Depression Dining | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Depression Dining 

It's hard out there, so eat something that makes you happy.

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JOHN TAYLOR
  • John Taylor

As we cautiously enter November in this election year, I can't help but think of election night four years ago. After coming to grips with the reality that a bloviating, ochre-hued gameshow host was going to be in charge of our country for four years and waking up the next morning, my wife and I went out for pancakes at Blue Plate Diner. While it didn't solve the problem itself—as good as their pancakes are, they can't grant wishes—it did provide a much-needed balm to my troubled soul.

It was also a reminder about how comfort food got its name; 2020 has been a year where all of us have needed comfort in some form or another. A lot of my recent restaurant picks have been attempts to soothe the hydra-like depression that has been flaring up over the past few weeks. Hopefully this list can provide a bit of comfort for all of you as we prepare to bid this year a not-so-fond farewell.

Blue Plate Diner (2041 S. 2100 East, 801-463-1151, facebook.com/blueplatediner): When my wife and I sat down to our post-election pancakes at Blue Plate last year, I remember spilling syrup on my Presidents of the United States placemat. Sure, staring at presidents who were known for giving a shit about the American people stung a little, but the sticky dribbles of pancake syrup reminded me that sweetness often shows up by mistake and where you least expect it. Silly as it sounds, this breakfast meditation put things into perspective for me. Eating pancakes in this retro diner setting was the first step in my mental reset, and I've been back several times since. If you see me order a chile verde breakfast burrito along with a stack of pancakes, you'll know I'm trying to get out of a really dark place.

Oh Mai (multiple locations, ohmaisandwich.com): Usually, a heaping bowl of Oh Mai's beef meatball pho does wonders for a troubled mind. That steaming hot beef broth simmered with a zillion secret spices, and filled with slippery rice noodles and flavorful meatballs, is textbook comfort food. On those days when the seasonal depression brought on by Utah's high elevation, inversion-choked air and chilly temperatures melds with my garden-variety existential dread, I opt for the sunny side up egg banh mi with a small cup of pho broth. Once the sweetness of the caramelized onions combines with that savory broth and meets the satisfying flavor of fried eggs in the middle, my mental cobwebs vanish in a hurry. Throwing a bit of sriracha into the mix is perfect for those days when I need an extra blast of spicy pain to reboot my internal CPU.

Pat's BBQ (multiple locations, patsbbq.com): I try to be as meatless as possible when cooking at home, but I can't deny that a plate piled high with smoked ribs, brisket, turkey and sausage brings me a lot of joy. I've been going to Pat's for the usual fare—their smoked sausage is excellent, and that smoked meatloaf is an underappreciated gem in the barbecue world. Lately, however, I've started to take a shine to their smoked Philly sandwiches. They come in smoked brisket, pulled pork and smoked chicken varieties, providing an opportunity to really dig in and explore the smoked flavor that Pat's puts into their menu. The melted provolone cheese on top provides some creaminess to cut through all that smoked meat goodness, and I've found that one of these sandwiches at the right moment can really get me back to a positive mindset.

Leatherby's (multiple locations, leatherbys.com): Ice cream has been a universal remedy to the blues since it was invented, and Leatherby's concocts some of Utah's most gravity-defying creations. Honestly, a scoop of peanut butter cookie dough ice cream is a safe bet here, but when you really need to drown out the screaming in your head, it's time for one of their signature sundaes. The Daddy Doug's Banana Split is ideal for an ice cream experience that can be shared—or consumed in its entirety, depending on your serotonin levels. I tend to favor the Traci's Peanut Butter Cup, a tall hot fudge sundae topped with a velvety peanut butter sauce. Mixing up the ice cream varieties in this sundae is a matter of personal preference; I stick with vanilla. The real kicker comes from scooping out the hot fudge, peanut butter and melted ice cream mixture that has congregated at the bottom of the dish.

Ruth's Diner (4160 Emigration Canyon Rd., 801-582-5807, ruthsdiner.com): It's not the first time I've mentioned my affection for the chocolate malt pudding at Ruth's Diner, and it certainly won't be the last, but there are few psychological maladies it can't keep at bay. This one pulls at my nostalgia heartstrings for a time when chocolate Jell-O Pudding was a dessert staple. My first bite of Ruth's pudding, with its luscious texture, deep chocolate flavor and malt finish, made me truly appreciate having taste buds. The local sweet scene is filled with flashier desserts, but this simple dish manages to encapsulate a texture, flavor and overall experience for me that helps keep me grounded.

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