If terms like local, organic, free range and seasonal top the list when you dine out, then the menu at Avenues Bistro on Third should come as a real delight. At its heart, the restaurant is a classic neighborhood hangout.
One evening while I relaxed on the patio in the setting sun, I lost count of the number of diners arriving and leaving greeting each other. The atmosphere felt like more of a small town than a restaurant just a few blocks from downtown Salt Lake City. The interior has quirky appeal, too, with personal flourishes, such as cookbooks on the sides of tables, filled with handwritten notes.
I like how both old and new tumble together so well at Avenues Bistro. Along with the vintage touches, there's a healthy dollop of modernism, from the menu filled with locally sourced ingredients right through to checkout where payment is handled tableside with an iPad. Technophobes needn't worry though, as everyone looked equally perplexed by this newfangled payment technique, while the staff seemed happy to guide diners through the process.
The menu is a mishmash of salads, soups, sandwiches, small plates and entrees, without a cohesive theme drawing the dishes together beyond using ingredients that are local and fresh.
Case in point is the Cristiano's Salad ($9.95), which name checks local salumi wizard, Cristiano Creminelli. The salad brought together wonderful Creminelli Gran Cotto ham, walnuts, sliced radish, arugula and other greens with shaved manchego cheese. Finished off with just the right amount of acidic vinaigrette, it was a perfect summer evening salad, even more so when paired with another local favorite of mine, Epic Brewery's Spiral Jetty IPA ($10). The restaurant features a full bar with highlights including wine by the glass for $5 and an array of interesting beers, including many local offerings such as Epic.
Speaking of summer, an evening special of chilled beet soup ($4) exploded with vibrant sunny-sweetness, offset with a swirl of citrus. That's no surprise since the beets came directly from the chef's garden.
Among the small plates/appetizers, the four prawns ($9.95) served in a rich buttery sauce were acceptable, if a smidgen overpriced, while a toasted baguette on the side made the plate just slightly more substantial. Seemingly more fairly priced was a bright red hummus ($8.95) with roasted red pepper, olive oil, lemon, and slow roasted tomato, which lit up my plate and my palate, too, with a pleasing back note of spice. The chickpea dip is served with rounds of sliced cucumber and crusty crostini, making it a fine dish to share with friends.
The bistro's sandwiches are delivered on dense, rich focaccia bread, including the grass-fed beef burger ($9.95). The Old Avenues Special ($9.95) caught my eye, with its house-roasted turkey breast, Brie cheese and Granny Smith apple slices. While the mix of sweet apples and savory turkey was enjoyable, better was still to come. Our Local Hero ($9.95) was a fantastic mix of Frody Volgger's Italian speck, a type of prosciutto, with Creminelli's Italian sausage, fresh mozzarella cheese, romaine lettuce, red onion, roasted bell pepper and a thick, deeply flavored balsamic reduction. If anything on the menu exemplified the restaurant on one plate, this was it.
The penne pasta ($9.95), one of four entrees, changes frequently. On one recent visit, it consisted of squash, zucchini, wilted spinach and a feisty red sauce which added just enough spice to make things interesting. Other specials mix up the menu too; on one trip I was tempted by an intriguing trout fish taco, but instead decided on the entree of Everett Ruess Grilled Trout ($9.95). This Utah staple was prepared simply with lemon, capers and garlic white wine butter sauce. The fish itself was perfectly moist, but the disappointment was the bland, stodgy rice served as a side (from a choice of potatoes or rice).
Desserts change often as well. On one visit, a ginger snap cookie ($1.65) was served up plain and simple, while the next time it arrived as two cookies stuck together with a zesty cream cheese, and both versions were delicious. A slice of carrot cake ($4.95) was plenty for two to share, but a homemade pastry (4.95) stuffed with a boldly tart mix of lemon and raspberry was my favorite. With the changing dessert selection and the restaurant's inviting vibe, I could easily see locals stopping by, grabbing a sweet treat and a coffee while whiling away the day.
This new restaurant isn't without its quirks. For the time being, I wouldn't suggest dining at Avenues Bistro if you're on a tight schedule. Kitchen timing was off on occasions, and the wait staff seemed overextended. I saw promised condiments go astray and at one point heard a waitress inform a nearby table that she couldn't provide a menu until other diners had finished with theirs.
The restaurant space is small, while during the summer months the outdoor patio area doubles capacity, but during the winter space might be at a premium. But these seem like small drawbacks to me.
If I had an Avenues Bistro in my neighborhood, you can bet I'd be a regular.
Tribune restaurant reviewer Stuart Melling blogs at gastronomicslc.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Avenues Bistro on Third
Food • HHhj
Mood • HHhj
Service • HH
Noise • bb
Neighborhood cafe's eclectic menu and full bar in the heart of the Avenues offers a quirky, personal touch, a patio, and a focus on fresh, seasonal and local food.
Location • 564 E. Third Ave., Salt Lake City; 801-831-5409
Hours • 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; closed Tuesday
Children's menu • No
Prices • $$
Liquor • Full bar
Reservations • No
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
Parking • On street
Credit cards • All major