Avenues Proper Restaurant & Publick House 

Turning 21 at Avenues Proper

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When my stepson, C.J., turned 21 last month, he understandably wanted to celebrate this milestone birthday in a place where he could order his first legit and legal beer. So he chose Avenues Proper—a very solid, adult choice, as far as I was concerned. As well as being a neighborhood eatery, the Avenues Proper Restaurant & Publick House is also a microbrewery—Utah's smallest craft brewery—offering exceptional small-batch beers brewed in-house.

And so, we gathered at Avenues Proper, where I was first impressed by the décor. It's quite contemporary, with exposed ceiling air ducts and vents, polished cement floors, low-slung leather banquettes lining the walls, bare wooden tables and chairs—in a nutshell, hard surfaces abound. And yet, Avenues Proper somehow manages to feel comfy and cozy—an inviting neighborhood space that, contrary to logic, isn't noisy despite all those reflective surfaces. Super-friendly service just adds to the appeal.

I'm always amazed at how much food college kids can put away, and so we plowed through a number of Avenues Proper apps. Properly ID'd as an adult, C.J. ordered a smooth and creamy Oatmeal Red, an Irish-style red ale from the nitro tap—an impressive choice for his first legal beer. My first brew was probably cheap Old Milwaukee. We had to order the "Prop-corn" ($3), which is popcorn tossed in seasoned duck fat with sea salt and fennel pollen. Amazing. I'd expected something heavy, but the glistening coating of duck fat was actually quite light, and the fennel pollen brought a slight sweetness to the popcorn. I could easily see myself bellying up to the Avenues Proper bar, ordering a fresh brew, and being quite satisfied with nothing more than a bowl of Prop-corn.

But then, I'd miss out on other appealing appetizers and nibbles from the "small" side of the menu, like the cheese plate ($9) of King's Peak cheese washed in Avenues Proper house-brewed Leipziger Gose with cherry mostarda and an herbed Pierre's Bakery baguette. Or, the not-so-"small" enchiladas ($11)—a pair of them, stuffed with carnitas-style shredded roast pork, topped with spicy ghost pepper cheese, queso fresco, pickled red onion and a tangy tomatillo-chile sauce. And, although I'm not a huge fan of beets, the roasted beet salad ($10) was, well ... unbeetable. It featured both roasted and pickled beets with local greens and fresh cheese, sprinkled with homemade granola to give the salad a nutty, crunchy texture and taste.

Avenues Proper serves up a number of comfort-food classics, including rarebit, fish & chips, burgers, and chicken & waffles. The latter is an interesting spin on traditional chicken & waffles: two pieces of chicken sausage (made in-house) and a duo of sunny-side-up eggs atop two toasted waffles with thyme-infused maple syrup on the side ($13). The chicken sausage is easier to eat than the standard pieces of bone-in chicken—not to mention delicious.

Another classic, albeit a north-of-the-border one, is poutine. If you like poutine, you will love Avenues Proper's. It's deeply flavored braised short-rib beef and dark roasted-chicken gravy smothering homemade pommes frites, garnished with truffled cheddar and minced scallions ($13). Unfortunately, I've come to the realization that I like the idea of poutine more than I actually like poutine. The first few bites are heaven, but I quickly tire of eating soggy spuds. As a friend of mine said, "That's what mashed potatoes are for." The truth is that the french fries at Avenues Proper are so good—easily the best I've eaten in a Utah restaurant—that it's tragic to see them soaked with gravy. But, as I said, if you enjoy poutine, then Avenues Proper's is a slam-dunk.

Otherwise, I'd order up the 8-ounce Niman Ranch top sirloin steak ($25), which comes with those fantastic frites alongside. Or, the excellent fish & chips: two pieces of buttermilk-breaded cod with pommes frites and killer house-made tartar sauce ($15).

Other impressive dishes included a skin-on roasted chicken breast and braised chicken thigh ($21) with parsnip purée, sauteed squash and kale, and topped with pickled cherry tomatoes and chimichurri. It might sound like there's an awful lot going on in that dish, but it was simply delightful. Ditto the sweet potato gnocchi ($18): large, plump gnocchi morsels pan-fried with a nice crunchy crust, along with Brussels sprouts leaves, parsnip purée, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, cherry tomato, candied walnuts and shredded Caputo's Market Grotte Caputo cheese. The cheese is sweet and nutty, a delectable punctuation to an outstanding dish.

I'd be remiss not to mention the beverage selection at Avenues Proper. Like the food, it's very well conceived and executed. Of course, there are the craft beers—usually 11 brewed in-house—such as SkittleBrau peach Saison, Bluegrass Brown Kentucky Common ale, Fever Pitch dry-hopped Saison, plus "guest" beers on tap such as Uinta's Brighton IPA. And then, there are beer cocktails, as well as an extensive collection of beers in bottles and cans, all locally brewed. There's also a full bar offering signature cocktails, spirits and liqueurs—and, to my surprise (given the establishment's emphasis on beer), a very appealing wine list which includes local Ruth Lewandowski wines and Utah's Hive Winery ciders, in addition to other domestic and foreign producers.

I'm certain my stepson will always remember his 21st birthday at Avenues Proper. For the rest of us—adults and otherwise—this terrific neighborhood gathering spot beckons for any occasion, big or small, including its newly launched Saturday and Sunday brunch. It's the perfect place for proper food, proper drinks and proper service.

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