Off-Airport Eats 

Basilico aims for the hungry traveler.

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I do a fair amount of traveling, and it seems to be the rule that when I return from wherever I've been, it's usually getting to be late in the evening, and I'm wishing that there were some decent places to eat near the Salt Lake City International Airport. I don't always want to have to drive into downtown and deal with nighttime parking to find a meal, nor do I usually care to deal with the lines at Red Iguana, Salt Lake City's default pre- and post-airport dining venue.

Well, I was in such a predicament just recently, when I remembered an off-airport place that a chef told me about a few years ago but that I'd never visited. It was a restaurant called Lofte's Pizzeria and Coffee, located on West North Temple just behind the Radisson Hotel, and only four miles from the airport. My chef friend raved about Lofte's pizzas and so, being a pizza fiend myself, the eatery had always been in the back of my mind, although pretty far back. But when I found myself hungry and heading away from the airport a week or so ago, I decided to try Lofte's.

As it turned out, Lofte's Pizzeria and Coffee had permanently closed. There is a Lofte's Bar and Grill that's still in business, with a full drink menu and specializing in "exotic" burgers: kangaroo, ostrich, wild boar, elk, buffalo, antelope and wagyu, to name a few. They also serve steaks and prime rib, along with bar bites and a few pasta, chicken and fish dishes. I'm not certain, but I would bet that Lofte's Bar and Grill shares a kitchen with the adjacent restaurant, formerly Lofte's Pizzeria and Coffee, which is now called Basilico Italian Restaurant. I suspect a common kitchen because some of the same dishes appear on both Lofte's and Basilico's menus.

Basilico is a place where you won't feel like an oddity dining solo. There's a bar with stools on the right side of the restaurant, and during my visits more tables were taken up by customers dining alone than not. That's predictable given the neighborhood, made up mostly of industry and hotels aimed at the business traveler: the aforementioned Radisson, Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Motel 6, Comfort Suites, Airport Inn, Candlewood Suites and so on. No one will think you "lonely" for dining alone here.

The decor and ambiance are appealing: cocoa-colored wood floors and comfy light brown, cushioned chairs to match, subdued lighting, and a couple of flat-screen TVs in case you want to keep up on the news or watch sports. There are painted murals on the walls depicting foaming beer mugs and glasses brimming with wine. It's a warm, inviting atmosphere.

On my first Basilico visit, it was all about the pizza. And, I'm happy to report that my chef buddy didn't steer me wrong. The restaurant is equipped with a wood-fired pizza oven in which calzones and pizzas are cooked. Greeted and seated by a very friendly hostess/server, I perused the menu and beverage lists. The latter include a fair array of beers, spirits, cocktails and wine—nothing very exotic, but entirely adequate.

Pizzas at Basilico come in two sizes: personal and large. I'm not sure how big the personal pizza is, but the large isn't all that large: six slices and about 14 inches across. The crust is very thin and crispy and the flavor is bold. Pizza sauces include standard (although better than average) tomato sauce, creamy Alfredo, pesto, barbecue and a verdure pizza with garlic-olive oil sauce. Small pizzas are $11.99 to $13.99, while large pies run $13.99 to $16.99.

The $16.99 Italiano pizza was terrific. A nicely balanced pomodoro sauce thinly coats the pizza crust, followed by toppings of mozzarella cheese, sun-dried tomato, roasted red and yellow peppers and a fine grind (as opposed to large chunks) of Italian sausage made from pork and Angus beef. Also appearing on the Italiano pizza we ordered—though not mentioned on the menu—were slices of mushrooms and black olive. There's a lot to love about this pizza, but the housemade sausage really set it apart.

The very first item you see on the Basilico dinner menu, under antipasti, is edamame, which is the last thing I'd expect to find as antipasti in an Italian restaurant. Ditto chicken wings ($9.99) and steak fries ($4.49) served with ketchup. Other, more traditional Italian appetizers include calamari fritti ($9.99), zucchini fritti ($6.99), bruschetta ($8.99) and mozzarella fritti ($8.99). Nobody can say that the cooks at Basilico don't get their money's worth from their deep fryer.

So, we ordered the "tempura shrimp fritti" ($9.99). Apparently, "tempura" refers to the style of butterflying the shrimp, not the coating in which they're cooked. Five shrimp were blanketed in a breadcrumb coating, deep-fried and served with an unusual housemade horseradish cocktail sauce. I love fried shrimp, but couldn't detect enough shrimp flavor in these shrimp fritti, which got lost in the breading.

I like the perfectly cooked pasta and flavor of Basilico's spaghetti carbonara ($13.99)—except that it wasn't traditional carbonara. There was no egg in the pasta (which traditionally is tossed with raw yolk), nor hardly any cheese. The dominant flavors were olive oil, garlic and chili flakes; in essence this was aio e oio with bacon and peas.

No doubt, I will stop in and try more items from the Basilico menu when I'm in the vicinity of the airport again. I like their calzones, and want to try the eggplant parmigiana. For sure, I'll be picking up more pizzas from Basilico to help me recover from long days of air travel.

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