Pub fare has come a long way since the days of pickled eggs and pretzels. Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against picked eggs and pretzels. It's just that I'd like a few options that go beyond classic pub food. Well, there's a new pub-style eatery in town offering interesting, creative cuisine alongside the classics, and a terrific selection of brews, to boot.
When Porcupine Pub & Grille opened in the spring of 1998 at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, it instantly became a premier destination for skiers, cyclists, boarders, hikers and others to gather for good grub and grog. Now, with the recent opening of a second Porcupine Pub & Grille—this one in the University of Utah neighborhood—fans of the Porc have a new place to congregate, and they're doing so in droves. On a recent evening we stopped for a pre-Puscifer concert dinner, and found that there was a 20-to-25-minute wait for table. And this was a Wednesday.
Fortunately, the new Porcupine Pub & Grille has a small bar area in which to pass the time with a beer, glass of wine or cocktail while you await seating. It's one of the new features of the space that was most recently home to Market Street Broiler, and was once Firehouse No. 8. It's the second-oldest standing firehouse in Salt Lake City. With its red garage doors, the place still looks like a firehouse from the outside. Inside, gone is the fish market and most of the décor that characterized the Broiler. The ambience is bustling, energetic and noisy, as even the softest sounds bounce off the hardwood walls and ceilings.
Lunch and dinner menus at the Porcupine are pretty similar except for the addition of a handful of entrees at night, and that the prices go up considerably. For example, tequila-lime chicken, priced at $10.99 during lunch, shoots up to $14.99 at dinnertime. The prices quoted in this article are dinner-menu prices.
Remember that I was looking for a change from routine pub fare? Well, here's something you don't see on most pub menus: ahi spring rolls ($13.99). Simply put, this is an excellent appetizer, but one plentiful enough to serve as an entree. It's a very large spring roll cut into eight manageable pieces, full of sushi-grade ahi tuna, shredded cabbage, carrots, cilantro, basil, mung bean sprouts and scallions, all swaddled in a thick wonton and nori wrapper, then flash-fried and served with a heaping mound of jasmine rice topped with a pineapple slice and pickled ginger. The spring rolls also come with a couple of tasty dipping sauces: One is a dark soy-based sauce and the other, my favorite, is a hotter-than-Hades wasabi aioli that instantaneously clears the nasal passages.
There's a mix of old and new, or classic and contemporary, cuisines at Porcupine Pub & Grille, so old-schoolers might enjoy blue-and-white-corn tortilla nachos ($11.99), or maybe hot wings with a choice of traditional Buffalo, Korean barbecue or Hellfire sauces ($12.99). Although it's made with sirloin rather than ribeye, the Philly cheesesteak ($11.99) is a respectable one. Sandwiches come with a choice of French fries, green salad, pasta salad or cup of soup.
If the New England seafood chowder happens to be offered when you visit, by all means order it. This is some of the best chowder I've ever eaten, with perfectly cooked (not mushy) cubes of red potatoes, delicious bacon and celery bits, and a creamy texture that is only surpassed by its fabulous flavor. One of the items on my Christmas wish list is for that chowder to find its way on the Porcupine Pub & Grill menu permanently.
A puffy-crust, four-cheese pizza ($10.99) with cheddar, Monterey jack, asiago and mozzarella was quite appealing, topped with fresh basil chiffonade. The robust, bright-flavored roasted tomato sauce, in particular, was memorable. Other pizza options include Thai chicken, shrimp Margherita, vegetable, Greek (feta, sausage, Kalamata olives, oregano, etc.), barbecue chicken, pepperoni and roasted veggies on flat bread.
I love chile peppers of every size and shape, so I was intrigued by a poblano steak pasta dish ($17.99) on the menu. I'm glad I ordered it, because it was dee-lish. It's a variation of pasta Alfredo: slightly overcooked (boo!) linguine bathed in a creamy Alfredo-style sauce made with Oaxaca cheese, baby corn, red bell peppers and spiked with poblano chiles to give it some zing. Atop the linguine was a small, tender grilled steak; I'm not sure of the cut, but I think it was a strip steak. Had the pasta been cooked al dente, this would have been a total winner.
My wife's entree of grilled wild Coho salmon ($21.99) was a bit routine, although I really did like the sweet and tangy black cherry barbecue sauce that came with it. I think the barbecue sauce would be better suited to something like chicken or shrimp, rather than salmon.
Although, on the Porc's website, the wine list looks to be fairly extensive, in reality it is not. There were only a handful of white wines and a handful of reds listed. That's a bit of a shame, since much of the food is so wine-friendly. The beer situation is quite different, however—there are a couple dozen beers on tap available.
The service—from the hostess stand to the bartender and table servers—is genuinely friendly and warm at Porcupine Pub & Grille. It's so friendly, in fact, that we were enticed to stick around for the delicious pecan-carrot cake a la mode, which I heartily recommend—more proof that this ain't your granddaddy's pub.