Downtown Salt Lake City is experiencing a renaissance, as evidenced by the recent opening of numerous new hotels, restaurants, retail shops and other businesses – many of the high-end variety. Construction continues, unabated, with no end in sight. One of the new-ish additions to the downtown dine and drink scene are Ivy & Varley, created by Bryan Borreson and Vaughn Carrick of the Realine Group, which also brought us Sky and Soundwell.
Ivy & Varley are two separate entities, with Ivy being a full-service restaurant and Varley as its sister establishment – a craft cocktail bar. Both are for guests 21 and over. They share the same kitchen, so Varley offers upscale bar bites in addition to curated cocktails, spirits, beer, wine and more.
During a recent dinner at Ivy, I was impressed by the wide-ranging menu, which runs the gamut from Castelvetrano Olives ($7), and Salmon Cakes ($17), to Thai Coconut Curry Mussels ($15) and Grilled Chicken Caprese Sandwich ($16). I’m not especially fond of beets, but I have to admit that the Grilled Beet Hummus ($9) with za’atar, cucumber, and grilled scallion roti-style bread was excellent.
Additional appetizers – listed at Ivy as “Snacks & Shareables” – include Pimento Mac & Cheese ($14), which was awesome, Loaded Sweet Potato Soup ($7/cup; $11/bowl), Fried Brussels Sprouts ($12), Berbere-Spiced Carrots ($12), and my favorite: Baked Oysters with pickled jalapeño pimento, chow chow, and bacon.
“Handhelds” on the Ivy menu refers to sandwiches, wraps and burgers like the homemade Veggie Burger ($16), Cauliflower Wrap ($15), and the Classic Americana Burger, which was outstanding: it’s two beef patties with American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles and fry sauce ($15). Equally delicious was the Catfish BLT ($16), a cornmeal-battered and fried catfish fillet with pesto aioli on airy focaccia and a choice of fries or side salad.
In addition to that catfish BLT, fish lovers will enjoy the Seared Salmon ($26), which comes with white beans, arugula, cherry tomato, and pureed chimichurri, and is gluten-free.
It’s nice to see more and more restaurants putting gluten-free and vegan dishes on their menus, including Ivy. A particularly enticing vegan and gluten-free item on the Ivy dinner menu is the Cashew-Kimchi Bowl ($17), which contains pretty much everything but the kitchen sink: vegan brussels sprouts, kimchi, portobello, broccolini, cashews, fried rice, house pickles, and yellow curry cashew cream. There’s a lot going on with that dish and it’s all good.
Ivy is also open for lunch weekdays and brunch on weekends. During brunch at Ivy, I suggest skipping right past the shakshuka, churro French toast (although it sounds fantastic), and the Wagyu braised beef Benedict, and head straight for their Smothered Breakfast Burrito ($11). It’s jam packed with scrambled eggs, beans, Oaxacan queso, tomatoes, and onion with salsa verde and crema, served with breakfast potatoes alongside.
You might also want to indulge in a cocktail during brunch or lunch. The mimosas ($7) are very good, as are other options like the unusual Kimchi Michelada ($8), Celery Collins ($11), Ivy Irish ($10), and Aperol Spritz ($10).
Additional entrees from the dinner menu at Ivy included Seared Swordfish ($42), Smoked King Oyster Mushrooms ($26), Gnocchi ($19) with pork confit, and an outstanding version of Shrimp & Grits ($20) with chorizo-spiked cheese grits, tender shrimp, pickled red onion, scallions and salsa verde.
In addition to lunch, brunch and dinner, Ivy also offers a late night menu containing most of the regular dinner menu items with the exception of the large plates/entrees. An especially appealing late night dish is the Bison Tartare ($9), which is raw minced bison meat with fried capers, smoked oyster dressing, arugula and chili-cocoa nib crackers. It’s terrific tartare.
The desserts at Ivy are also excellent, including a heavenly Lemon Lavender Bar ($8), Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta ($9), and the completely decadent Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake ($8) with macerated strawberries and blackberry mascarpone cream – a deadly dessert that I’d eat every week if I could.
Ivy & Varley may essentially be bars aimed at an adult clientele, but they certainly don’t serve standard bar fare. The 21 and over fare is worthy of any upscale full-service restaurant and our servers there couldn’t have been friendlier or more professional. There are plenty of new dining options in downtown SLC these days; Ivy & Varley is one you should definitely make room for.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week: “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” – Jonathan Swift
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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.