It’s difficult to walk into Nomad Eatery and not feel immediately transported.
A neon pink sign against a green frond-filled backdrop mimics vibrant, tropical Cuba. Dining room lights crafted from chicken feeders, an open kitchen and shelves of cookbooks remind me of a farm in the Midwest. The wood-backed bar with a ceiling riveted together like an airplane wing delivers me to the terminal, where I watch jets take off and land. And the $40,000 Navajo rug from the Shiprock Santa Fe gallery in New Mexico calls me to the American Indian country of the Southwest.
But once I sit down and dig into the food, I realize Nomad’s not so far away. Really, it’s just a different version of home.
Chef/owner Justin Soelberg says the design and location on west North Temple — out by the Salt Lake International Airport — really speak to the eclectic menu of the fast-casual restaurant that pulls from different cultures and cuisines.
“You can kind of come in and get something from everywhere,” Soelberg said, adding that he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into one thing.
In truth, Soelberg is the nomad, drawing inspiration from early life in Idaho, culinary training out East, time in Chicago, jobs at Salt Lake City’s Pizza Nono, Avenues Proper and Proper Burger, and places in between.
He knows it’s all a little scatterbrained, a mishmash of ideas and flavors. But at its simplest, Nomad is a sandwich and pizza place.
The pizza comes Neapolitan style, with a choice of four pies — Margherita ($10), The Meats ($12), Victoria ($11) and Betty White ($10) — cooked in a brick, wood-fired oven.
A sucker for a white pizza, I ordered the Betty White. The thin crust exudes airy, yet soft stability atop which a very garlicky cream sauce melds with mozzarella, fontina and grana cheeses. It’s balanced by bright, peppery arugula and a delightfully pickled butternut squash.
Almost every dish features a fermented garnish. Soelberg says pickling is a throwback to his childhood in Idaho, where canning and gardening are ingrained into the fabric of everyday life. He also references Chicago, where chefs pickle “everything and anything.”
Beyond the nostalgia, layering pickled ingredients creates balance, adding texture while cutting the fat of the Duke’s mayonnaise, another signature element of Nomad sandwiches.
All the sandwiches come with salt and vinegar chips or fries for an additional charge ($2 for regular, $4 for loaded). All are great, but do try the loaded fries. I liken the dish, with its twice-cooked super-crispy potatoes, chicken gravy, green onions, farmers cheese, bacon bits and American cheese, to a redneck poutine, at which Soelberg laughs.
“Hell, yeah, it’s like redneck poutine. It’s trashy,” he says. He often uses that word — trashy — when describing the various elements of his dishes that seem counterintuitive to other, more elevated ingredients or flavors.
Like the spicy black bean hummus and chili cheese-flavored Fritos on the smoked turkey breast ($10). It might seem strange, but the flavors really work well with the rest of the sandwich, layered with pickled red onion, Monterey Jack cheese and bacon aioli on wheat bread. While there are so many things to love about this dish, the hummus and Fritos overpowered the more delicate, moist turkey that takes the Nomad staff three days to brine, smoke and cook sous vide.
The fish sandwich ($11) includes pickled celery and a tarragon caper tartar sauce atop a crispy, battered tilapia with a lacinato kale and red cabbage slaw. The roast beef ($12) features pickled jalapeno with caramelized and crispy onions, spinach, a fontina house mustard and Duke’s mayonnaise.
During a packed Wednesday lunch, every table had at least one tray with the spicy chicken sandwich ($11). When asked how it was, the diner next to me said, “Good but messy.” That’s an understatement — on both counts. From the crispy batter that flakes off the juicy thigh meat to the kick of spices from the sauce, from the crunchy, sour pickled zucchini to the creamy tang of the Duke’s mayo, I’d happily ruin a shirt for this one.
I also loved the wedge salad ($8) with baby romaine, buttermilk ranch, smoked blue cheese, bacon, onion crisps, green onions and seeds. It hit the five major tastes — salty, sweet, savory, bitter and sour.
In addition to its main courses, Nomad offers appetizers, including Korean or buffalo-style wings ($6 for four/$10 for eight) and pickled/roasted beets ($8); and cocktails, like the potent Hardshell ($8) and the fruity, tentatively named “Pink Drink” ($10).
Desserts — made by Salt Lake City pastry chef Alexa Norlin, owner of Normal Ice Cream — include the Choco Taco ($7) and a rotation of sandwiches, bars and sundaes.
Because the menu is small and focused, Soelberg rotates in weekly and monthly specials — like tacos on Tuesdays — as well as swapping out each month’s lowest-performing sandwich. This month, the Korean pulled pork ($11) is getting the ax. In its place is a pork schnitzel sandwich with lingonberry jam, a red cabbage and Granny Smith apple slaw, and butternut squash butter.
The pulled pork isn’t going away completely. Nomad plans to use the banh mi-inspired sandwich on its food truck, which debuted recently at Beer Bar and Bar X. Soelberg envisions a steady presence downtown, particularly at businesses and festivals.
As if Soelberg hadn’t already hit the traveler theme hard enough, he said expansion plans are in the works.
Right now, though, he is happy cooking on the line, creating the food he loves and sharing it with those who wander in.
Nomad Eatery ★★★ (out of ★★★★)<br>The eclectic fast-casual restaurant serves pizza and sandwiches inspired by travel, including its location near the Salt Lake City International Airport and chef/owner Justin Soelberg’s own experiences with different cultures and cuisines. The spicy chicken sandwich is worth the mess. Pro tips: Desserts are delivered on Wednesdays, and ROMP stands for red onions, mint and parsley.<br>Food • ★★★<br>Mood • ★★★<br>Service • ★★★½<br>Location • 2110 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City<br>Online • https://www.nomad-eatery.com/<br>Hours • 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Friday; 5-10 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday<br>Children’s menu • No<br>Prices • $-$$<br>Liquor • Yes<br>Reservations • Will try to accommodate large groups<br>Takeout • Yes, order by phone<br>Wheelchair access • Yes<br>Outdoor dining • No<br>On-site parking • Yes<br>Credit cards • Yes