The restaurant business is kind of like an elaborate game of musical chairs with chefs, bartenders, and managers moving from one place to the next. Keeping track of everyone during the Game of Chefs can sometimes be confusing, but a good chef will make headlines wherever he or she goes, so they’re bound to turn up eventually.
Recently in the game, chef Briar Handly moved from his acclaimed spot at Talisker on Main to opening his own restaurant, Handle. Handle is in Park City, just down the street from Talisker. The small plates restaurant serves an evolving menu of incredibly creative dishes using locally-sourced ingredients. In fact, they often post on their facebook page where their ingredients are from. Talk about local.
Handle is hidden inside the strip mall at the bottom of Main Street, but there are enough signs to make it visible from the street. Depending on where you’re seated inside the restaurant, you may forget you’re not in a freestanding restaurant. Unfortunately, our table was next to an indoor window with a view of the mall’s interior–a constantly awkward reminder that we were in a strip mall. Had we been sitting at the bar facing the juxtaposed rows of wine bottles, near the windows facing outside, or at the bar peering into the kitchen, it would have been much better.
But once our food starting coming, the interior view was far from our minds. The New American menu is full of small plates designed to be shared among the table, although I found a few of them to be very small “small plates.” A couple were difficult to split even between two of us. The Roasted Pork Belly ($16) was tortuously small, mostly because it was so ridiculously good with its intense juiciness and maple flavor. (We ordered two plates to compensate since one order only allotted about two bites of pork each.)
The menu is bluntly vague, creating a conversation opportunity with your server. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the server we had (I believe his name is Erickson), who expertly described each dish, told us favorites, and directed us toward dishes we couldn’t leave without ordering. One was the Cauliflower ($8), brined and coated the same as buffalo hot wings and served with blue cheese, they had the spicy essence of buffalo wings without the mess. I’ll echo our server: do not leave Handle without a plate of these!
Another server-recommended must have was the Smoked Trout Sausage ($12), a house-made sausage stuffed with pieces of local trout that won Chef Briar a place at the Great American Seafood Cookoff in Louisiana. The light sausage had a hint of trout flavor, while maintaining the stability of a traditional sausage, served with a light corn pudding gravy and summer vegetables.
From the Cold section of the menu (it’s divided into cold, hot, and hearty categories), we ordered the Melon ($12): peaches and melons topped with thin slices of salty Creminelli Coppa and bits of basil. It was amazing–and I’m not even a fan of fruit! The saltiness of the salami balanced the sweetness of the fruit that I normally don’t like and together it was heaven.
We also had Grilled Baby Octopus ($14) with romaine hearts and charred eggplant ricotta in a creamy Caesar dressing. I loved the tender octopus with just enough dressing to add flavor but not take away from the octopus.
We ended with Beignets ($12), fluffy balls of fried dough stuffed with rice Krispies and served a chocolate dipping sauce. I appreciated the lightness after our meal but wished they were sweeter (what can I say, I have a never-ending sweet tooth!).
The hearty section of the menu had to be skipped, but I can’t wait to try the Fried Chicken to share (with potato salad, $36) or the Pork Rib Chop with roasted fennel and goat cheese ($28).
Handle was definitely a hit. If their debut menu is this incredible, I can only imagine how amazing the dishes Chef Briar will create in the future. I’m keeping this restaurant on my radar, cause this one is going places.
Go to Handle for :: a meal of incredibly awesome, ridiculously creative small plates. Notes :: Handle is currently open Wed-Saturday, 6 pm-close, plus Sunday brunch starting at noon-9 pm. Reservations are accepted online here or call 435-602-1155.