Which Came First, the Kitchen or the Keg?

The Warm Shrimp Salad paired with the Oatmeal Stout at RedRock is an unexpected achievement with a diverse array of flavors. Photo: Barrett Doran

RedRock Brewing Company
254 South, 200 West
Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
Kitchen hours
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. - Midnight
Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Weekend Brunch
Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Tavern hours
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. - 1 a.m.
Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. - Midnight
801-521-7446 -Phone
801-521-0908 -Fax

Beer and food pairings have become increasingly common in Utah as more and more interesting beers have come to the marketplace. Many of the local breweries in town have fine restaurants in addition to fine beers. RedRock Brewing Company brews some of the best beer in the state, and given the state of beer in Utah, that is no small feat. A reliably good restaurant is associated with the brewery and feeds the yawning dining room, which fills the deep, cellar-inspired restaurant space.

The menu suggests beer pairings for some items, which are restricted to beers that are always on hand, generally to the amber, alt and lighter beers. All beer served is $4.50 a pint. Only one salad calls for a dark beer, the oatmeal stout. We decided to try an evening of pairings to see what came of the results, both in terms of pleasure and surprise. So our group, my willing friends and I,  ordered mostly things for which the menu had suggestions.

We started with Fried Green Tomatoes ($7.99), Calamari ($9.99) and Onion Rings ($5.99)—the onion rings didn’t have a recommended beer. The green tomatoes were paired with the honey wheat beer, which was light and dusty and tasted roughly like what swimming underwater feels like on my skin.  The golden-edged, slightly crunchy tomato dabbed in the white aioli was a bite of springtime sunlight. Don’t confuse this sunlight flavor with the sunlight that is a gin-and-campari cocktail. This sharp tomato flavor was emotional. I felt it evoking some sentimental idea of southerness and humidity and summer, which I was surprised to find inside myself. The calamari is not the perfect platonic calamari I remember having here a decade ago. Its situation in my fried-fish world is factual, but not memorable. The amber that was paired with it swallowed passively, telling a quick story in flavors: warm campfire coals on a cold night, rushes of malt in a sharply edged band—easy to drink but hard to talk about. The onion rings looked like Captain America’s shield, minus the star. These are totally imposing fried vegetables, and they are aggressively filling to boot.

At this point, a word about beer pairings—I told our server what we were up to and asked her to make some recommendations for beer. One in our party wanted to order the Flat Iron Steak ($16.99) which was an unpaired item. She asked Chef Holmes what the pairings should be, and he completely changed the beers from the menu suggestions. We continued forward with the chef’s ideas and ordered accordingly.  Our common experience was now a boutique experience, but I have to confess that for all this, beer and food are just beer and food, and I love both of them, but I don’t think about the two of them in a relationship like I do wine. Regardless, we made our way to the next course.

For the Wild Mushroom Polenta ($10.99), the polenta is grilled and a layer of mozzarella is broiled and covered again with a light marinara sauce. This was served with the amber ale, which was a variation from the hefeweizen, which the menu recommended. By the by, the hef here is fine, big shouldered and not too banana flavored—a competent American version of the German traditional. The polenta was heavy handed and called for a real-politic solution, we decided to eat it without the heavy cheese skin. Less is more in this case, and modified, it was well received. I ordered the New York Steak Salad ($16.99) even though it didn’t have a beer pairing, because the chef was now deciding beers, and it was the server’s favorite item on the menu. Served with the Düsseldorf alt bier, and covered in rather mild gorgonzola, the steak was a bit of a fight and the rewards were fewer than I hoped. The alt bier was totally excellent—my favorite of the night. It’s a familiar little number with a summery hop and the kind of timeless flavor that transported me back to my 5-year-old self, stealing a sip of my dad’s beer while he yelled at Richard Nixon in the summer of ’73. The Warm Shrimp Salad ($13.99), on the other hand, is an unexpected achievement. From a hugely diverse set of flavors—sweet potato, pistachio, shrimp, gorgonzola, grapefruit, spinach, watercress and a light lemon dressing—comes a real pleasure beast on a plate. If “bravo” weren’t already a tired exclamation, I would let one loose right here. Served with the amber, it is normally paired with the oatmeal stout, we tried both, and we all felt the amber was a better choice.

Finally, the flat iron steak served with gorgonzola butter and onion straws was just about perfect. Also paired with the alt bier, there was no second guesses or mistakes in this pairing. The steak itself was tender and tasted really earthy and quite bloodthirstquenching. This was a significantly better steak than the New York steak that came on my salad. The garlic mashed potatoes and broccoli that shared the plate were both just right, as was the price, which for food this good was really a value.

For many Salt Lakers, RedRock Brewing Company is a go-to choice in the dining scene. The beer is great, fresh and unique. The food is generous, beautifully served and successfully walks the line between familiar and daring all at a reasonable price. Judging by the always-packed dining room and several new locations, we are not alone in our feelings. Indeed, the people have voted, and RedRock is a winner.

The Warm Shrimp Salad paired with the Oatmeal Stout at RedRock is an unexpected achievement with a diverse array of flavors. Photo: Barrett Doran