Like many of its neighborhood peers, Avenues Proper Restaurant & Publick House flirts with trendy.
On my initial visit, our waitress was barely into her introductory spiel when the words "farm-to-table" came rolling along. This is not a bad thing who doesn't want their squash sourced from a local farm and their steak raised on a nearby pasture?
But experienced diners will pause when confronted with any such fashionable phrase, as there's potential for plenty of cringeworthy navel-gazing.
Mercifully, Avenues Proper stops short of calling itself a gastropub, a term I'd happily seal in the next empty beer barrel and hurl into the Great Salt Lake. It is first and foremost a restaurant. Yes, it brews its own small-batch beers, but it wants your dining dollars first and your boozy bucks second.
Avenues Proper offers 12 beers on tap, four brewed in house, the remainder from other Utah brewers. There's plenty more by the bottle, and the full service bar also affords wine and cocktails. In poaching Rio Connelly from Epic Brewing, Avenues Proper's selections are already very drinkable. A small-batch gose was the only sour note quite literally too tart and salty to enjoy more than a sample pour ($1). A standout was the creamy "nitro" Irish Red Ale. All pints are $5 and pitchers $14.
The food kicks off with a "bites" section a half-dozen items, priced for imbibers to drop by and remain DABC compliant. Duck-fat popcorn ($3) leaps off the menu and was lighter than I expected lifted by a hit of sweet fennel pollen. Less subtle, but still perfect bar fodder, were the daily pickles ($3) which on this day were a trio of cippolini onions, spicy kimchi and sliced gherkins. Like several dishes on the menu, the exact makeup of the dish changes often.
The small-plates and salads section of the menu can be enjoyed as appetizers or a tapas meal. Fresh beets are currently brightening the menu. A warm beet bruschetta with goat cheese ($8) and a beet salad with roasted beets, arugula, spiced walnuts and orange vinaigrette ($10) showcased the farm-to-table concept. I even discovered beet ice cream sitting alongside a slice of rich goat cheese buttermilk pie ($8) for dessert one night.
Skin-on, salty pommes frites ($5) with aioli are a fun item to share, although you might want to keep them all to yourself and order the shellfish frites ($12) instead. Over my visits, the dish was offered with cockles and then clams; I sampled the latter. The accompanying coconut red curry broth with lemongrass and galangal was mild and didn't overpower the shellfish or cautious palates.
Panko-crusted cod sticks ($8) with house tartar were probably the best I've ever eaten. A coarse house patÃ© ($9) with crackers, pickled green garlic and house mustard was stellar, and three crispy pork belly ($9) cubes exploded with fattiness cut by sweet grilled peach. All three had exemplary flavor, but the portion sizes may leave some querying their price points. Caveat emptor.
Chicken and waffles ($10) was an easier splurge. Avenues Proper substitutes the usual fried chicken with a house-made chicken sausage, crowned with a dainty sunny-side-up quail egg. This mouth-watering composition tops a waffle, afloat in a thyme-infused maple syrup. While chicken and waffles is undeniably a fad, all can be forgiven when trend meets taste and they become good friends.
The menu wraps up with five larger entree options, which paled against the peppy small plates. Once more, the dishes emphasize seasonal and local. A fish of the moment one evening was a meaty piece of corvina served with local peppers ($24). Decent, yes; amazing, not quite.
The burger ($15) could be the pinnacle of the local focus: Jones Creek Beef is ground daily with a dash of short rib. Rockhill Creamery Edam is the cheese of choice and the bun is a substantial Dutch crunch creation from Eva. As one of the most expensive gourmet burgers in town, it was underwhelming. Likewise, gnocchi ($16) with baby heirloom squash and cherry tomatoes was pleasant, but pedestrian.
Desserts are in flux the waiter said the kitchen experiments on Sundays, so pay particular note if you stop by then. Two other desserts I enjoyed from my visits included a wobbly ginger panna cotta ($7) with pine nuts and much-lighter-than-expected pound cake ($7) with corn, cherries and smoked ice cream.
Conceptually, I'm on the same page as Avenues Proper, from the trendy wood-lined dining space through to the menu.
Where I diverge is the pricing. Three fish sticks for $8, no matter how excellent, will be a stretch for many. A $15 burger should be gunning for the best in town, but it isn't there yet. I see promise and suspect the restaurant's management has the necessary guile to balance the costs against the broader market.
Avenues residents, congratulations, you just got another reason to boast about an already fun neighborhood. Color me jealous.
Avenues Proper Restaurant & Publick House
Food • HH
Mood • HHhj
Service • HHhj
Noise • bb
Part restaurant, part pub, part hangout this microbrewery in Salt Lake City's Avenues neighborhood is replete with dishes to enjoy alone or pair with a house brew.
Location • 376 8th Ave., Salt Lake City; 385-227-8628
Online • avenuesproper.com
Hours • Lunch Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Tuesday-Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m.; and late night, Thursday-Saturday 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Bites available all day long.
Children's menu • No
Prices • $$
Liquor • Full bar
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • Yes