Provisions + Dented Brick Distilling – Salt Lake City, UT
Provisions reliably serves some of the best food in Salt Lake City. When Lugano, the previous occupant of the space, closed some ten or so years ago, I was pretty bummed––to my mind, in my early exploratory food phase, it was the best Italian in town, and a mainstay of the Salt Lake dining scene. I still dream about their mushroom and truffle tagliatelle. Provisions opened shortly after Lugano closed, and Chef and owner Tyler Stokes has done an excellent job keeping the old Lugano space a bastion of neighborhood fine dining in the city. It's one of the most reliably good restaurants in a city where fine dining is having a bit of a lull.
You may be surprised to learn that early Mormon settlements were replete with household producers of whiskey and moonshine. Before the Word of Wisdom, which made sins of the various vices we now know as anathema to Mormons, was “revealed” to church leaders, drinking was a fundamental element of Mormon pioneer culture. An artesian well was drilled in the center of the Salt Lake Valley in the Utah Territory times in order to fashion whiskeys from the groundwater runoff that came from the pristine Wasatch Mountain snowmelts. Dented Brick Distillery, a relative newcomer to a burgeoning craft beer and spirits scene in Utah, was built atop this artesian well, using the same water to produce their oh-so-Utah spirits. The name “Dented Brick” comes from the bricks in the original distillery building on the property, dented with gunfire in a shootout between the bootlegger proprietor and various villainous wild west types. A wild story!
Dominick Gudino is the new bar manager at Provisions and has done remarkable things with an already excellent beverage program. His drinks this evening featured various spirits from Dented Brick, paired to match Chef Tyler’s excellent four-course prix fixe menu. Melia and JR, regulars of Provisions, were kind enough to treat me to this dinner on my last night in Salt Lake City. The meal was to consist of an amuse bouche, three savory courses, and a dessert.
Unsatisfied to begin drinking until the first “big” course, Melia and I ordered a permutation of one of her favorite Dominic creations––gin with Lillet, absinthe, raspberry-cranberry kombucha, and egg white. An immensely creative and wonderfully refreshing cocktail that would have been right at home in some of the most progressive fine dining destinations the world over, including Noma, which regularly features kombucha in its drinks and dishes.
The amuse was creatively served in a Dented Brick shot glass and described as a wagyu tartare “shooter” topped with smoked egg cream and inclusive of sunflower seeds, chili, mint, shoyu, and scallion. A shooter it was not, as it required a small fork for consumption, but every bite was delicious, with the mint in particular playing a key role.
With the first of the savory courses, Dominick paired a “caipirinha” made with Dented Brick’s Antelope Island rum, cheekily named not for a tropical island, where you might expect rum to come from, but for the hyper-arid semi-island in the south end of the Great Salt Lake. Completing the drink were the standard lime juice, but jasmine tea added an additional herbaceous, nearly savory element, while the burnt lime garnish imbued the drink with a touch of smoke when submerged in the liquid. A knockout.
If I know Chef Tyler, I know there is always a crudo on the menu, and it is always fantastic. The first savory course was crudo indeed, this time yellowtail atop cara cara orange slices, garnished with chili and scallion. The cornerstone of this dish, however, was the mind blowing matsutake ponzu at the bottom of the bowl, which provided beautiful umami to the otherwise very fresh course. While I query if the ponzu was made with actual matsutake, an otherwise rather rare and prize mushroom, I could have a Camelback full of this ponzu attached to my back and be satisfied for the rest of my life.
The second cocktail was, for me and Melia, the most successful of the night, and centered on a Dented Brick gin made from botanicals from the Great Basin, such as bristlecone pine, in a sort of gin-based daiquiri with yuzu, rosemary, and, most remarkably, matcha tea. I could not have commissioned a cocktail more ideal for my tastes.
Grilled cabbage, my friends, is something you must make at home if you haven’t. The interior leaves of the head become tender and delicate, while the outer leaves take on a glorious smokiness and char. Served over a gochujang ranch, this slice of Savoy cabbage was garnished with pickled mustard seeds and fresh dill. Delicious, though I will say not particularly friendly with an immediate sip of the cocktail.
Whiskey was the backbone of the next cocktail, a take on a “Tiki Boam,” crafted with Dented Brick’s American whiskey and their Disco Nut coconut rum, pineapple, and house orgeat, and presented in the glass with a flaming lime slice. This was JR’s favorite cocktail, and was a very close second for me, particularly given how well it paired with the course that followed.
Hanger steak is another staple of a menu at Provisions, often in a similar form to this dish. The steak was perfectly cooked with a soy-ginger jus and topped with pickled onion, watercress leaves, and blue cheese. Garnishing the plate were impossibly crispy medallions of fingerling potatoes cut horizontally, another Chef Tyler classic. Remarkably, the blue cheese was the critical bridge to the cocktail, which I never would have expected.
I was pretty surprised that the dessert cocktail appeared on our table long before all of us had conquered the steak. Sadly, this made the cocktail pretty watered down by the time we got to it. A little slip in service in an otherwise spotless night. This espresso martini was made with Dented Brick vodka, Kahlua, espresso, and vanilla syrup, topped with a foam flavored with Frangelico.
Dessert was served in a coffee mug, which housed a gorgeous saffron-scented panna cotta topped with espresso crumble. A great pairing with the cocktail, obviously, and the delicious panna cotta was a perfect way to close an excellent meal.
On the way out, we chatted with Dominic and the management staff, who said they plan to do these special collab dinners monthly. Were I still a resident of this wonderful city, I'd definitely sign myself up. Chef Tyler is one of the best working in Salt Lake, producing regularly excellent menus. This is especially important in a city where the dining scene has been gradually sliding––old mainstays are staying strong, but there are few newcomers, a handful of closures, and the appetite for cutting edge, inventive food is surprisingly scant. I remember the days when Salt Lake's dining scene was very much on the upswing five to ten years ago, and it's sad to see it stagnate. Places like Provisions are bright stars and stalwart neighborhood fine dining spots, and I am so glad to see them engaging in these creative events.
The big event from my trip to Utah will be posted this weekend, and it was a doozy of a meal! Stay tuned!