For all I know, fans of the now-closed Plum Alley are still mourning its succulent pork belly buns and those steaming bowls of ramen soup, an antidote for whatever ailed you, whether it was a hangover or an inversion-inspired funk.
But here’s something to help mourners move more quickly through denial, anger, bargaining and depression to acceptance: Copper Common, Ryan Lowder’s new bar that replaced Plum Alley, is a visionary addition to Salt Lake City’s night scene, with a hip remodel and food that is restaurant quality.
Copper Common’s menu is large for a bar, ranging from snacks such as chicken croquettes and wafer-thin pork fat to a smattering of small plates and entrées and several quality desserts.
A little background: Chef Lowder also owns the successful Copper Onion restaurant, just a parking lot away from his new place. He had wanted to open a bar on the same block, but launched Plum Alley instead in 2011 when he couldn’t immediately get the necessary license for a full-service bar. Plum Alley became a hit, but when Lowder got his club license he closed the restaurant (he has said he plans to relocate it) and opened Copper Common in mid-March.
It looks nothing like its popular predecessor. The interior has been beautifully remodeled to make good use of a relatively modest space.
Copper Common is rather narrow but feels open and airy thanks to large windows on two walls. Stools line the bar, situated in front of the 300 South window, but most of the seating is comfy booths and banquettes. A black beadboard ceiling and globe-shaped pendant lights lend a 19th-century feel to the décor. The roomy patio is likely to be full all summer.
While Commoners are sipping their beers, wine or specialty cocktails, they can nibble on one or more of the dozen bar snacks, from seasoned nuts ($4) and deviled eggs ($4) to the aforementioned tasty chicken croquettes ($6). The latter were piping hot and creamy on the inside, with a light crisp coating, and taste like Grandma’s chicken pot pie. Try pairing them with the house-made pickles $(4), which don’t overwhelm with their subtle marriage of garlic and vinegar.
Though the pork belly buns are gone (what would be the harm in bringing them back?), pig is well represented in the lardo ($7), about a half-dozen translucent slices of creamy fat drizzled with honey and accentuated with the crunch of walnuts. It’s not so much delicious as decadent, in the way it melts on the tongue. The fat comes from Spanish free-range pigs, which also furnish the pricey ham bar snack ($18).
Tater tots appear to be making a comeback on many restaurant menus, and here they are served with a garlic aioli ($5). But the texture of these tots seemed nothing like a potato and more like clumps of potato starch — not an improvement on what was a bad idea from the get-go.
The half-dozen small plates include an excellent smoked portobello salad ($8), a bed of arugula blanketed with warm slices of mushroom, studded with capers and onions and finished with an herb vinaigrette. The apple salad ($8) is an inspired blend of fruit chunks (bite-sized would be better) nestled among frisée, creamy crumbles of white cheddar and marcona almonds, held together by a kicky cider dressing.
Lobster spaghetti ($19) is a respectable portion of excellent house-made pasta and shellfish bonded by a creamy tomato sauce. While the sauce was overly salty, the tomato flavor still shone through.
Larger plates range from a steamed cod with fresh veggies ($23) to a patty melt ($13) and fried chicken ($17), which our server tagged as the most popular entrée, and for good reason. Two pieces of boned chicken leg are coated with a flavorful, crunchy breading and served atop a fistful of mashed potatoes fortified with plenty of cream. But the reason this dish sings is the “chili salad,” a jumble of red onion and julienned red, jalapeño and Anaheim peppers that adds crunch and mild heat. It’s enough to share for small appetites.
A word about dessert: Don’t skip it. We tried the night’s selection of house-made ice cream ($3), a chocolate toffee mix, and almost licked the bowl. Even the toffee is made in house. The cookie plate ($6) was also noteworthy, featuring a chewy semi-sweet chocolate chip, a flavorful ginger snap and a very soft chocolate, chocolate chip. Selections change daily.
Copper Common has a full bar, along with a selection of specialty cocktails. If you like tequila, try the Valentino ($8), an interesting variation on a margarita with Campari and a slice of jalapeño embedded in an ice cube that heats the drink as it melts. About half the beers on the menu are brewed locally, and the five beers on tap come in 9- or 16-ounce sizes.
Service was friendly and prompt, but more like a bar than restaurant: Food arrives when it’s ready, even though you may not be finished with the previous dish.
Copper Common is something different in Salt Lake City: a bar that also serves good food in a sleek, comfortable setting. Lowder has the touch. Let’s hope his streak continues.
Food • HHH
Mood • HHH
Service • HH
Noise • bbbb
A bar that could be mistaken for a restaurant, with a menu that ranges from quality snacks to full-size entrees, including excellent fried chicken with a pepper relish.
Location • 145 E. Broadway (300 South), Salt Lake City
Online • www.coppercommon.com
Hours • Daily, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Children’s menu • No
Prices • $$ - $$$
Liquor • Yes, full service
Corkage • $12
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • No
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
On-site parking • One-hour validation at adjacent lot
Credit cards • Yes