Friday, April 10, 2009

Road Trip: Salt Lake City

Breaking News: Food Network passes on pilot for "Shaw Eats Utah."

I’d been meaning to go hang out with my sister Liz in Salt Lake City for quite awhile now, so when I found out my brother John was heading that way for a visit over his birthday weekend, I got my act together and made plans to join them.

Sure enough, it was a blast. I got to experience the bureaucracy of SLC nightlife and even go skiing for the first time in years -- where I discovered that while technique may come back quickly, muscles do not. And, of course, I also had a few bites to eat. All but one of these places were even in the Salt Lake City Weekly's "Best of Utah 2009" issue.

Pat’s BBQ
After a day of skiing, some heavy calories were called for, and we met up with Liz’s friend JJ at Pat’s BBQ to partake in some of the famous-osity that are Pat’s ribs. We managed to convince Liz to upgrade her usual 1/4 rack order to a half rack so we could all sample the goods. The rest of us ordered the 1/2 lb. pulled pork & 1/2 lb. brisket combo.

The ribs are indeed the real star at Pat’s BBQ -- just an incredible peppery smoky taste that didn’t need any embellishment from the two accompanying barbecue sauces. The pulled pork was fantastic and tender, and the brisket was good as well, but clearly outshined by everything else. Truth be told, I didn’t even feel the need to try the sauces until I was nearing the end of my brisket slices. Pat’s smoke and rub is more than enough to give everything plenty of flavor.

We also sampled a wide range of sides. Baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad and something called meaty gravy and rice, which is pulled pork over rice in a thin, clear sauce. While I questioned Liz’s choice of getting the cole slaw -- because really, when was the last time cole slaw was anything besides filler? -- I was proven wrong by the zesty yellow-tinged concoction that arrived. Yes, it was damn fine slaw.

In fact, everything we had was top notch, including the service. And if you’re lamenting the fact you may never get to try such craftsmanship since you don’t have a reason to go to Utah, there was ample evidence that Pat’s BBQ takes the show on the road to the American Royal Barbecue competition right here in KC.

Blue Plate Diner
For breakfast, Liz recommended the Blue Plate Diner, an old school eatery that seems almost as much of a house as a restaurant. We were able to get seated right away and take a look at the menu, which bounces between classic greasy spoon and trendier modern offerings.

While I agonized over my decision -- the biscuits and gravy being an early frontrunner -- Liz ordered eggs benedict and John chose a verde omelet. I ultimately opted for the spinach, mushroom and avocado variant of the eggs benedict, keeping in mind the heavier fare we’d be having later in the day.

The food came out relatively quick, but I was soon let down by the blandness of the hollandaise. The flavors all worked well together -- although some bacon would’ve really kicked the taste up a few levels. Liz’s standard eggs benedict had the same hollandaise problem. John’s omelet looked deceptively sedate until we discovered the beige gravy had an unexpected kick. Each dish came with some of the best home fries I've ever tasted.

Overall, a better than average breakfast, but I can’t help thinking the biscuits and gravy would have been a better choice, or at least a more accurate indicator of what the Blue Plate Diner can do.

Moochie’s & Brewvies
Moochie’s was one of the few places I’d checked out online before I headed to SLC, and one of the “must eats” on my list. Renowned for cheesesteaks and meatball subs, Moochie’s is fast, too. We ordered a six-inch of each to go, and were out of there within minutes. We would’ve asked for our sandwiches to be cut into thirds, but we were running tight on time -- we didn’t want to throw off Moochie’s carefully honed system and become the source of a sandwich breakdown.

We took our sandwiches and moved on to Brewvies for an afternoon showing of "Taken." Brewvies sports two theaters as well as a good-sized front bar area with pool tables and video games. Prices are very reasonable -- $3 per ticket for the first show of the day, $8 for a pitcher of Bud Light -- and the seating is spacious with each row of seats providing a low-lit narrow table/ledge to hold your drinks and food. There are also couches and tables in the back if you want to get your sprawl on.

Due to the thickness of the bread and an especially messy meatball, we had a bit of a challenge cutting the sandwiches with the plastic knives we’d picked up at Moochie’s -- but we did it. The meatball sub had a real spicy goodness, while the cheesesteak was just okay, and probably a little too salty. I wish we’d had time to eat them at Moochie’s instead to having to rush to Brewvies. I’d for sure like to make a Moochie’s return trip for more in-depth research.

Apollo Burger vs. Crown Burger
I spotted both these joints on the way to Liz’s house from the airport, and was excited to find out Crown Burger was the Salt Lake City Weekly's #1 pick. Apollo Burger didn’t even place. But as we are discerning eaters capable of making up our own minds, we decided to bring back two burgers and fries from each to conduct our own head-to-head taste competition at Liz’s apartment.

First we went to fetch some Apollo Burger, which made a strong impression with its authentic early ‘70s décor and big green leather booths. We went with the signature Apollo Burger, which is a cheeseburger with pastrami, as well as the Western Bacon Cheeseburger. $11 total.

At Crown Burger (no website), we took the drive thru since we already had our Apollo Burger order and didn’t want it to get cold. We got a Crown Burger, which is also a cheeseburger with pastrami, and a Double Bacon Cheeseburger -- the touted winner of the best burger in town. Those two burgers with fries came to $15.

Back at Liz’s, we started with the Apollo Burger, then the Crown Burger, followed by the Western Bacon Cheeseburger, and ending on the Double Bacon Cheeseburger. After the carnage, our consensus was that the Crown Burger beats the others with superior pastrami and flavor, not to mention appearance and structural integrity.

The Western Bacon Cheeseburger was the universal loser, even proving inedible to one of our testers. When we unwrapped it, Liz said, “I’m already not looking forward to it.” While we were cleaning up, John asked, “You have somewhere to throw this out? You don’t want this left in your apartment.”

In the end, Apollo put up a decent effort -- but Crown took ‘em down like Drago, not even breaking a sweat.

Red Iguana
Outstanding. That’s really the only word that can describe the Red Iguana. There’s a reason this place is listed as one of the top restaurants in SLC, and it starts with seven -- seven! -- different kinds of mole.

Red Iguana is the kind of eatery where you may never get around to trying a taco because you can’t pass up their specialty items. John got the Puntas de Filete a la Norteña, which are sirloin tips tossed with bacon, jalapenos, onions and tomatoes served over an almond mole that consists of almonds, chiles, zucchini, milk, peanut butter and onions.

I ordered the Lomo de Puerco, which is a roasted rolled pork loin stuffed with dried fruit, swiss chard and sun-dried tomatoes, sliced and served over the aforementioned almond mole. Liz went low-key with the carne asada burritos, but even that seemingly straightforward dish was incredible.

Directly after lunch my siblings dropped me off at the airport and headed back into the mountains for another round of skiing.

If only I had more time. More time to sample all of the moles.

Er, I mean hang with the family.
Big thanks to Liz, Scott (in absentia), JJ, Buddy, Claire, Kevin, Mike, Anika, and the guy who gave us a ride up to Alta for all their hospitality.

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