Where can Salt Lake City diners find comfort food classics made-from-scratch and served in a bright and airy space near downtown?
Surprisingly, in a once abandoned car garage now transformed into a trendy corner restaurant near Liberty Park.
Welcome to Tradition.
Guests at Tradition are greeted with an open kitchen that anchors the sun-filled main dining room. On the other side of the host stand, the bar is available for counter seating with a few additional tables for two nestled next to the windows. A patio with shade umbrellas is pleasant in the evenings and should be a hot-spot for lunch and brunch come fall.
Tradition speaks to diners looking to enjoy filling and hearty food — much of it firmly rooted in the South — served with the highest-quality ingredients in unexpected ways.
The cauliflower and grits ($9), for example, is a sharable plate, with fried cauliflower florets placed atop a ramekin of creamy grits then dressed with an intriguing citrus jalapeno gastrique that brought sweetness and heat to the humble main ingredients.
Tradition’s watercress salad ($13), one of the lighter items on the menu, is perfect for lunch or sharing around the table before dinner. Fresh watercress greens are paired with a tangy fried goat cheese round, crisp green apple slices, pickled Fresno chile and sweet candied almonds and then dressed with a chile vinaigrette.
A simple, Southern favorite, the fried green tomatoes ($10) had too many competing accompaniments, making it difficult to enjoy the actual cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes. A fresh cilantro pesto, a smoky chipotle aioli and a slightly sweet chile jam were delicious individually, but together they were over the top.
Aside from the above-mentioned items and the rapini banh mi ($12), vegetarians and eaters looking for something healthy may find satisfying options scarce, as a significant portion of the small menu features meat and fried foods, or both. The heavier menu offerings will certainly speak to rib-sticking, cold-weather meal seekers.
For now, diners can look to Tradition’s cocktail menu for a cool, refreshing mix of familiar and unique selections such as the all-day-every-day Bloody Mary ($8) or the Paid Vacation ($10) featuring guava, watermelon and fresh mint with vodka and jalapeno accents. All beers on draft feature local selections, too.
Paired with the weekend brunch menu, which showcases plenty of down-South dishes, creative twists on comfort classics include biscuits and sausage gravy ($12) made with sausage from nearby Beltex Meats; maple oatmeal-breaded chicken and pancakes ($16); and pork belly and eggs with red eye gravy ($12). A seasonal ($12) or corned beef hash ($14) complete the entrée choices, with the latter a weighty yet bland mountain of braised corned beef, potatoes and pickled cabbage topped with two eggs.
At dinner, there are even more meat-forward dishes such as braised pork shoulder with sweet potato hash ($22) or steak and tallow fries ($26). Unfortunately, our order of medium-rare Snake River Farms Teres Major beef was delivered on the cold side of rare with a good portion still near raw.
On the other hand, the bone-in, crispy confit fried chicken with buttery grits and earthy collard greens ($20) was executed flawlessly.
If there’s one item that Tradition is becoming known for, it’s pie.
Nestled between buttery and flaky layers of crust are five daily flavors ($7). The spiced cherry with lemon zest and a dash of cayenne and the caramel apple with brown butter Granny Smiths claimed favorite spots on my dessert list. Cinnamon-marinated peach, ginger berry and chocolate bourbon round out the choices. All can be purchased as whole pies or slices, topped with fresh whipped cream or house vanilla ice cream for $2 more.
Seating at individual or communal tables at Tradition was a bit too close for comfortable service or private conversations. Removing just one of the small tables would allow servers to discuss the menu and deliver dishes without resting themselves on an adjacent table.
And in my three visits to Tradition over lunch, brunch and dinner, service was always on the slow side. While this could be a purposefully orchestrated dining pace reflective of the southern-leaning menu, you’ll never feel rushed at Tradition—and you’ll certainly be welcomed and well-fed.
Heather L. King also writes for www.slclunches.com and can be found on social media @slclunches .
Tradition ★★★ (out of ★★★★) Tradition brings intriguingly executed comfort-food favorites to the Liberty Wells neighborhood. Food: ★★★½ Mood: ★★★ Service: ★★ Noise: 2 bells Location: 501 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City; 385-202-7167 Online: www.traditionslc.com Hours: Monday - Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Children’s menu: No Prices: $$-$$$ Liquor: Yes Corkage: $15 Reservations: Yes Takeout: Yes Wheelchair access: Yes Outdoor dining: Yes Onsite parking: Street parking Credit cards: All major