Let’s get a few things established right off the bat.
- There is a disco ball, posters of Saved by The Bell, and a DJ station at Ginger Street
- There is a lot of neon
- The servers wear fanny packs
- This is not a place I will take my mother in law, who thinks the Red Iguana experience is a bit “out there”
- The food in incredible
In the food blogger/writer world these days, unfortunately the trend is that it’s more about speed and less about quality. She or he with the first review rules the world. I tend to shy away from that approach. Not for any reason other than I don’t like opening week crowds and I like to give the front and back of the house a little time to settle in. But Melissa and I found ourselves with an extra hour or two after a wedding reception sans kids, so we decided to pop over to Ginger Street for a quick second lunch to see what all of the fuss is about.
The first tip: the entrance is on the 3rd South side of the building. We tried entering from the porch, but the door was locked. Then we walked along State Street. No dice. Then we found the hard-to-miss pink “red carpet” that welcomes you to the large space with tall ceilings and plenty of room. You’re greeted by a host or hostess and given a menu, and you place your initial order with them. Once paid, they then will give you a number and help you choose a table. Ours happened to be made out of an old bowling alley lane. I say “initial” order, because the intent of Ginger Street is that this is “hawker style.” Hawker stalls are prevalent in Singapore, and the idea of them is sort of like a food court where you order from the various vendors and then sit down and enjoy the varying dishes. A bit of a conundrum at Ginger Street, since there’s only one purveyor, so I’m not totally convinced they really get what hawker stalls are about. But it does follow along the hawker model in that the intent is that you order numerous different plates of dishes to share (or not) throughout your stay. I wasn’t a huge fan of feeling the pressure of walking in and feeling like you had to make a quick decision since there’s a line of people behind you, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one that feels that way. I’d much rather be able to sit down and settle in before deciding on what I want to eat. Maybe their intent is to help turn tables by eliminating that initial 10 minute “settling in” period. I don’t know. I’m curious to know if they stick with that approach or not. I’m hopeful they don’t.
Even at 2 pm, the dining room was steadily busy. Michael McHenry, one of the owners of Ginger Street, mentioned that within the first day or two of them opening, they had a line of 140 people waiting for lunch. I’d say there’s a bit of hype with this one. And after our meal, I’d say the hype is very well justified.
Varying textures are prevalent throughout your experience at Ginger Street. Textures in music (yes, they have a DJ booth and a disco ball), décor (they have posters featuring Saved By The Bell and pillows with a distinct Indian flair), and tastes. I have a feeling that this spot will be a bit of a chameleon as the day and week progresses. Downtown white collar workers will find it suited well for a quick lunch, but as the night progresses and the bar crowd emerges, I have a hunch that this place will get a bit crazy. In a good way. But maybe not a 40-year-old-with-two-kids-in-diapers good way. I’ll likely stick to lunchtime or early dinner.
Ginger Street is in a good location, centrally located between the Main Street bar scene, Gallivan, and Broadway theater. They are also in the late stages of opening a walk-up dessert and small bites window, where you will be able to order a quick bowl of rotating soft serve flavors, ice cream sandwiches, and on late nights during the weekend, small hot bites of pork buns and other items. The window is expected to open in the next two weeks. I find it interesting that two similar concepts (walk-up Asian-inspired food) are launching at nearly the exact same time, within a block of each other. Ginger Street’s window, and Ryan Lowder’s latest idea: a walk-up window named @hotbunsnfun on the side of Copper Common, where you can get noodle dishes as well as various steamed buns.
We ordered a starter of pork dumplings, perfectly cooked and filled with napa cabbage, garlic chive, and accompanied by a very nice chili soy sauce. The Crispy Fish Cha Ca La Vong was a standout dish: pieces of white fish breaded in their version of a panko coating with a hint of citrus, laid on a bed of cold rice vermicelli, peanuts, scallion, and topped by a hearty helping of dill. The fish was accompanied by the best sauce I’ve had in a while: a pineapple nam prik, laced with bird’s eye chili for a bit of heat. This dish had sweet, sour, warm, cold, crunchy, soft. Chef Tyler Stokes understands textures and contrasts.
The Ginger Noodles dish was perhaps my favorite dish. It’s a simple dish, and screams “humble,” but it was so good in so many ways. Ramen noodles are accompanied with a salty scallion relish as wells as pickled cucumbers and sauteed baby spinach and topped with peanuts. The dish had great balance and the noodles were perfectly cooked. Just an all-around great dish, and a bargain at $13.
At this point in our lunch I was spotted by Ginger Street co-owner Michael McHenry. McHenry, who has formerly worked at Blue Lemon, cofounded Even Stevens sandwiches, and recently took over Oak Wood Fire Kitchen in Draper, has a track record of establishing unique concepts backed by solid operations and excellent service. After speaking with him, you begin to understand how each of his concepts are able to execute his vision so well, and each one so uniquely. He gets it, and is passionate about bringing a new type of culinary experience to Salt Lake. McHenry sent out a few other dishes for us to try. The steamed Snake River Farms pork belly buns were pillowy soft, and the hoisin, pickled cucumbers, and scallions provided a nice counter balance to the rich pork.
The crispy duck rolls were a hit. Tender duck is wrapped up and fried, then wrapped with Thai basil and finally an outer casing of rice paper to provide the perfect contrast of crunchy and soft. Wrapping the basil outside of the cooked portion of the roll allows the basil to really shine through and retain its texture and punch.
The green curry has the right amount of spice (if you’re more brave than I with spice, get the red curry). The sauce features charred eggplant, cauliflower, red bell pepper and basil. Again, a steal at $10. Other items I can’t wait to come back and try include the fried spicy chicken sandwich and the caramelized lemongrass shrimp.
There is an extensive drink menu, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. We had the Naam Manao, a fresh-squeezed Thai limeade that was tart and punchy in all of the right ways. Desserts are provided by Jane Anne, formerly of Vinto, Stanza, and Normal Ice Cream. Ginger Street features a rotating menu of soft serve flavors, and we tried the curry vanilla, which was rich and delicious, and had just the right amount of curry flavor to get the point across but not make you feel weird about eating curry for dessert. An ice cream sandwich with a cocoa almond crust and passionfruit ice cream, as well as a rich “G Bar” with a gingersnap crust, were both top-notch delicious.
I really like Ginger Street. I like that they’re trying something different that what we’re used to. They’re bringing a level of quirkiness and character that the city doesn’t have enough of. But it’s not a gimmick, either. They’re backing this innovation up with a solid menu and excellent execution from the kitchen. I look forward to seeing what they accomplish, and am optimistic that they’ll do very well.