Here’s the thing about Spencer’s for Steaks & Chops: while it’s located in the drab and dreary, in-need-of-a-makeover downtown Hilton, it doesn’t suck. Once you’re ensconced in the warm, dark-wooded comfort of Spencer’s, you tend to forget that you’re in an otherwise lackluster American hotel.
In fact, Spencer’s doesn’t even come close to sucking. Through the years—against strong competition—it remains my favorite Salt Lake City steakhouse. Sure, I dig the snazzy bar at Ruth’s Chris, not to mention the food. And yes, I really enjoy dining at Fleming’s, too—especially the food- and wine-pairing options available with 100 wines by the glass. Even Christopher’s—one of the few truly “local” steak joints around—has its appeal. And, Kitty Pappas sports the best jukebox on the planet, along with steaks and burgers that please. But, when asked where to turn for a really great steak in Salt Lake City, I inevitably wind up recommending Spencer’s.
For starters, there is the quality of the meat. Spencer’s serves only hand-cut, 21-day-aged USDA Prime grade steaks (only 1 percent of all beef gets this grade) from Stockyards Beef in Chicago. Sure, there are other places to get a Prime cut of meat, but none locally I know of that serve only Prime.
Another reason to visit Spencer’s is the outstanding service. I’ll stack Spencer’s against any other Utah restaurant I know in terms of professionalism in food and wine service. Even when just enjoying lunch or a casual dinner in Spencer’s lounge, service is top-notch, thanks in part to the watchful eye of general manager Lisa Wieboldt. I can’t tell you how pleased I was when a server called Jules asked me how I would like my burger cooked. That never happens. So, of course, I ordered it medium-rare … because I could. The burger had to have come off the grill not more than a minute before it hit our table because, with the first bite, an explosion of molten-lava beef juice landed on my tongue. It was worth the pain.
The burger ($16) rates up with the top burgers I’ve ever tasted. The grind is perfect: It’s a burger comprised of small pellets of high-grade natural ground beef, rather than over-handled, over-processed meat, smashed together, as too often happens. My 7-ounce burger came topped with a blend of five cheeses, applewood-smoked bacon and a generous side of french fries—among the best in town. Spencer’s used to do shoestring fries, which I liked a lot, but these are thicker, classic, skin-on, double-cooked fries. A lighter lunchtime menu option is the roasted turkey sandwich ($15), with thick slices of juicy turkey breast, havarti cheese and cranberry aioli on toasted whole-wheat bread. My friend requested a side salad in place of the sweet potato fries that normally accompany the sandwich and was accommodated—no muss, no fuss. Other tasty lunchtime choices include a grilled veggie sandwich ($12), smoked salmon club ($16) and a grilled chicken “BLT” ($14).
Celebrating a special occasion with my wife at Spencer’s, I was pleased to find Louis Koppel on duty. He’s the sommelier and has also written for City Weekly. One of the reasons he was chosen to write for us is that he’s one of the most knowledgeable wine experts I’ve ever met. He’s also a really nice guy who has a great sense of humor and really gets what it means to be a sommelier. “A sommelier is there for the guest,” he says. “It is all about hospitality.” Koppel adds, “Making the guest feel comfortable reading the wine list, perusing the list and helping them with wine selections while sharing thoughts and experiences about wineries, vintages, regions and flavor profiles are what a guest should expect from a sommelier.” And that’s precisely what you get at Spencer’s. I know quite a bit about wine, but what I know could fit in Koppel’s pinkie.
So, with Louis Koppel, his well-conceived wine list (easily one of the best in the state) and a top-notch server named Eddy at our disposal, we launched into a very memorable meal. An order of (two) Dungeness crab cakes ($17) was a perfect starter. Chef K.C. Crandall doesn’t skimp on crab meat—there’s much more crab than filler—and the cakes’ tops and bottoms were seared to a gorgeous, crispy crust, served with a tomato-and-snap-pea salad and a light lemon aioli, which served to enhance the crab cakes rather than conceal them.
After considering the T-bone ($58) and Kansas City strip ($49), I defaulted to my favorite cut: the Spencer’s Steak ($39)—a 14-ounce Prime boneless rib eye that arrived medium-rare, precisely as ordered, with a thinly charred crust. Steaks are seared under 1,600-degree infrared broilers that rapidly cook the steak and seal in natural beef juices. I can count on one hand the times I’ve enjoyed a steak more than this. My wife’s sushi grade, rare, peppercorn-seared ahi ($34) with blood-orange balsamic and Mediterranean quinoa was also exceptional. But what really floored us was a side dish: Eating Spencer’s five-cheese macaroni and cheese ($9) is an out-of-body experience. Actually, it’s not macaroni, but rather pasta shells bathed in silky, cheesy goodness and served in a cast-iron pan. Maybe the secret to this mac & cheese greatness is that, in fact, it’s made with six cheeses, not five. After inquiring, I learned that the chef uses Fontina, Gouda, Beehive White Cheddar, Boursin and Parmesan and finishes it with Mozzarella. Seriously, this is worth a trip to Spencer’s all by itself. It’s just more proof that Spencer’s doesn’t suck.
SPENCER'S FOR STEAKS & CHOPS
255 S. West Temple