Sunday, September 13, 2015

Eating Salt Lake City (Part II)

And here's the rest of the SLC Story:

One of my favorite places for dinner and a drink is one I almost don’t want to tell you about.  Its secrecy is part of the fun, so why blow it.  Further, it’s a great place to surprise a date.  On this trip I had a chance to do just that.  On Main Street there’s a little nondescript spot called Bodega.  On my first visit here in 2014 it actually was a bodega.  You entered, picked up your chips and a soda and left.  But if you were in the know you mentioned to the cashier that you wanted to go downstairs.  After an ID check you would be led to what seemed to be a walk-in refrigerator or a closet, but when the door opened you were sent down a hall, some stairs and into an underground speakeasy, name withheld for now.  Now, in 2015, the bodega has been slightly remodeled into a very simple space for drinks and tacos.  Still quite unassuming. The mysterious door and trip down the stairs remains.  And my wife?…perplexed since I hadn’t told her anything about where I was taking her.  Once downstairs you are surrounded by what can only be described as a funky, cool, weird, shabby chic space of books, stuffed game heads mounted on the wall, mini-art projects, dim light and a feeling that you have just discovered some other world fit for a French indie film.  Like Bar X, this is a place to let the bartender treat you.  My favorite is unique to this place, the One and Done, and is essentially a Negroni with absinthe and not for the faint of heart.  The food menu is in a manila folder inside an accordion file.  The selections exhibit no real theme other than a quirky use of unique ingredients.  Deep fried balls of duck confit, beer cheese soup, a burger, seafood paella, beer can chicken, shrimp and grits.  This place also illustrates the culture clash that is SLC. While a few blocks up the street is Temple Square and all its conservatism, this underground treasure features more tattoos, edgy drinks, weird piercings and general avant garde-ness than any place for a few hundred miles in any direction.  If you want to try this place…and you should, you will have to look up Bodega upstairs and go from there.  I have to make you earn it a little.
Beer Bar is the other spot owned by Ty Burrell and adjoins Bar X via a doorway and curtain up the little stairs in the back, left side.  This place is essentially an indoor beer garden with a limited but top notch food menu.  How limited?  Pick the sausage you want, then two toppings and add fries and a side dipping sauce or a salad if you like.  Now pick your beer, one of about 30.  Sit at a picnic table or on the patio in front.  Watch the game on the wall, 6 feet across.  Enjoy.  It’s simple.  But it is also delicious.   I had the elk bratwurst and fries with tzatziki.  Mouth wateringly awesome!  

One of my favorite things about being is Salt Lake in the summer is renting a road bike and getting out into the surrounding hills for a few hours each evening after work.  One of the most popular rides is up Emigration Canyon.  It’s a 12 mile, 2000 foot ascent from my hotel to the top.  About a third of the way up we pass Ruth’s Diner.  Typically there’s a few dozen cars and the smell of grilling meat as I ride by.  A few years ago after a ride we hopped in a car and headed up.  I liked it and remember thinking it seemed so family-friendly, that if I was ever here with my family this would have to be a spot to try.  This summer we finally did it, and my hunch was right.  Ruth’s is an old diner begun by…Ruth, a curmudgeonly, smoking, potty-mouthed woman who, as far as I can tell, would have been far more comfortable in Las Vegas or LA than the conservative air of Salt Lake.  If you visit take the time to read about her in the newspaper articles posted around the entrance.  Odds are you will be waiting for a table so you will have the time.  Beyond the old rail car dining room there are adjoining rooms and a massive outdoor patio with a stage for live music.  The food is diner-simple with an overwhelming number of choices.  In fact, you probably will not be able to read the entire menu…it’s vast.  You can eat healthy if you want, but this is a place for grease and fried things.  Eat the bread, get a big soda or a beer and soak in the clean air nestled in the hills.  The service is as nice as can be (and honestly, the service everywhere in SLC is amazing), the food is delicious if simple.  Ruth’s is an experience the family can enjoy, and a family of four can eat for under $50.  And my meatloaf burger was everything a diner burger should be.

Finally we come to the one place I was really excited about taking the kids, Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana on South 200 West, a small chain with eight locations in Utah and Southern California, often listed as one of America’s best pizzas.  While I like pizza of all kinds (I even like a $1.25 Totino’s from the freezer section - don't tell anyone), an authentic Napoletana style is the end-all for me.  I could eat it daily with joy.  Settebello makes a great one – thin crust that stays moist in the middle but bubbles up crisp and charred on the sides with fresh tomato sauce that really is little more than crushed tomatoes, top quality toppings, the option for an egg in the middle, fired at 800-900 degrees in 2 minutes or less in a word-fired brick oven.  This is pizza at its finest, as it should be, the model against which all others should be judged.  Settebello’s is excellent.  Service is efficient if not overtly friendly like most of Salt Lake.  Atmosphere is pizzeria-simple with some great Italy- and pizza-inspired art.  But the smells and the tastes…spectacular.  They make maybe a dozen traditional pizzas, a few salads and just a couple other appetizers like crostini.  It’s simple and direct.  And there’s no pineapple.  Next door they have a gelato spot that is the perfect end to any day.  My favorite?  The inexplicably Smurf-blue banana cream.

Let me end this lengthy review of eating in Salt Lake City by asking you all to visit.  It’s a perplexing place, no doubt, but to the surprise of many, you can eat and drink quite well here.  The genealogy library will amaze you, the natural wonders within a few hours’ drive are like no place on Earth, and you will be treated with amazing hospitality.
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