Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Finally, I am back...

How on earth have two months gone by without a post?  I guess May and June are my busiest times.   We have celebrated a first communion, multiple birthdays, Mothers’ Day, and the end of the school year all followed by a ten-day business trip, a five-day leisure trip during which I spent most of my time working on the book, another four-day trip spent with family and time at home catching up on house things.  Wow…now I am tired.  But I am back and the posts will start again.

My first trip was to Salt Lake City.  This was my second prolonged visit to SLC, and I must admit to being pleasantly surprised again.  It’s a place of weird dichotomies.  On the one the one hand, you have sizeable city with a vast business/industrial area stretching for miles from downtown past the airport to the west and sprawling, faceless suburbs to the south.  But to the east, beautiful mountains in which you can have yourself thousands of feet higher and feet in the snow faster than from virtually any large city in America.  The physical beauty of the area is striking, the city spotless and compact enough for easy walking, even if the roads are freakishly wide.  The people are also an interesting mix of youthful, progressive and inked and conservative, traditional and Mormon.  What you may have heard about SLC being dry or at least needing a membership to drink in bars – false.  Rolling up the sidewalks at sunset – false.  Nothing to do or eat after dark – false.  The truth is, I really like SLC, and I ate quite well.  Here’s a quick rundown of my culinary highlights…
Squatters Pub – So you thought Salt Lake would be bereft of brew pubs and beer meccas, uh?  It’s not at all.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Portland or San Diego, but it does have a few.  Squatters must be the largest.  Housed in a gigantic building it features two levels each with large bars and seating for seemingly hundreds.  Downstairs feels like your average sports bar, while upstairs offers some great views of the mountains and a smaller, more intimate bar and fewer TVs.  The beer has the typical assortment from a lighter pilsner, a reasonably hoppy IPA and a rich stout and stops along the spectrum.  They do nothing extreme, but do what they do well.  The food is typical bar food, also good.  I am partial to the Ahi spring rolls. 

The Bayou – This place is something special for beer fans, in fact they call themselves Beervana.  Just south of the immediate downtown area, it’s housed in an old warehouse and features a Cajun and Creole theme and global beer selection.  Want to see the folks the Mormons rejected?  You will see them here.  Live music and spicy food brings out the area’s version of counter culture (again, this isn’t Portland).  The food is delicious; I am partial to the oyster po’ boy, but you won’t go wrong.  Beer selection makes this one of America’s great places to tour the brewing world without leaving your seat.  And if you’re committed to trying the locals when you travel, this place has them all. 
Gracie's – Gracie’s is the one place downtown at which you are virtually guaranteed to see a crowd every single night.  Two great patios, one upstairs with a view to the east, live music and good food draw in the young crowd.  Food and drink are both good and reasonably priced.  I can’t stop eating their nachos. 

The Green Pig – The Pig, with its TVs, live music and its upstairs patio, is a true, blue collar bar with appropriate name, lots of activity, diverse crowd, excellent service and an awesome Cuban pork sandwich.   
Beerhive – Utah is the Beehive state, and the beehive motif abounds everywhere you look.  Right downtown, perfectly placed to be a happy hour watering hole for businesspeople, politicians, bureaucrats and tourists alike, is the drinkers’ play on a theme, the Beerhive.  Has some feel of an old-fashioned, Old West barroom, with upscale drinks, good beer selection and good service.  The novelty ice bar will keep your drinks cool if you opt to sit there.  Ask for some Utah-distilled Underground and relax. 

Vivace – Vivace is one of my great surprises in SLC.  Nestled into a car dealership in an old neighborhood going through new development and revitalization on the west side of downtown, Vivace’s setting will transport you to hip neighborhoods of NYC or San Francisco with the authentic cuisine of Italy.  Casual with seating along large windows that roll up when the weather demands or at a bar so you can watch the kitchen, you will quickly recognize that this place is all about fresh, delicious, flavorful food.  Go with a prix fixe, and you will get a proper sampling of all this place can do.  As a “collector” of carbonara, Vivace’s is among the most authentic I have had in the States – no peas, no cream – just eggs and pancetta.  Grilled veggies and chicken were amazing.  This is a must stop for the Italiaphile.    
Cannella's – A hip hangout with great food.  Greeted by a man with a handle bar mustache, bowler hat and inked sleeves, I sat at a table with two friends on their delightful sidewalk and had a refreshing beer, excellent antipasti plate and a chopped salad with anchovies added…and all tasted great, served with a charming smile.  Great menu littered with clever quotes.  My favorites…

“ALCOHOL MAY BE A MANS WORST ENEMY, BUT THE BIBLE SAYS LOVE YOUR ENEMY.”- FRANK SINATRA

 “YOUR BODY IS NOT A TEMPLE, IT IS AN AMUSEMENT PARK, ENJOY THE RIDE!” - ANTHONY BOURDAIN

It was a near-perfect post-ride, late dinner.  I need to visit again.   

Rio Grande Cafe – In a refurbished train station to the west of downtown, Rio Grande is historic and quirky.  Check out the Chick-in Taco over the bar.  Inexpensive Mexican food, family-friendly with great service.  It’s not a SoCal Taqueria, but it satisfied a craving.
Ruth's Diner – One of the oldest restaurants in the state and made famous on Diners, Drive-in and Dives, this spot is well outside of downtown.  In fact, it’s out past the University and the Zoo on your way up Emigration Canyon.  If you’re a cyclist and wander past here on your way up the canyon you will smell the kitchen before your round the corner.  Then you’ll see the overcrowded lot and the cars parked on the shoulder across the street.  After you climb 2000 feet and 20 miles later you’ll come screaming past in the other direction good and hungry.  Take a shower, head back in a car, and you’ll replace the calories you burned.  Great chicken fried steak, excellent diner food, charming service, quirky atmosphere decorated with flamingos…why?  Don’t ask…just eat!  You’ll be so glad. 
 
Thanks, Salt Lake City for a great time this year.  See you again next June.


 
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