When Creedence Clearwater Revival sang "Early in the evening, just about supper time ..." about the jovial spot "Down on the Corner," perhaps they foretold what would decades later take place at the corner of Harvey Milk Boulevard (900 South) and 200 West in Salt Lake City. Its new retail development is a delicious pleasure zone that hosts the recently relocated Meditrina Small Plates & Wine Bar, along with Laziz Kitchen, Sage Market and Water Witch bar. There's more fun and flavor packed into about a half-block than you'll find in many entire towns.
Judging from the bustling scene—even on a damp and dreary Tuesday night—owner/chef Jen Gilroy's decision to move Meditrina was a smart one. I like the more contemporary art-filled décor at Meditrina 2.0, which still retains the warm vibe of the original location. Service is as stellar as it is friendly, and the Gilroy team's cuisine always hits the right notes.
It's a bit counterintuitive, but the small plates menu somehow lends itself better to sharing than larger typical restaurant entrées. Maybe that's partly because diners can afford to explore an array of different dishes and flavors instead of just locking into one apiece. For as little as $3 or $4, guests can share dishes like the vegan and usually gluten-free house pickles; chilled prawns with kimchi cocktail sauce; warm brown butter cucumbers with toasted sunflower seeds; and addictive spiced nuts. Nibble on those noshes while you peruse the beer and wine selection, with many of the wines available in 2- and 5-ounce pours, or by the bottle. Alma Negra Sparkling Malbec Rosé from Argentina was an interesting find, as was one of my favorite pinot grigios: Redentore, from Italy. And Meditrina's signature sangria is always a festive and versatile beverage.
I could eat a couple dozen of Gilroy's deep-fried falafel nuggets ($6); the tzatziki spiked with Frank's Red Hot sauce gives it a Southern slant. The "chef's whimsy" bruschetta ($9) is always a good call, too. Mine was a trio of nicely grilled and charred baguette slices topped with eggplant, goat cheese, tomato and crispy fried shallot slivers.
My favorite hot dishes included melt-in-the-mouth Snake River Farms Wagyu steak frites ($14). The boneless steak is rubbed with juniper and coffee before being cooked to perfection, sliced and served with delicately flavored roasted garlic beurre blanc. Gilroy's shrimp and grits ($12) is always a crowd-pleaser, and we also loved the housemade sundried tomato- and ricotta-stuffed ravioli, which came topped with roasted pine nuts, mushrooms and diced tomato, all nestled upon basil-arugula pesto and heavenly tomato brown butter ($12).
Before or after dining at Meditrina, I'd urge you to visit Water Witch next door for adult libations. The 21-and-over establishment is the creation of what many, including me, consider to be three of the most talented and friendly barmen in the Beehive: Scott Gardner, Sean Neves and Matt Pfohl. Water Witch's logo is, not surprisingly, a divining rod known as a water witch, but also refers to a type of sailing vessel, of which there is a large painting on the bar's back wall.
Witchcraft indeed seems to be afoot, insofar as the libations here are nothing if not magical. Rather than have an extensive craft or signature cocktail menu, the mixologists here tend to create custom drinks for their clients. "Whaddya like?" Gardner asked during my visit. "Gin? Rum? Mezcal?" When I mentioned I'm a rum lover, he mixed me a killer daquiri; and for a friend, he concocted an amazing gin and mezcal cocktail. It's truly a "have it your way" speakeasy, where one-off beverages are invented and enjoyed, perhaps never to be made or tasted again. That's one of the draws of this witchy tavern.
Another is the size. It's diminutive and friendly, with no more than a few seats at the bar, and a single row of tables; 25 people would be a crowd. And there's nothing foo-foo about this place. To wit, some cocktails are served in laboratory-style beakers. There's a turntable where Neves (or whoever happens to be working that night) spins vinyl, no TVs (yay) and a small but appealing bar menu. Bar tapas include deathly delectable lardo with sea salt and Basque pickled chile peppers called piparras ($5); pork rillette with crostini, cornichons and mustard ($6); sardines ($8); Beltex Meats' nduja ($3); and cockles in brine ($10).
Each time I visit Water Witch, I learn something new. The staff's encyclopedic knowledge of all things drink is daunting. When I mention that one of my favorite rums is Flor de Caña from Nicaragua, Gardner pours me a splash of Wray & Nephew "Overproof" white rum from Kingston, Jamaica, and then what is now my favorite rum on the planet: Plantation Pineapple rum. It turns out to have been a tribute to Charles Dickens' Reverend Stiggins, whose favorite drink was pineapple rum.
Next to Water Witch is the new Jade Market, where you can stock up on local craft brews, coffee, kitchen and home essentials, and artisan goods such as Salsa del Diablo's chips and salsas, Amour Spreads jams and imported pastas.
Now, if you're wondering why I didn't devote space here to the aforementioned Laziz Kitchen, be patient. During a recent lunch of top-notch Mediterranean fare there, I was thrilled to learn that the restaurant will soon launch dinner service, so stay tuned. CW