There are a few small urban pockets around Salt Lake City that are so uniquely un-mundane that they might have been lifted from San Francisco’s Castro District, or maybe Greenwich Village in New York City. I’m thinking of places brimming with one-of-a-kind independent businesses, shops and restaurants: The corner of 9th & 9th, a block of 1500 East at 1500 South, and a small stretch of 1300 East near the U, for example'maybe even a couple blocks of downtown Main Street. But my favorite little piece of you’re-not-in-Utah-anymore is the corner of Highland Drive and 2100 South in Sugar House. Sure, there’s a mega-shopping center right across the street. But for a block or so of Highland Drive and a block of 2100 South, you’d think you were perhaps strolling South Street in Philly.
Well, I always work up quite a thirst and a hefty appetite shopping at the Blue Boutique. So what better way to unwind than to belly up to the bar at the Tap Room for a cold glass of beer? And I do mean a cold glass of beer, since beer at the Tap Room comes in one form: an 8-ounce pilsner glass. There are no mugs, pints, yards, growlers, bottles or cans at the Tap Room, just a handful of beers served by the glass from super-friendly bartenders like the lovely Faha.
I’m fairly certain that the Tap Room must be the smallest bar in Utah. There are maybe 10 or so bar stools, and a few more seats along the wall on a raised wooden platform that reminds me of a train station shoeshine stand. So even when the Tap Room isn’t really crowded, it seems crowded, and the small confines makes meeting new friends a sure bet. There are no conversations that aren’t overheard and no need to be chic, hip or trendy.
Feeling a bit peckish after blowing a wad of dough at the Blue Boutique on a recent Friday, I strolled around the corner to the Tap Room for a couple glasses of beer and a snack. At the upper end of the Tap Room’s bar “menu” is Oberto Beef Jerky, in peppered and teriyaki flavors. For me, peppered beef jerky and a glass of Killian’s Irish Red is a perfect pairing. But I also like Crunchy Cheetos with Coors Light, and I think it goes without saying that you wouldn’t consider drinking anything other than Uinta Cutthroat Ale alongside Lay’s Sour Cream & Onion potato chips.
But since the junk food served only to further stimulate my appetite, my companion and I cruised down a couple of doors to Fats Grill for a more substantial meal, more beer and a game or two of 9-ball. Frankly, I’ve never had better pool-hall food than at Fats. The quality and freshness of the pizzas, burgers, salads and sandwiches always catches me off-guard. I will say this, however: Fats’ spicy barbecue sauce chicken wings with bleu cheese dressing ($5.99) and pool playing simply do not mix. The wings are way too messy, and the cue slips out of your paws. So enjoy those spicy wings before you rack ’em up.
For a light lunch or dinner, it’s hard to beat the individual-size pizzas at Fats. The first time I ordered the Meat Lovers pizza (ham, pepperoni, sausage, red onions), I thought it must have been frozen and from a box since it was so perfectly round. But it sure didn’t taste like frozen pizza. It turns out that at Fats they use pita bread as pizza crust, and then apply their own fresh toppings. The barbecue chicken pizza ($5.99) with black olives, mushrooms and red onion begs to be washed down with a cold pint of Uinta Kings Peak Porter.
On the other hand, I prefer Uinta Hefeweisen with Fats’ superb Reuben sandwich ($5.99). The Reuben (pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut) is served panini-style on thick grilled sourdough bread and served with Thousand Island dressing and a side of extraordinary french fries. The skin-on fries at Fats are some of the best I’ve eaten, sprinkled with a “secret” spice recipe that tastes to me quite a bit like Johnny’s Spice Seasoning or some variation of traditional Cajun seasoning.
Meanwhile, my honey munched on a delicious wrap from Fats with grilled chicken, cheddar-jack cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and a Southwest salsa mix on a tomato tortilla ($5.99) as she embarrassed me by taking two or four games of pool before I whooped her in a classic final showdown in game five. It was Fats’ scrumptious cheeseburger (the Fats Burger) and those awesome fries that gave me the will and the strength to sink a face-saving bank shot and rescue my pride just in the nick of time. Well, that and a few Blue Moon ales.
Oh what a night! Good beer, good food, and pool playing that was just good enough. But, do I hear dessert calling? There is one surefire way to round out a nearly perfect evening, whether you’ve had a fabulous meal at Michelangelo Ristorante around the corner or just a cup of java at Sugar House Coffee. And that’s to treat yourself and your cohort to an Italian ice at Luna’s Italian Ice CafÃ©. The banana ice at Luna’s tastes like the Platonic ideal of a banana'and best of all it’s fat- and dairy free. Not bad for a buck-fifty. Yup, I like this little corner of Salt Lake City so much I’m dubbing it Hi-So, for Highland South.