- Alex Springer
I think I echo the hearts and minds of most humans on Earth when I say that 2020 has pushed us to our physical, emotional and psychological limits. No matter how secure we tried to make things for ourselves, ill news and bad luck kept oozing in wherever it could.
With a year as miserable as this one, comfort food started to take on a whole new meaning. Despite the global pandemic and its subsequent series of bumbling leadership fails leaving an open wound in our restaurant scene, eating local became less about satisfying our own guilty pleasures and more about trying to keep the lights on in our favorite dining haunts. While I'd suggest eating at any local restaurant as much as you can right now, the following have been special highlights in a remarkably crappy year.
Arempa's (350 S. State Street, 385-301-8905, arempas.com): While it's not a silver bullet for all the garbage that 2020 kept throwing our way, sandwich therapy provided me with a few blissful moments of reprieve. Some days, a simple turkey on wheat would do the trick, but in those moments when I could feel an audible wail of despair building deep within my core, it was time to jam an arepa peluda from Arempa's into my mouth to keep that scream from escaping. That mix of tender shredded beef, melty cheese and creamy avocado has a way of blocking waves of despair, and I'd like to see anyone try and scream with this monster shoved into their mouth. Arepas are apex comfort foods for anyone who adores a good sandwich, and the selection at Arempa's is ideal for smacking your taste buds with enough flavor to put that constant lag of existential horror on the back burner for a few blessed minutes.
The Salty Pineapple (13262 S. 5600 West, 801-890-0532, the-saltypineapple.com): I thought driving out to Herriman for my bi-weekly Salty Pineapple fix would wear thin, but it turned out to be a great opportunity to get out of the house and do some highway meditation. Not to mention the fact that a half-hour drive west is a small price to pay for some of the finest Hawaiian cuisine in the state. Anytime my brain started to murmur about driving out to Herriman, it was quickly placated by the promise of pineapple jalapeño chicken, kalua pork and an electric pink slice of guava cake. The spicy notes of the chicken paired with the tender, juicy kalua pork with a hit of garlic sauce gets detonated by the mainline of sticky sweet guava cake, resulting in a meal that overwhelms the senses in all the best ways.
Chettinad House (169 S. Main Street, 801-410-4696, chettinad-house.com): Sensory overloads and jawbreaking sandwiches are all good and well when combating overwhelming malaise, but sometimes you just need to turn up the heat and burn it out of you. In such moments of anguish, I turned to the Chettinad chicken masala at this newly minted Downtown Indian joint. Of course, if you're looking for a heady mix of flavors to distract your mind from the pain, you can order this dish mild and still walk away refreshed and ready for a scrap. But when you need to kill it with fire, order this dish and tell them to make it spicy. It'll fill your soul with a holy fire that strengthens your resolve, while conveniently helping you forget everything outside of the inferno in your mouth.
Vessel Kitchen (Multiple locations, vesselkitchen.com): Of course, not all takeout endeavors need to be about sensory alteration. In fact, zeroing in on a takeout place that makes sure to include all the food groups is a great way to feel good about yourself. When I was too bushed to cook but wanted to make sure the family got a balanced meal, I'd call up Vessel. They've got locations all over the place, their family meals are reasonably priced and usually set you up with leftovers for the next day. I'm a fan of their braised beef—seasoned to perfection with cumin, rosemary and garlic—as well as their roasted brussels sprouts, sweet potato hash and ratatouille, but you really can't go wrong with whatever you get. For convenience, variety and a well-rounded selection, Vessel is tough to beat.
Sagato Bakery (44 W. 7200 South, 385-557-1728, sagatofoods.com): None of us could have gotten through the year without baked goods. I found myself craving numerous items from Sagato's menu when I needed something good for my soul. The chocolate-covered Lamington cakes, speckled with coconut and stuffed with thick whipped cream, do wonders for a sudden sweet tooth, and the pineapple pie or pani popo are great when you need to eat sweets and drive. On the savory side, their sausage rolls will make you forget all about your favorite hot dog, and their steak-and-mushroom pie is filled with enough warm and homey flavors to provide a soulful boost to remind you that yes, good things can still exist in 2020.