You can’t get a drink in Utah they say. Or at the very least, you can’t get a real drink in Utah they’ll tell you. They are actually idiots, and the news today proves them wrong once again. And no, this isn’t some cockamamie chatbot-borne listicle, this is serious food industry praise from the loftiest of echelons.
Today sees the semi-finalist reveal of the James Beard Foundation (JBF) yearly awards; the JBF ostensibly being the North American answer to Europe’s overly worshipped Michelin awards. Say what you like about award contests and pageants – everyone wants to win one. And everyone puts the trophy on their mantle. Anyway, back to that headline. Salt Lake City’s own Post Office Place (pictured above) finds itself amongst a select few this year, listed as it is in the outstanding bar program; a collection of the twenty best bars in the United States right now, so according to the JBF.
Post Office first opened in 2018, replacing Kristauf’s Martini Bar on Market Street in downtown SLC. Initially seen by many as a sort of pre/post game hangout to the adjoining Takashi (who own and operate POP) the bar quickly developed its own sense of self. In recent years the bar has become synonymous for it’s range of Japanese whiskey for example – a far cry from Kristauf’s espresso martinis.
Post Office originally launched with a Peruvian-Japanese small plates menu crafted by Takashi alumnus Tommy Nguyen (now cooking over at The Pearl) and has evolved greatly in the subsequent four years under the expert eye of chef Brendan Kawakami and bar manager Crystal Daniels.
This ain’t your average watering hole of course – there’s no listless burger, no basket of dried up wings. The food at POP matches the expertise on the poured side. Kawakami writes that the bar’s moniker informs the direction of the menu, “All points come through the Post Office. I try to use that as my North Star with the development of dishes. Seeing as how I am someone who is enamored with every food culture from around the world, it is a perfect fit for me. I get to honor techniques, flavors and ingredients from all over the world”. Recent menu items include:
- Scotch egg – a vegetarian spin on an old bar classic, inspired by dim sum taro dumplings. A soft cooked egg inside of a taro dough, fried and served with housemade “happy lady sauce” or chili crisp
- Taki salad – a fun riff on a “frito pie”, the dish starts with a shrimp ceviche made from Clamato, lemon and lime juice and house lacto-fermented habanero sauce, with radish, cucumber and cantaloupe all mixed with Fuego Takis and served inside the bag
- Lamb and clam – house ground, mixed and smoked merguez sausage paired with steamed clams in a Malaysian style curry broth made with curry paste – also made by hand
If you’re reading this hot off the press today (Wednesday 25th) get yourself down there stat and avail yourself of their Whiskey Wednesdays, where all Japanese whiskies are 20% off.
Joining POP on the list are a few other big hitters too. Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm in Boulder make the semifinalist list for outstanding restaurant – the second year in a row. Their first nomination in this category last year was a first for the state of Utah. The 2023 accolade comes hot on the heels of last years crowd sourcing success which seems to have secured the short to medium term future of the much loved eatery.
Meanwhile, back in Salt Lake City, Greek fine dining experts Manoli’s garner a nod in the outstanding hospitality category. This too is a first for Utah, at least as far as I know. Manoli Katsanevas’ must visit spot has been top of many a dining list in the state for ever since the titular Katsanevas (yep, that’s the same name as a certain Crown Burger family) opened the spot in 2015. Another Salt Lake county semi-finalist is Alexa Norlin’s Normal Ice Cream, who receives the notable accolade in the outstanding bakery category.
Moving onto the best chef Mountain region (we were mercifully untangled from the Southwest section some years back) Utah received praise for seven more Beehive based chefs, working out of four local kitchens. Namely:
- Paul Chamberlain and Logen Crew, SLC Eatery, Salt Lake City
- Andrew Fuller, Oquirrh, Salt Lake City
- Briar Handly, Handle, Park City, UT
- Young-Ho Kang and Peter Kim, The Angry Korean, South Jordan
- Ali Sabbah, Mazza, Salt Lake City
SLC Eatery, Oquirrh and Handle are three of the very best chef driven New American outfits in the state. All three feature a similar minded, intelligent seasonal approach, with uniformly creative menus. Rounding out the list it’s also fabulous to see Angry Korean’s Korean fusion cuisine given the credit it deserves on a larger stage (see my original thoughts on their food here in 2019) – similarly the Lebanese classics of Mazza – a long time stalwart of Salt Lake City. All five restaurants make great torch bearers for Utah in their own respective way.
The full semifinalist list can be found over on the JBF site. From here on out the crowd are whittled down again come March, before a final awards ceremony in Chicago beckons in June (don’t ever say the Oscars is drawn out ;). Here’s hoping we see a few of the faces listed above come the Summer big bash.
Also, here’s an insider scoop for you, while we’re talking awards. Salt Lake Magazine’s dining awards are set to return next month – after a two-year hiatus. Arguably the most well respected of the Utah based award bashes – and no I’m not saying that because I was on this year’s judging panel. February 27th is the date, more info to come soon…
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Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC. I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have written in myopic detail about the Salt Lake City dining scene for the better part of seventeen years.
I’ve worked extensively with multiple local publications from Visit Salt Lake to Salt Lake Magazine, not least helped to consult on national TV. Pause those credits, yep, that’s me! I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’m largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of big words I don’t understand. What they’re saying about me: “Not inaccurate”, “I thought he was older”, “I don’t share his feelings”.
Want to know more? This is why I am the way I am.
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