the cheese. Finally, the fresh produce is put on. The final product is one awesome sandwich.
Can you describe some new dishes you're excited about? The sandwich business has caused my imagination to go haywire. Sandwich ideas keep coming to me. I have some exciting and fresh new summer-style sandwiches and salads coming in the next few months.
What's one cooking secret you could share with us? Never compromise on quality or freshness.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a cook? Always be cooking; practice makes perfect.
Do you have any future events that you'd like to tell us about? We will be extending our hours for all Gallivan events this summer as well as major outdoor events downtown.
Robin Paluso's Nest
Written by Matthew Gerber
Thursday, 12 March 2009 12:33
When Robin Paluso started her sandwich shop The Robin’s Nest in 2003, it occupied a small robin egg blue bungalow on 3300 South and about 1000 East. It didn’t take long before the business outgrew its space: it was hard to find a table inside, or parking outside, because both were always full. In April 2006 the restaurant moved to its current location in the Judge Building at 311 South Main in downtown Salt Lake City. The new location has allowed The Robin’s Nest to tap the downtown business worker looking for a quick, delicious, inexpensive lunch, a market which they were previously unable to take full advantage of.
Through the years, Robin was consistently praised by family and friends for her superb cooking skills, but she never worked in the restaurant business prior to opening her own shop. She decided on a sandwich shop because she didn’t want to deal with the hassles associated with a formal, sit-down restaurant. The decision seems to have worked well for her.
The Robin's Nest
The best sandwich shop in Salt Lake, hands down. I’ve only met a few people who don’t love it (and they’re complete nut jobs in my opinion) so I feel confident making a statement like that. The Robins Nest used to be off the radar due to an obscure location, but that’s all going to change.
As far as location and ambiance the place used to get mediocre marks but with their recent move to the Judge Building downtown, their score just went way up. The old location on 3300 South was a small blue house that didn’t seat many people and was too far away from my office. The new place is bigger, nicer, and much closer to my office (so thoughtful of them).
In addition to moving downtown, they’ve also added 4 or 5 new sandwiches to the menu. I tried the Cowboy yesterday and it was fantastic. Other favorites of mine are the Robins Grill, the Madame, the Oinkity Doink, and the Rooster Call. Truth is, every sandwich is out-of-this-world good so just go!
P.S. They were pretty excited to tell me about their new bathrooms so I think I should make mention that the bathrooms are indeed much improved. There is even a shower (at least in the men’s room) so I guess if you work up a sweat devouring your delicious sandwich you can rinse off afterward.
The Robin's Nest
Salt Lake Tribune Dining Guide
By Nancy Hobbs
Robin Paluso has always enjoyed cooking for friends and family, and for years they encouraged her to go public. The name would be a no-brainer: The Robin's Nest. Once she had the gumption and the bucks, making her business enterprise stand out was, once again, an easy decision. It's the only brick bungalow on 3300 South -- possibly in the whole valley -- painted a creamy, robin's egg blue.
Inside, Paluso and her small crew are busy building sandwiches and dishing up soup orders. Since opening last December, her business has clearly taken flight, with most tables in the small dining room occupied, as are both bistro-style tables on the porch, and several people are waiting to place orders or pick up those that were called or faxed in.
The menu offers a baker's dozen sandwich choices, including a toasted peanut butter and jam or grilled cheese for kids. Others to choose from include the Oinkity Doink (ham and swiss), The Madam (roasted turkey, bacon and cheese) and The Cha Cha (mortadella and provolone). The titles are actually pet names of family members, says Paluso, and each sandwich is that person's original favorite.
It's hard to have just one favorite, though, and so the menu has expanded. The Aloha Oink, for instance, is Black Forest ham and cheese, but with the somewhat exotic addition of Paluso's homemade pineapple salsa. The salsa is delicious -- not overly sweet as one might suspect; it is a perfect complement to the sandwich.
To the Average Joe -- Not! -- Paluso adds her own slightly spicy and smoky chipotle spread to roast beef and cheddar on sourdough bread.
The most popular sandwich, according to Paluso, is the Rooster Call: a classic chicken salad with cashews and red grapes, served on delicious ciabatta bread.
All of the sandwiches are a step above ordinary, and Paluso attributes that to her distinctive "squeak and bubble" bread. As a young child, she explained, her Italian family used to stall hungry appetites of Paluso and her siblings with a slice of bread, buttered and broiled until the butter bubbled and "squeaked."
That now is how she starts every Robin's Nest sandwich, though she has switched to a lower-fat butter substitute on different varieties of Curtell's breads.
"It's a little family thing, but it makes a big difference in how the sandwich tastes," Paluso says.
Soups at the Robin's Nest also are popular. The potato-leek and chicken-noodle were both hearty and delicious, despite the warm weather. But high temperatures and fresh produce combine to make Paluso's homemade gazpacho one of her most popular seasonal offerings. I didn't try it on a first visit, but heard some other customers raving about it as they left, even asking Paluso if she would part with her recipe.
I subsequently tried it and agree it is some of the best gazpacho I've ever had, but like the other customers, I'll have to enjoy it there. Besides not wanting to part with her kitchen magic, Paluso says, she cooks primarily by look, feel and taste. Recipes (though she realizes she should start making notes) are not a staple in her restaurant.
I got that sense of that while dining at The Robin's Nest, and wondered if my single disappointment was a slip of the spice bottle. The cherry vinaigrette, served with the beautiful Nutty Flora salad, suffered from a bit too much tarragon, which is one of those herbs that quickly moves from enhancing flavor to overwhelming it. On another day, with perhaps a pinch fewer leaves, it would probably be terrific.
The salad itself was a generous melange of baby greens, smoked gouda cheese, red grapes and candied walnuts, with no skimping on any of the ingredients.
Sandwiches, salads and soups can be ordered separately, in combination meals, or in pairs, as in a half sandwich and cup of soup or side salad. In any case, the most expensive choice on the menu is $6.95.
Desserts at The Robin's Nest are purchased from area bakeries and distributors, as the small cafe doesn't have ovens -- nor the room to add them. But what Paluso orders in, particularly the brownies, are delicious. And if you only want a bite -- as many of us do -- you can buy most of the desserts that way, in a mini portion for a mini price: 50 cents.
The Robin's Nest is a friendly, comfortable spot to roost for lunch, with plenty of terrific "squeak and bubble" sandwiches or hearty homemade soups from which to choose. The restaurant also has become a popular place to order box lunches for business meetings, and will deliver for a minimal charge.
Best of Utah 2008 | Food & Drink
BEST SANDWICH MASS
The Robin’s Nest
Not only are The Robin’s Nest’s sandwiches amazingly tasty and unique, but they come in sizes large enough to enjoy for days; a “half” here is easily a “full” most everywhere else, and in a combo, it’s one of the few hearty downtown Salt Lake City lunches you’ll find for a mere $7. Stop wasting your time at that “Q” chain already.