Speakeasies are the new tapas bar. We’ve watched two open in Salt Lake in 2013, both shrouded in all the secrecy that Facebook and Twitter can afford. And although we’ve hopped on this culinary trend a couple years later than other cities, Main Street’s The Rest is competing on a level that puts speakeasies in much larger towns to shame.
I heard about The Rest through a friend of a friend, exactly as the owners had hoped; but I actually didn’t know it was a speakeasy, and I certainly didn’t know the password. So when we entered the Bodega and found a small convenience store on the right and an even smaller tavern on the left, everyone was confused. We checked out the convenience store, which hawks perfectly-placed Brillo pads, Virgin Mary candles, and private-labeled coffee bags all behind a countertop lacquered with Playboy covers. We then walked three feet to our left and ordered a Bodego Ale from a very attractive and friendly beer slinger, in what must be the smallest tavern in Salt Lake. After some meddling questions he knew we were onto the gimmick and he told us the restaurant was downstairs through a locked, industrial door. Oh! Exciting! He called down and received permission to open the gates of Narnia for us.
The industrial doors led to a very generic, industrial staircase, which, two flights down, led to another industrial door. He unlocked that door and we stepped into another world. A beautiful woman playing an Al Green vinyl sat us at the bar. The restaurant behind us was aglow in hundreds of hanging Edison light bulbs. A vault at the end of the bar housed the kitchen and beside that, a lounge which seemed like a set-piece out of True Blood; dark lighting, old books and terrariums filled the shelves. Vampires would feel at home in this space.
At the bar, a very inventive cocktail list is followed by a very un-inventive, but unique wine list. Wine is listed in a matrix of fair, decent, good and by white, red, bubbly … I found it a bit too gimmicky. I’m not a wine snob, but I know enough about the labels in Utah to make my own decision about what is good, and what is not.
After perusing the beer list, we found the mixologist too hard to pass up with his large arms and tight pants. He could have served Popov, but instead he brought beautifully mixed cocktails, well balanced with fresh herbs. I had rye with cucumber, mint and a large, slow-melting cube of ice.
The appetizers came quickly: pickled onions rings had a terrific ‘bite’ of vinegar and were served with Sriracha mayo. Even more inventive was the meatloaf, which was really a pate served with tomato jelly (they called it Ketchup) and toast points. It was sumptuous — the flavors melted in your mouth faster than cotton candy.
Several days later we ordered the honey-glazed beer-can chicken. It was preceded with a complimentary basket of sliced jalapeño cornbread that may have stolen the show. My family in the South would be very happy; perfectly cooked crusty edges with a moist, delicate crumb … delicious. We weaved back into the gimmicky territory when the chef presented our whole chicken (beer still in the ass) and asked if, “we’d like to name it.” I found out later it was a quote from Portlandia and it was also the same question I overheard him ask the first time we were there. Oh well, the bird more than made up for the slight ruse. The crispy skin led to a perfectly moist chicken which served four men just fine (even though the menu says two). The chicken was accompanied by a creamy, hearty ‘salad’ of asparagus and potato.
I’d be remiss not to mention the service — the upstairs beer slinger, the vinyl spinner, the hot mixologist and Vonnegut, our beautiful server were all perfect — just like The Rest … every corner leads to another treasure, whether it be the service, food or ambiance.
Convenience store, tavern, pub, library, speakeasy, art gallery or restaurant, The Rest is a delightful rabbit hole.