Keith Flanagan, USA TODAY — Salt Lake City is a sensible starting point for nearby adventures (from skiing to spelunking). But lately, it’s a spot worth sticking around — for adventurous eats and drinks, that is.
This should surprise you. Salt Lake City’s flavors don’t roll off the tongue quite like Philadelphia’s cheesesteak or Chicago-style deep dish. In fact, Utah’s utmost creation might just be “fry sauce,” a house-made condiment of mayonnaise, ketchup and little distinction (but no less delicious).
Meanwhile, buzz surrounding this high-desert drinking scene has baggage: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still calls the city home, and a supermajority of state lawmakers count amongst its members. Mormons don’t drink alcohol — nor coffee! — and the city’s alcohol laws, while arcane, reflect their lower than average tolerance. One curious law mandates that draft beer is limited to 3.2% alcohol. Another requires that restaurants mix alcoholic drinks behind a 7-foot, 2-inch wall.
It’s a hiccup, surely, which Salt Lake City swallowed a few years ago by relaxing some of its more staunch liquor laws. While the changes didn’t give patrons and proprietors free license to let loose, it allowed wiggle room, and was a real boon for the latter part of old fashioned F&B. It also arrived alongside a stirring craft culture in sprawling Salt Lake City, which was finding its footing with ample, affordable space to grow, and a diversifying population to see it through. A small batch of artisans, like Publik Coffee Roasters and Epic Brewing Company, now serve strong brews worthy of well-seasoned drinkers. A new penchant for chocolate brings bean-to-bar makers like Solstice Chocolate and The Chocolate Conspiracy to Salt Lake’s doorstep, while buzzy restaurants beckon foodies without bulldozing longstanding mom-and-pops.
Locals look to Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli, whose original location opened in 1997, to get a read on the latest tastemakers. The owner’s son, Matt Caputo, now runs the business and still champions local craftsmen. “For our small population,” says Caputo, referring to less than 200,000 residents in the incorporated city, “there’s a great mix of good small town vibes and big city sophistication.” His downtown shop boasts one of the most discerning rosters of chocolate bars in the country, and a cheese cave so popular, more than 200 varieties strong, that a second cave recently opened to support the demand.
Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli might be an excellent place to start an adventure through Salt Lake City’s craft food scene, which, coincidentally, is just getting started.