They always say not to judge a book by its cover. After all, appearances can be deceiving. Which is exactly the point of The Bodega, the new beer tavern and convenience store on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City. There is much, much more than meets the eye. In fact, The Rest of The Bodega is what all the fuss is about.
Update March 2014 :: The Bodega and The Rest now have a full liquor license, so no food is required to order drinks. My updated review is here with more details.
Behind The Bodega, or rather, underneath, is a speakeasy restaurant called The Rest. You’d never know it’s there unless you’re looking for it. Even the counter manager won’t tell you about it unless you specifically ask about it. Then he’ll hand you a key that opens an inconspicuous door that reveals a dark staircase, which leads to a little restaurant with a handful of tables, a long bar and a library with a sitting room.
The Rest’s menu is in a file folder, giving off a sort of secret agent vibe, and has more drinks available than food items. (Although, because it is a restaurant and not a bar under Utah’s liquor laws, you must order food with your drinks.) The wine list continues the secretive vibe by not listing any names or types, just three price categories each per red, white and bubbly. I’m not sure if I’m a fan of this system, even though the servers are happy to provide more information upon request.
In contrast, the page-long beer list has descriptions for each of its items. We got a kick out of the Coors Light description, which was something like “yellow, light, cheap.”
The cocktail list rivals the mixology creations of Bar X and has several whiskey-based libations, which means it automatically gets points in my book. I tried the Kentucky Maid (bourbon, lime, cucumber, mint), a refreshing summer drink that I can’t wait to have again; the Folklore (rye, Fernet, b&b, bitters), heavy cocktail that is a Fernet-lover’s dream; and the Pudge (scotch, sweet vermouth, green chartreuse and absinthe), another great smokey drink. All are $11/each.
The food menu is a little all over the place, allowing for a huge meal, small plates or a few bites. It’s a mix between bar food and home cooking, with items like braised lamb shepherds pie (eggplant, tomato, kale, mozzarella, $16), smoked “hobo” trout (cauliflower, apple, brown butter, pickled raisins, $18) and sweet and sour wings ($10).
Warm Cornbread was brought to the table, deliciously dense with a slight sweetness to it. We started with bacon cheddar french fries ($6), which sounded awesome but deflated my hopes pretty quickly. The fries, one of the few menu items not made in-house, were topped with bacon bits and a sloppy heap of cheese and sour cream.
Then we went with “The 36″ (Reuben sandwich), with sour kraut, pickles and mustard ($16). It seemed to be the pride of the restaurant, as several people told us it was braised for 36 hours. And within a bite, we understood why :: it was a delicious sandwich. Even the pickles and sour kraut had us gushing.
We finished with the Honey Glazed Beer Can Chicken, served whole with warm fingerling potato salad and warm mushrooms, asparagus and sour cream (serves two for $35). Deliciously moist, slightly sweet and overall, wonderful.
The Rest is an experience I didn’t think I’d have in Salt Lake City anytime soon. But beyond the fun, mysterious vibe it also has amazing cocktails, some good food and outstanding service. It’s definitely a great addition to Main Street.
Go to The Rest for :: The speakeasy atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else in Salt Lake City and the incredible cocktails. Notes :: Open from 6- 12 p.m., closed Tuesdays. Reservations are highly recommended because seating is so limited. Call 801-532-4452. Walk-ins can go to the bar and library areas, if available.