Dining out: Bring your appetite to the mouth of Big Cottonwood
Cottonwood Heights » Depending on their size, a person can burn anywhere from 300 to 700 calories during a day of skiing. I know people who likely burn much more, though they tend to be the types who burn more calories just by sitting drinking beer than I ever could climbing the Matterhorn - -- on Rollerblades.
These metabolically-blessed folks, though, are on even ground with us mortals when it comes to eating. By that, I mean specifically eating at Porcupine Pub and Grill. Even those who pride themselves on their massive caloric intake will look upon any entrée here with a sense of disbelief. "Is that really all for me?"
It in fact is. Porcupine lives up to its pub moniker, oozing casual and laid back as much as their bartenders pour out pints of local microbrew. Everything about the restaurant is big -- the building feels like a loft apartment built by Paul Bunyon as a winter hideaway, the conversations are big (there's no such thing as whispering here), so is the mountainside scenery, and of course, the portion sizes. And if you choose well, the flavors come out big, too.
There are times to bemoan the downward spiral (or should I say outward expansion) of waistlines nationwide. But it's a hard argument to win when your philosophical opponent is one of those metabolically gifted friends just after she's spent the whole day at Solitude. She literally smells like physical activity. The subtle blend of sweat, body chemistry, artificial moisture wicking fabric and sunscreen is overwhelmed by the garlic, onion and chili rising from the huge platter placed before her. Behold, the chile verde burrito ($12.95).
It's one of the winners on Porcupine's vast menu. The spicy filling features all the aforementioned aromatics with tender bits of pork. Stuffed into a huge flour tortilla and served alongside the old standbys black beans and rice, it's enough to feed two to three people. My athletic friend asked for a to-go container and happily talked of having leftovers for lunch the next day.
Porcupine's menu diversity is simultaneously part of its appeal and weakness. Places like this rarely spark dining debates, since everyone can find something they want to eat. Replacing glucose stores and re-carbo loading aren't problems here. Hearty nachos ($9.99), a pile of prudently-fried calamari ($9.99), and a rack of baby back ribs ($15.99) provide equally ample units of energy and flavor.
But the intensity wanes a bit when we're talking ahi spring rolls ($12.99), which were visually stunning but completely flat in flavor, except for the wasabi dipping sauce.
Porcupine is a big place and it serves a lot of people. Whether they expended calories in front of a computer or on the mountain, they come to seek Porcupine's brand of solace: A tall, cold pint of beer. The menu's selection is impressive, particularly if you find yourself thirsty and hungry in Porcupine's neck of the woods post 9:30 p.m. Lunch and brunch are equally bustling, too.
With volume, though, there's always a risk of missing the mark. For the most part, people here don't seem so finicky as to send back their plate of tequila lime chicken pasta ($12.99), even if the pasta is overcooked. It's forgivable, because they're hungry and the sauce is good.
Discriminating gourmands will no doubt find more to lament. But you couldn't get this variety and value anywhere on the mountain. And since the restaurant is strategically located at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, why wouldn't you stop in for cold beer and rejuvenating, rib-sticking eats?
At places like these, servers are an interesting lot, and wherever they hail from, are likely to live here for the snow. From one regular server, I've gotten equally good recommendations on ski runs and local microbrew. The service fits the casual atmosphere but I've yet to encounter anything that borders on sloppy. They're quick, efficient and know how to steer you toward a good thing.
Like the bread pudding ($6.99). In my book, this dessert does double duty for its carb-content (I never was a fan of Atkins or South Beach) and its gentle textures and flavors. Porcupine Pub's isn't the best one I've ever tasted, but after a day in the outdoors and some spicy chile verde in my belly, the vanilla scented custard and soufflé-light bread was just what my gut needed.
The best way to après-ski when coming down from Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon: Servings are hearty, the beer chilled, and the atmosphere is lively. Try the chile verde burrito, fish tacos, and nachos. For ultimate carbo-loading, enjoy the fluffy bread pudding.
Location » 3698 E. Fort Union Blvd., Salt Lake City; 801-942-5555
Hours » Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Children's menu » Yes
Prices » $$
Liquor » Full bar
Corkage » $7
Reservations » Large parties
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » Yes
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All major