Making one’s way down the North Temple stretch has always been an adventure for first-timers usually making their way to attend the State Fair or to dine at Red Iguana. This corridor has slowly been developed with new businesses. Heading just past KRCL studios, SLC now has a tasty reason to push farther: Welcome, Nomad Eatery.
“Fast and casual says it best” are the words from our host. He clarifies that we order at the counter and then seat ourselves in what looks less like a dining space and more like a crisply communal pueblo oasis. White walls lined with desert tapestries and native cacti set the scene, providing an earthy sort of cowboy Zen while rustic hardwood floors offer heartful stability to the room. These are all desirable qualities, as we must now decide where to seat ourselves: face to face with the cooks at work and their immaculate kitchen, at the tall bar tables throughout, in the library area by the fireplace or at the bar. Looking to spark up conversation, we meet up with the general manager and bartender for the night, David Miller, mirroring his post. Sipping beer while waiting for dinner to arrive at the bar is the best way to get a history lesson on the legacy that executive chef Justin Soelberg built through endeavors like Avenues Proper, Proper Burger and, now, his own Nomad, which is in its first months of operation.
For those who have followed Soelberg’s cooking on either end of the spectrum, finally having a restaurant that meets both worlds in the middle is as exciting as the menu he’s shaped. It’s just as Miller finishes whetting the appetite that our first round appears in the form of the Wedge Salad ($8). The Wedge shows up to the party dressed to impress with leaves of romaine appropriately doused in buttermilk ranch, smoked bleu cheese, bacon and topped with a mound of thinly sliced fried onions. It’s for this reason precisely that we came hungry, as this beast alone could fill up someone coming in for the lunch rush from the airport or one of the area offices. Leaves, onion and dressing bring a simultaneously fresh, creamy, salty crunch to the palate; but bleu and bacon throw a James Brown–level curveball of funky harmony to finish the bite in perfect proportions.
No strangers to Soelberg’s reputation for harmonizing Tesla-world resources between two buns, we transition into his latest chapter of sandwich craft. First choice in-house is decidedly the Fish Sandwich ($11). As reputation stands, all breads are fresh, flavorful and full of texture, in which skillfully battered and fried tilapia is layered, crispy and steaming. Offsetting the minimal grease accompanying said fish—as well as a natural, sweet tang from the house tartar sauce and pickled celery—enters a refreshing platform for lacinato kale/red cabbage slaw. Combining it all together, we get balance. The tender heat from the tilapia is offset by chilled coleslaw crunch and brought into unison by said pickled flavors in the celery and sauce.
Oh yeah, all the sides! It’s a double-edged sword of tasty and filling, considering that many of these—wings ($6 small, $10 large), hummus with pita ($8), and pickled and/or roasted beets ($8)—can accompany any sandwich for a price. We decide to delve into potatoes: fries and house chips. While they’re the best hand-cut potato chips this writer has ever had the privilege to indulge in, the rockstar of sides is by far the Loaded Fries ($7). If Animal Style ever smoked good crack, those are it. Thin-cut and fried, these babies get American cheese melted by a hefty drizzle of house poutine and meet an herby, green-onion crème-fraiche hybrid at the door. This is the sort of melty fry pile that will throw all New Year’s resolutions out the window. Leave yourself feeling the healthier side of indulged, and keep coming back.
Here is described only three of 26-plus variations making up the food card presented by Nomad, and we haven’t even touched their red-brick pizza oven ($10–12) or dessert ($4–7) selections. Straightforward, fast and casual: There are way too many excellent combinations of satisfaction for one not to keep coming back. To those who can’t make regular appearances, I recommend conveniently visiting Nomad Eatery to and from airport excursions. Helpful tip: Buy lots of airplane tickets.