When we think of bar food, we’re most likely thinking of munching on corn nuts, Buffalo chicken wings, pretzels, pork rinds, pickled eggs … that sort of thing. Well, think again. Because when it comes to bar food in downtown SLC, White Horse Spirits and Kitchen raises the bar.
It’s a stunning adult playground – a bar stuffed from floor to ceiling, literally, with everything you could ever wish for with which to concoct alcoholic libations. There are more than 25 different tequilas and mezcals to choose from, alone, including four different Don Julios and four Patrons. There are even five absinthe options. And, there is a lengthy list of house cocktails, a fantastic beer selection, and a darned good wine list, in addition to just about every liquor and liqueur conceivable. Belly up to the 72-foot long cherry wood bar and pick your poison, so to speak.
But even with all the seductive libations available, to me it’s the food that really sets White Horse apart. Executive Chef/Partner Matt Crandall has cooking in his bones. He grew up working at Hires Big H, which his grandfather founded. So, Crandall takes his “bar” food seriously – an inviting array of seafood dishes, shared plate options, bar snacks, salads, sandwiches, entrees and more. The food menu at White Horse is more extensive than at many restaurants.
I like the concept behind the Egg n’ Chips ($5). House-made potato chips are placed in a brown paper bag and tossed with malt vinegar powder, truffle oil, and a 63-degree egg, then shaken, not stirred, and poured into a bowl. Sounds great and tastes great. Unfortunately, the egg makes the potato chips soggy and I’m not a fan of soggy spuds. This might be an example of a dish that looks better on paper than in practice.
So, I prefer to kick off a White Horse meal with freshly shucked oysters on the half shell ($18/half dozen). Oysters are shipped directly from oyster farms in Washington and Massachusetts to the restaurant, by way of SLC International Airport, of course. In fact, the last time I dropped in for lunch Chef Crandall was on his way to the airport to pick up an oyster shipment. They’re fabulously fresh!
You can’t go wrong with shared plates such as Confit Duck Wings ($12) with gochujang, Gorgonzola, creme fraiche and celery-fennel salad. Or with Buffalo Roasted Cauliflower ($8) and PB&J ($10), which is Berkshire pork belly with bourbon-maple onion jam, brioche, radish and apple.
However, my favorite shared plate is Chef Crandall’s superior Steak Tartare ($14). In a sense, it’s a creatively deconstructed cheeseburger, albeit made with raw beef. Top-quality beef is chopped and tossed with capers and white onion, served with egg, aioli, cornichons and toasted rye. But here’s the kicker: Crandall cleverly serves cured, shredded egg yolk alongside which, amazingly, tastes like cheese. So when you add a little of the cured egg to the raw beef on rye, the flavor profile is like that of a cheeseburger. It’s brilliant.
For a lighter, brighter tasting dish I highly recommend Hamachi Crudo ($14). It’s composed of generous slices of raw, sushi-grade hamachi served with pickled pepper, cucumber, radish, yuzu, olive oil, micro greens and furikake. Simply fabulous.
There are few things I like better than a grilled artichoke. If you’re enjoying a meal at White Horse, the Grilled Artichoke ($8) is a terrific shared plate or side dish. But it’s also great just as a snack alongside the libation of your choice. The slightly charred ‘choke is served simply, with clarified butter, garlic aioli, and lemon. It’s perfect.
Another great bar bite or shareable dish is Chef Crandall’s Piquillo Peppers ($8), which are stuffed with shredded braised short rib beef meat and goat cheese in a marvelous Marsala sauce, garnished with chopped chives. The slightly sweet sauce contrasts nicely with the tiny tang of the peppers.
There are more enticing entrees than you can shake a fork at, including temptations like Steak Lyonnaise ($28), Herb-Roasted Natural Chicken ($20), Clams Carbonara ($18), Roasted Salmon ($24), and Vegetable Hash ($18). But it’s pretty hard to top Chef Crandall’s delicious duck ($24). Medium-rare slices of perfectly seared duck breast medallions are served with Utah sour cherries, port wine beurre rouge, charred broccolini, and scrumptious peewee potatoes cooked in duck fat.
Did we save room for dessert? You betcha! I loved the bodacious Bourbon Butterscotch Pudding ($8) with whiskey caramel, creme fraiche, and topped with bourbon-bacon popcorn. It’s a whimsical dessert that’s surprisingly light and airy.
The opposite of light and airy is my favorite White Horse dessert: Chocolate Molten Cake ($8), which is served with Utah sour cherries and Chantilly. Share it with someone you adore.
Yes, technically White Horse Spirits and Kitchen is a bar with a bar license. But Chef Matt Crandall sets the bar for bar cuisine ridiculously high. This is definitely my type of bar fare.
Culinary quote of the week:
Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat. — Alex Levine
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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.
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