I’ve been visiting Heber’s Snake Creek Grill since before it was Snake Creek Grill. Anyone remember The Tenderfoot? That was the French bistro opened by Jeannot Mercier—now chef at the downtown Market Street Grill—which, sadly, predated the French bistro/brasserie craze that swept the country too late for The Tenderfoot. Following the demise of Mercier’s bistro, Barb and Michael Hill opened Snake Creek Grill, which would win awards and accolades not just for being a fine Heber restaurant, but for being one of Utah’s premier destination eateries. Three-plus years ago, Dean Hottle—who had worked in Barb Hill’s kitchen for six years—took over Snake Creek Grill when the Hills decided to retire from their restaurant. Barb Hill, in particular, was synonymous with Snake Creek. And, frankly, I was skeptical about the restaurant’s continued success in the absence of Barb and husband, Michael, who managed the front of the house.
Happily, I can report that all is well in Heber. Longtime fans of Barb Hill’s cooking will still find tried-and-true favorites on the menu; it would be culinary suicide to ever remove her black-bottom banana-cream pie, for example, from the Snake Creek menu. But Chef Hottle has definitely put his own imprint on the restaurant and the food served there. And, although it might sound sacrilegious, I think the quality of the food has even improved under Hottle. And that’s saying something, because Hill was a tough act to follow.
The look of the Heber restaurant is much as it always was: homey, quaint and comfortable, minus the bric-a-brac that had come from the Hills’ own house in neighboring Charleston. Frankly, it looks less cluttered, with most of the wall art, which is all for sale, now coming from local artists. Continuity is provided by servers like “Zibber” (christened Elizabeth, but nicknamed for eternity by her brother), who has worked at Snake Creek Grill since Day 1. The service is stellar here, right down to the young busser, who I’d hire in a heartbeat to patrol tables if I owned a restaurant.
So, service: check. Ambiance: check. Food: Double check. The cuisine Hottle is turning out is superb—an impressive feat, given that the menu ranges from onion rings to wild mushroom risotto with spinach and leeks, and prices go from $6.95 for certain starters and sides to $25.95 for top-tier entrees. Our kids (and the adults, in truth) loved the big, crispy, battered and fried onion rings, which come a la Buffalo wings with carrots, celery and blue-cheese dip. I’d never considered blue-cheese dip for onion rings before, but it’s a cool (literally) derivation. A more adult starter—and a delicious one—was spicy butterflied grilled wild white shrimp with chipotle barbecue sauce, guacamole, pickle slices, fresh lime and homemade tortilla chips. I could’ve easily eaten an entree-size portion of the shrimp (hint, hint).
Digging into a big range of Snake Creek entrees, I was a bit surprised, and thrilled, that I didn’t find one that wasn’t very satisfying. Barb Hill’s Belle Isle baby-back ribs have been supplanted by Hottles’ ribs with maple-mustard barbecue sauce and homemade slaw. The ribs are tender and juicy, and they taste terrific with that simultaneously tangy and sweet sauce. A lighter dish, making use of late-summer goods from the garden, is large, homemade cheese-filled ravioli bathed in a fragrant garlic-pesto sauce and garnished with grilled baguette slices, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves. It’s a dish that pairs beautifully with a Spanish white wine that Zibber recommended: rich, but soft Alzania Moscatel-Chardonnay from Navarra.
Kudos to Chef Hottle for not annihilating his veggies. Many Snake Creek entrees come with veggies on the side, and Hottle knows how to treat them. A mélange of perfectly cooked grilled asparagus; red, green and yellow peppers; snap peas; and fresh mushrooms enhanced an entree of tender, center-cut pork tenderloin medallions, which also came with an irresistible side of green chile and cheese polenta—all in all, a lip-smacking dish.
And double kudos to Hottle for not serving the same cookie-cutter vegetable side dish with every entree. Fried blue corn tortilla-crusted sustainable red trout, for example, came topped with fresh avocado, tomato and cilantro sprigs and a side of julienned yellow squash, carrots and zucchini—not the same veggie side that accompanied the pork. Far too many cooks get lazy and serve the same veggie sides with each and every entree. Plus, I appreciate that Hottle allows diners to customize pasta and risotto dishes by making available add-ons such as grilled chicken, Italian sausage and grilled shrimp.
“Did you save room for dessert?” is a worn-out phrase that makes me cringe. I don’t think we were asked that question at Snake Creek Grill, but this is one place I do save room for dessert. The warm peach-raspberry crumble is always a good choice, but I can never resist the lure of the black-bottom banana-cream pie, which dates back to Barb Hill’s days. Chef Hottle has actually improved on this time-tested treat, by making the crust from scratch with chocolate-cookie crumbs, and then layering on bananas, whipped cream, chocolate ganache and pastry cream. Finally, it’s topped with dark chocolate shavings, fresh raspberry and strawberries and mint leaves. It’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever enjoyed. But then, classic creme brulée served with almond and cranberry biscotti is damned good, too.For kids, it’s hard to beat the gimongous chocolate brownie sundae, served in a tall soda-fountain glass with chocolate-brownie chunks, vanilla-bean ice cream, home-style peanut brittle, hot fudge, whipped cream and garnished with fresh fruit. In Heber, Hottle has arrived. CW
SNAKE CREEK GRILL
650 W. 100 South