Poplar Street Pub 

Pub Grub: Come often for Poplar Street’s impressive fare.

click to enlarge JOHN TAYLOR
It’s rare—mostly because it’s unfair—that I turn my critical eye to bar food. Unfair because, let’s face it: Most bars are neither equipped for, nor focus upon, turning out first-rate meals. There are plenty of bars that serve patrons perfectly acceptable wings, nachos, tacos, pickled eggs and the like—and there’s nothing wrong with that—but there are few that exceed expectations. I like the food at Trails, for example. But, people tend to go there more for the boobs than the burgers. There are exceptions such as Gracie’s, Lumpy’s and a few others, but they’re rare. So, in fairness, I generally avoid writing about pub grub.

Visits to Poplar Street Pub, though, have caused me to abandon that practice—at least, for this week. The owner of one of downtown’s premier fine dining establishments took the time to email me about how much she’d enjoyed both the dining and drink at Poplar Street Pub. I was dubious. How could a dedicated bar compete, in a culinary sense, with neighbors like Settebello and Red Rock Brewing Co.? But, I decided to give Poplar Street a shot.

Arriving about 5:30 p.m.—prior to a Utah Jazz home game—for an early dinner, the forecast was not good. There was one bartender and no other servers to be found. When I asked if they were open for dinner, the bartender said, “Yeah, sit anywhere.” Eventually, she brought menus to our table—in a separate room from where she was tending bar, but was too busy to take our orders. Thankfully, as we were about to give up and go next door, an off-duty Poplar Street server happened to wander in with her boyfriend and, upon seeing the lack-of-service situation, donned an apron, logged in and went to work. For us, she saved the evening. I later happened to see her at the Jazz game, and thanked her for stepping up to the plate in our time of need. Lesson learned: Don’t eat early at Poplar Street.

And, in truth, even on good nights table service is not exactly stellar. Wine was ordered and bottles arrived with glasses, but not once during our visits was a single glass of wine poured by a server. That’s not a deal-breaker, thanks to the food, which is much better than anticipated.

The menu features salads, tacos, burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, a handful of entrees and an interesting array of appetizers, ranging from artichoke and arugula dip ($8) and roasted red-pepper hummus ($8) to a trio of sliders ($9) and pub poppers ($3). The latter was extremely tasty: not your typical jalapeño poppers, but Medjool dates (four of them) stuffed with almonds, wrapped in bacon and then deep-fried. Frankly, these poppers sounded weird to me, but they were absolutely delicious. A respected local chef with whom I was dining concurred. Another menu item you don’t see much is the Scotch egg ($4). I’m not aware of another Utah restaurant that serves them, perhaps because of the cholesterol consequences of this British bombshell. It’s a hard-boiled egg, wrapped in house-made garlic sausage, beer battered and then—get this—deep-fried. And, like many things loaded with fat and cholesterol, it’s fantastic. Yet another interesting appetizer, a generously-sized one, is baked cannelloni with fennel sausage, marinara and “piccata” sauce, topped with crispy, melted mozzarella ($5).

On the lighter side, there are high-quality salads available at Poplar Street. They are massive, by the way. The spinach salad ($9), for example, is a very large bowl brimming with fresh spinach greens and topped with tender, sautéed shrimp (kudos to the kitchen for not overcooking them) and almonds, along with crumbled bleu cheese and bacon bits, and drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette. An arugula and grilled chicken salad ($8), too, was generous; frankly, it contained more arugula and chicken (along with Champagne vinaigrette, shallots and parmesan) than I could have bought at the grocer’s for eight bucks.

Pizzas at Poplar Street are made from scratch, hand-tossed and cooked on a hot stone, providing a thin, crisp crust. Although you won’t mistake them for Settebello’s down the block, these pizzas are quite good. There’s an unusual chicken “piccata” pizza, with white garlic cream sauce, grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil. To be honest, I question the use of the term “piccata” at Poplar, since it normally refers to a butter-wine-lemon sauce with capers and parsley. I thoroughly enjoyed my simple pizza of fennel sausage and arugula, however.

Pricing is a little hard to understand here. “Fresh” Alaskan halibut and chips (how could the halibut be fresh in January?) is priced at $16, while a flatiron Angus Beef steak with Bordelaise sauce and garlic-herb butter is $15 and comes with a salad. A gyro is $9—the most expensive gyro I’ve ever encountered. Still, the fish and chips were excellent, if perhaps not worth $16.

My favorite menu item, though, is the Poplar Street Pub burger ($10). It’s a large, delectable patty made from 100 percent bison, and topped with a choice of cheddar, Swiss or bleu cheese. This is a great burger, and made even better by the huge mound of accompanying fresh-cut, skin-on, perfectly cooked French fries—some of the best fries I’ve tasted, anywhere. They come with an unusually spicy fry sauce that will peel the enamel off your incisors.

Maybe my fancy chef friend said it best about Poplar Street Pub: “For what it is, this is really good food!” Amen.

POPLAR STREET PUB
242 S. 200 West
Salt Lake City
801-532-2715
PoplarStreetPub.com

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