First Look :: Rye in Salt Lake City

Coffee and cocktails.  Whiskey and waffles.  Diner and drinks.  These are some of the catchphrases surrounding Rye, the newest addition to Salt Lake City’s dining scene.  The restaurant is a combination of several well-loved spots :: it’s part coffee shop, part diner, part restaurant, part late-night eatery, making it a whole new concept by itself.

Rye is located next to and shares owners with Urban Lounge in Salt Lake City.
Rye is located next to and shares owners with Urban Lounge.

Rye is also a combination of several well-known—and well-loved—people in Salt Lake City’s food scene.  Owned by the same people of Urban Lounge (located next door), the menu is a mix of diner food with an Asian flair created by Tommy Nguyen, formerly of Takashi.  The dessert menu is the brainchild of Alexa Norlin, known for her baked goods at The Rose Establishment.  Ryan Manning, of Bar-X fame, took care of the craft cocktails and design of the restaurant, while anyone who frequented Mazza will recognize manager Samantha Starr.

If you think that that much talent in one small restaurant can only lead to disaster, think again.  Rye is like the superhero offspring created from a team of amazing people.

The counter and semi-open kitchen at Rye in Salt Lake City.
The counter and semi-open kitchen at Rye.

The diner atmosphere is strong at Rye, with tiny tables throughout the space and a communal table peeking over the open kitchen near the back.  I love the look and feel of the open kitchen and only wish that it wasn’t hiding in the back, but the front is prioritized by the coffee shop identity with a walk-up bar for quick caffeine fixes.  Although an awkward addition to the layout of the space, I understand why they have a designated coffee area.

The daytime menu starts serving at 7 a.m., focused on breakfast favorites but with a twist.  There is a variety of soft egg scrambles with house potatoes and toast, with choices of chive and creme fraiche ($7), tofu and tomatoes ($8), bacon and gruyere ($8) and chorizo and tomatillo ($10), to name a few.

The Death in the Afternoon, a refreshing blend of absinthe, bubbly and lemon twist.
The Death in the Afternoon, a refreshing blend of absinthe, bubbly and lemon twist.

Other daytime breakfast items include a breakfast bowl of rice, pork belly, housemade kimchi and an egg ($11), broice french toast ($9), vegan hash ($8) and the one I’m dying to try: waffle and whiskey ($8) with an optional side of pork belly (+$4).  A daytime cocktail menu of bloody marys, mimosas and more complete the menu.

The Street Dumplings at Rye in Salt Lake City.
Dumplings are surprisingly amazing bar food.

The evening menu follows the same pattern of slightly familiar favorites combined with an Asian flair you won’t find anywhere else: shishito peppers ($7), shaved asparagus with soft egg ($9) and kale salad ($6) round out the smaller plates.  We tried the Street Dumplings stuffed with shrimp, pork and garlic chives in a soy vinaigrette ($7), the recipe rumored to be a a family favorite from Chef Tommy’s.  They were awesome.

Fried chicken with a hint of shoyu = excellent.
Fried chicken with a hint of shoyu = excellent.

Pork belly tacos with daikon ($11), hanger steak and fries ($18), truffled mac and cheese ($10) and mushroom toast ($9) are some of the items on the larger side.  We ordered the Shoyu Fried Chicken with slaw, available in the half ($15) or quarter size ($10).  It was phenomenal.  I loved the Goldilocks ratio of the batter (not too thick, not too greasy, not too crunchy) and really appreciated the flavor of soy sauce was still evident.

Spicy, sweet and full of meat :: the Rye burger is a fine-tuned classic.
Spicy, sweet and full of meat :: the Rye burger is a fine-tuned classic.

We also went with the Rye Burger ($13), packed with roasted jalapeño for a spicy kick, caramelized onions for a dash of sweetness, avocado creme for creamy goodness and a thick slice of swiss cheese to top it all off.  Served with a choice of garlic herb, truffle herb or spicy togarashi fries and a choice of roasted garlic or spicy aioli, it was one damn fine burger.  And it definitely has a kick to it!  So spicy-adverse, be ware!  Same goes with the togarashi, a Japanese chili pepper-like spice, which adds a hint of fire to the fries.

Deconstructed Carrot Cake to finish off our dinner at Rye.
Deconstructed Carrot Cake to finish off our dinner at Rye.

The dessert menu, like the rest of the menus, will change pretty frequently at Rye, but for opening weekend had a selection of buttermilk pie with candied basil ($6), chocolate custard with grapefruit gel ($7) and the Rye sundae with Bulliet rye ice cream, whiskey caramel and salted caramel popcorn ($8).  They were out of the Rye Sundae (my heart is still shattered) so we went with the ‘Carrot Cake’ ($7), a deconstructed version with carrot sorbet, buttermilk sponge, cinnamony pecan crumble, creme fraiche namalake and fried carrot chips.  The dish tasted just like the namesake dessert but the textures were switched up; it was deliciously exciting.

It’s obvious Rye isn’t your average diner.  Or restaurant.  Or coffee shop.  Creative menu items aside, they also plan to pipe in a live stream of music/video from Urban Lounge next door, which could be awesome or awkward depending on the band.  So keep that in mind when heading there.  But no matter what music is blasting through the restaurant, I suspect that the food at Rye is good enough to be louder than the band.

Go to Rye for :: brunch, dinner or late night creative dishes in a casual setting.  Notes :: Rye is open seven days a week.  The coffee bar is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; brunch and lunch is served 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner 6 p.m. to midnight; late night menu (back to brunch items) is served until 2 a.m. on weekends.  Friend Rye on facebook or follow them on twitter.
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