The Great (but Close) Escape
Seeking a respite from Salt Lake City’s heat and haze, my wife and I enjoyed a recent escape to Solitude Mountain Resort for some high altitude hiking, dining, drinking and relaxation. Put bluntly: It didn’t suck. It’s hard to believe that such a quick drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon from SLC can seem like a visit to another world, but it does.
Things move more slowly at Solitude Mountain. The air is fresher, the temps are cooler, and the scenery, well … it’s world class. While the Resort is a premier ski destination in winter, Solitude offers so much to enjoy in summer. There’s live music at Solitude Village on Sunday afternoons, along with hiking, frisbee golf, mountain biking, luxurious accommodations, and excellent cuisine and libations. And, visiting Solitude in summer means not having to crawl up the Canyon behind long lines of cars or having to put on snow tires.
Music in the Air
Following a chairlift-assisted hike via Solitude’s well-marked hiking trails, we grabbed some brews and headed for the sun-protected, tented area in Solitude Village which is home to live music on Sundays, starting at 4:00 PM. Sarah Anne DeGraw and her band were playing when we visited; upcoming musical artists include The Fabulous Flynnstones, Pixie & the Partygrass Boys, The Butchers, and others. There’s also periodic live music at Solitude’s Thirsty Squirrel – check the Resort’s events calendar for times and additional info.
A Visit to Honeycomb Grill
After a quick nap, we were refreshed and ready for dinner on the beautiful patio at Honeycomb Grill – a restaurant with unsurpassed scenery to enjoy. Quickly seated, while perusing the summer menu I sipped an Aviation cocktail. It’s a purple-toned drink made with Beehive Jack Rabbit Gin, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, Crème de Violette liqueur (the secret weapon), fresh squeezed lemon juice, and a piece of lemon peel floated on top. Yes, it’s as tasty as it sounds.
I was surprised at how large the “small plate” Poke Bowl ($19) at Honeycomb was. My wife and I shared the bowl of sushi-grade yellowfin tuna with avocado, jalapeño, cucumber, green onion, pickled ginger, sambal aioli, black sesame seeds and fried wonton chip, and still had leftovers for later.
Likewise, the Margherita Flatbread ($13) was more than the two of us could finish. It’s an upscale version of a Margherita pizza, made with fresh heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, and garnished with minced fresh basil. We could have easily made a meal just out of those two generous starters, but we weren’t about to stop there. (Remember, I’m a trained eating professional.)
I have to compliment the Honeycomb management on its excellent taste in wine. The wine, beer and cocktail list isn’t the biggest around, but it’s one of the most well-selected I’ve seen. A number of my favorite winemakers and wineries show up on the Honeycomb Grill wine list, including Bucklin, Soter, Cinder, Cakebread, Orin Swift, Tangent, Bonny Doon, Judd’s Hill, and many more. We selected a perfect summertime sipper – Soter Rosè from the Willamette Valley – to accompany our meal.
Deciding on entrees was tough. The spaghetti (made in-house) with lump blue crab, fire-roasted heirloom tomatoes, basil, tarragon and parmesan cheese ($18) sounded really tempting. But ultimately, I chose to go with Mary’s Chicken ($21). It was a great choice. I often hesitate to order chicken in restaurants as it is almost inevitably overcooked. Or, if the thigh and leg aren’t overcooked, the breast meat is.
Well, my Mary’s Chicken was cooked to perfection. It’s a bone-in half-chicken served with baby kale, “country” croutons, grilled summer veggies and a light-but-delicious lemon and thyme jus. The chicken dish was a beautiful addition to an already beautiful summer evening.
My wife, who normally doesn’t each much meat, opted for the Niman Ranch Pork Chop ($32), knowing that I’d be on hand to help finish it. And help she did need! It’s not a petit chop, by any means. Pork chops also tend to be overcooked in most restaurants, but this one was tender and juicy through and through. Kudos to Executive Chef Tara Juhl and her staff for showing such finesse and restraint in the kitchen. If her name sounds familiar, it’s because Tara has worked in some of SLC’s finest restaurants, including a stint as Chef de Cuisine at Plum Alley – a restaurant that, sadly, was too far ahead of its time.
The nicely-browned Niman Ranch chop came atop a bed of fresh corn polenta with pickled red onion, stone fruit, arugula, fennel, and whole-grain mustard butter. It was outstanding.
Dessert Gone to the Dogs
Although stuffed to the gills, I couldn’t leave our table without trying dessert (again, I’m a trained professional …). What caught my eye was Chocolate Pudding ($8) that came topped with “Joni’s puppy chow.” What is that? I wondered.
Well, it turns out that Joni is the cutest new addition to the Solitude staff: a gorgeous little pointer pup that’s being trained as an avalanche dog. The “puppy chow” is Muddy Buddies, which come on top of the chocolate pudding and whipped cream, along with a gluten-free pretzel rod. The dessert was absolutely delish and when you visit Solitude, be on the lookout for cute-as-a-button Joni.
Service at the restaurant could not have been more friendly or professional. Kudos to the well-trained and experienced staff. In addition to dinner Thursday through Sunday, Honeycomb Grill also features a tempting brunch menu from Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Before returning to reality and heading back down the mountain, we decided to check out the pizzas at Solitude’s Stone Haus Pizzeria & Creamery for lunch. While pizza is the specialty, Stone Haus also serves breakfast items, sandwiches including paninis and subs, salads, soups, and of course, ice cream.
I ordered a pizza with onions and sausage and walked away pleasantly surprised at how good it was. Folks who yearn for NYC-style pizza would not be disappointed in those cooked up at the Stone Haus.
My wife was happy to learn that Stone Haus also offers gluten-free pizza crusts (made by Rich’s), and so she ordered their signature pizza called the Veg Head.
The gluten-free pizzas are a tad thinner than the regular ones, but really tasty. The Veg Head starts with pesto sauce and then toppings that include mozzarella cheese, Roma tomatoes, mushrooms, olive slices, roasted red, green and yellow peppers, onions, and chunks of roasted artichoke hearts. It was a killer pizza.
Whether you’re heading up to Solitude Mountain this summer for music or mountain recreation, I highly recommend that you plan on dining at the Resort, as well. Honeycomb Grill and Stone Haus Pizzeria & Creamery offer top-notch cuisine in a natural setting that is very hard to beat.
Culinary quote of the week:
The 12-step chocoholics program: Never be more than 12 steps away from chocolate!
— Terry Moore
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.