During travels abroad in the past year, I’ve taken note of the huge popularity of food halls in foreign cities, from Time Out Market in Lisbon to Montreal’s Le Central. These places are typically mobbed, with people queued up for virtually every vendor. In the case of Lisbon’s Time Out, that’s 26 restaurants, 8 bars, a dozen shops and a high-end music venue. Here in SLC, food halls like Woodbine, City Creek Food Court, and HallPass are much smaller in scale, but also more diminutive in another way: customers.
A couple of recent visits to The Local Market & Bar – which opened in SLC in February 2023 – has me wondering if it will survive. The customer count – even on a Friday evening – was surprisingly sparse and at least four food venues at The Local – Green Chile House, Crave, Luna Pizza Cafe, and The Cereal Killerz Kitchen – have already closed. Three of those were recently replaced – by Pokeology, Verona Pizzeria, and Porteña (more about those later) – and a fourth was under construction when we visited last week. The good news is that there aren’t any lines to speak of, so ordering food and drink at The Local is quick and convenient. No waiting.
I will say this right off the bat: I don’t think the lack of customers at The Local has anything to do with the food quality, which I have generally found to be very good. Maybe more advertising is needed. Do folks know The Local exists? The location – almost adjacent to Library Square – would seem to be a good one.
Photo Courtesy of Akhtar Nawab
A bit of background: The Local Market & Bar is the creation of Hospitality HQ, a creative consulting and management group “offering bespoke bespoke solutions for culinary-driven concepts across the United States.” HHQ is led by award-winning chef, restaurateur, TV personality and cookbook author Akhtar Nawab, the chef and owner of Alta Calidad and Alta Calidad Taqueria in New York, Bar Chinoise in Washington, DC and Otra Vez in New Orleans. The credentials behind The Local are solid. And flavors found at The Local span the globe, from Southern-style BBQ and burgers to Greek fare, Argentine empanadas, Italian-style Neapolitan pizzas, Pacific poke, and more.
Anchoring The Local is the Good Bar, a full-service bar with an extensive menu of drinks and a focus on Utah-based spirits offering special tastings, weekly specials, wine, beer, cocktails and nonalcoholic beverages.
Good Bar Bartender Indy
Here’s a fun fact: Customers (21 and over) can enjoy alcoholic beverages throughout The Local, not just at the Good Bar. We were told that they must be delivered to their tables; that is, guests can’t walk around in The Local carrying their drinks. So, have a friendly mixologist like Indy create a cocktail for you and enjoy it delivered to wherever you decide to roost.
Libertad En Rojo Cocktail
A tasty example of the creative cocktails mixed at the Good Bar is the Libertad En Rojo ($11), which Indy made for us. It’s a vibrant, refreshing blend of overproof rum, Campari, pineapple juice, and lemon, garnished with a mint sprig. Don’t want the alcohol? Try the Sage Advice ($12), a mocktail made with Seedlip Garden non-alcoholic botanical spirit, orgeat, tonic, lime, and singed sage (try saying “singed sage repeatedly and rapidly). You could also play Cocktail Roulette at the Good Bar, where you let your bartender know what flavors and textures you like, and they’ll take care of the rest.
Verona Pizzeria Prosciutto Pizza
I believe I’ve tried at least some of the food at all of the current food vendors at The Local. So let’s take a tour. The newest addition to the Market is Verona Pizzeria, which serves thin crust Neapolitan-style pizzas baked in an Italian hearth oven. According to the folks at Verona, “Chef Gurpreet Singh trained in Europe as a pizzaiolo for over a decade and is excited to showcase his pizza, salad and dessert offerings in Salt Lake City.” Pizzas come in two sizes: 7-inch and 14-inch and run in cost from $11 for a small Margherita to $24 for a Diavolo pizza – a spicy pie with sausage, tomatoes, pepperoncini, green & red bell peppers, and mozzarella. I thought the pizza topped with prosciutto, arugula, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese was quite good, although the crust could have been crisper.
Pop’s Classic SmashBurger
Pop’s Burgers offers customers at The Local old-fashioned American burgers “inspired by the real-but-larger-than-life ‘Pop’ who relished making everyone from soldiers to family happy one meal at a time.” I didn’t see any larger-than-life “Pop” but the Classic Smash burger ($10 w/French fries, onion rings or sweet potato fries) was terrific – a small, smashed and crispy ground beef patty with griddled onions, American cheese, Pop’s sauce (much like fry sauce), and pickles. Even better than the burger were the skin-on, properly cooked French fries that came with it. They are way above par, in a class with Five Guys fries. In addition to burgers, Pop’s sells a Niman Ranch hot dog, a Black Bean Smash, Turkey Smash, Spicy Chicken Sandwich, and Chicken Tenders.
Porteña Empanadas with Quinoa Salad
For a taste of Argentina, head over to Porteña for fresh-baked empanadas, sandwiches and salads. I was told by Denise, a friend of mine who was lending a helping hand at Porteña, that owner/chef Pablo Montes – who hails from Buenos Aires – is so serious about the authenticity of his empanadas that he imports the flour to make them from Argentina. I tried a Beef Empanada ($6.50) and a Hot Beef Empanada ($6.50) and both were outstanding. The crispy empanada is stuffed with ground beef, onions, olives, bell peppers, and in the case of the Hot Beef Empanada, roasted chili peppers. Other empanada options include chicken, pulled pork, bacon & cheese, spinach, and caprese. Porteña also serves Argentinian-style sandwiches like the Chori Pan ($8.34) with Argentine chorizo and chimichurri, or the Milanesa ($14.84): heifer rump steak with mayo, tomato and lettuce. As much as I love the empanadas, my wife Faith can’t resist the Quinoa Salad ($6.50) at Porteña. It’s a generous serving of quinoa with scallions, fresh herbs, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Faith usually orders two quinoa salads so she can have one for lunch the following day.
Hog & Tradition Chef Geoff Patmides
In my opinion, a don’t-miss food stall at The Local is Chef Geoff Patmides’ Hog & Tradition, where you’ll find the award-winning chef’s Southern barbecue cooked to perfection on the spot. Real BBQ in a food court? Who knew?
Hog & Tradition BBQ Brisket Combo
I would stack Geoff’s barbecued beef brisket up against anybody’s. It’s so juicy, tender and full of flavor and can be enjoyed as a sandwich ($10.99) or as a combo plate with a choice of two sides ($13.99-$18.99 for ¼ lb. or ½ lb.) and choice of Ruby or Gold BBQ sauce. The sides I tried were also above par: rice & beans, and very tasty bacon macaroni and cheese. Other sides include chips, plantains, honey cornbread, coleslaw, collard greens, or purple candied yams.
Hog & Tradition Smoked Turkey Club
In addition to pulled pork and brisket, Chef Patmides also serves some killer sandwiches at Hog & Tradition, including an outstanding Smoked Turkey Club that a friend of ours went ga-ga over when she ordered in while visiting us in SLC. There’s also a “Stacked” sandwich ($15.49) with a choice of brisket or pulled pork topped with collard greens, bacon macaroni and cheese, purple candied yams, and your choice of BBQ sauce. This is surprisingly serious Southern cooking in an urban food hall.
In an attempt to attract customers – as well as to create a fun and lively atmosphere – The Local Market & Bar hosts special “Happenings” such as Local Draft Night every Tuesday with a $4 pint of the week, and a local brewery tap takeover every second Tuesday of the month. We had a blast playing Music Bingo (every Wednesday evening) and I even won a $10 Local gift card. Thursday is Trivia Night and Mondays are Industry Nights where hospitality “industry friends and family can enjoy a weekly special in the Good Bar with the presentation of valid ID and their name tag.”
Pokeologist Hawaiian Sunset Poke Bowl w/ Miso Soup
According to The Local, “Inspired by the passion of a University of Utah alumnus, Pokeologist is a culinary gem created with love for the community.” The main attraction here, as you might guess, is Hawaiian-style poke. And there are myriad poke options, including a create-your-own-masterpiece custom poke bowl. Start out with SPAM musubi, shrimp tempura, gyoza, spring roll, or fried calamari at Pokeologist. Poke bowls range in price from $10.49 for the vegetarian Animal Saver bowl to $15.99 for a large Build Your Own Bowl which includes 3 scoops of base and 3 scoops of protein. Faith’s poke bowl of choice was the Hawaiian Sunset ($13.99), an exotic melange of ahi tuna, brown rice, pineapple, purple cabbage, white onion, seaweed salad, crab meat, edamame, scallions, cilantro, sriracha aioli, Thai sweet chili, crispy garlic and furikake, plus a side of miso soup. That’s a kitchen sink of a pole bowl! The only downside was the harsh raw white onions, which shouldn’t be anywhere near something as subtle and complex as a poke bowl; the onions were overpowering. Dirty sodas and floats round out the Pokeologist experience.
Last, but certainly not least, on the world food tour at The Local is Lamb & Feta. There’s a clever sign at the Lamb & Feta food stall that reads: Best gyros in town – you feta believe it.
Lamb & Feta Bowl with Chicken
Well, I am a believer. The gyros at Lamb & Feta are great. Serving specialties like gyros, souvlaki, zymarika theon (pasta of the gods), bowls, and desserts such as baklava, Greek yogurt with honey & fresh fruit, and galaktoboureko (custard baked in phyllo), Lamb & Feta is the place for the vibrant flavors of Greece and the Mediterranean. My wife’s Lamb & Feta Bowl ($13) was a generous bowl (or box, in our case) of grilled chicken (protein choices are lamb, chicken, chickpeas or pork) with lemon rice, tomato, cucumber, red onion, lettuce, kalamata olives, feta, chickpeas, tzatziki, fresh herbs and a dusting of paprika. Very filling and very delicious.
Lamb & Feta Gyro with Lemon Rice
But back to those gyros. Gyro lovers at Lamb & Feta select a protein choice (chicken, lamb, pork or chickpeas) and then fresh grilled pita bread is stuffed with meat (lamb in my case), tomato, onions, tzatziki, French fries, herbs and paprika, and served with more fries or lemon rice ($12). Now, you might have noticed that I said the gyros are stuff with French fries. I thought this was very odd. Who wants soggy fries in their gyro? But I checked with a Greek friend of mine who said that this is typical in Greece, where gyros are “walking street food.” Nonetheless, the first thing I did was 86 the fries to better enjoy the plentiful, large chunks of grilled, tender lamb gyro meat, which was perfectly seasoned. I haven’t had a better gyro anywhere in Utah. Opa!
As I mentioned, with abundant nearby parking, a good location, a full bar, and a number of tempting food stalls, it’s a mystery to me why The Local Market & Bar isn’t busier. But once SLC foodies get a taste of those great gyros, bodacious BBQ, excellent empanadas, and killer cocktails, The Local is going to explode. Enjoy it while you can.
Photos by Ted Scheffler Culinary quote of the week:“I never eat in a restaurant that’s over a hundred feet off the ground and won’t stand still.” – Calvin Trillin