Wildwood Restaurant sits nestled amongst historic homes on 3rd Avenue in the city’s Avenues neighborhood, and is located in the former Avenues Bistro location.
“American Comfort Food” is the name of the game here. Their website describes themselves as a “product driven restaurant which features an evolving and continuously changing menu with craft cocktails, beer, and wine.”
It’s no surprise the menu is approachable yet innovative, given that Wildwood is owned by Chef Michael Richey. Richey is a mainstay of the Salt Lake culinary scene, having opened Pago and working previously as the chef at Solitude as well as Grand Targhee Resort. Those familiar with Pago’s culinary approach will feel right at home at Wildwood.
The menu is innovative yet not intimidating. Diners will spot recognizable offerings such as shishitos, salmon pillows, croquettes, chicken wings, fish and chips, and fried chicken. But each of these dishes buck tradition in their own unique (and good) way.
For example, the chicken wings were cooked to a perfect crisp. That much is to be expected from any competent kitchen. But the spicy sambal sauce that the wings were doused in added a unique, spicy tangent that presented wings in an entirely different light and paired with the blue cheese dip made an irresistible combination. I couldn’t stop eating them. I will admit that I wasn’t sure at the time (and I’m still not sure now) if the bright orange oil that covered the plate was a feature or a bug of the dish. But that question certainly didn’t slow me down.
The braised pork dish had some familiar aspects, featuring crispy pork belly and tender short ribs, accompanied by shishitos, some greens, and a deliciously light and tart cara cara orange and pear gastrique. The citrus was a perfect foil for the rich and fatty pork.
The “Desert Mountain Burger” features caramelized onions, Beehive Cheese cheddar, bourbon bacon, and an aioli. The burger was really nice, and pretty much what you’d expect from a restaurant of this caliber. Although I must admit I continue to hold out hope that the fancy burger trend will shift away from these giant, gloppy, unmanageable creations, and shift back to something that I’m able to eat at my leisure without having to wolf it down before either a) the bun disintegrates and it turns into a big, sloppy mess or b) everything slides off the burger because there’s simply too much “stuff” on it. I’m of the opinion that burgers shouldn’t be taller than what I can fit in my mouth. Make Burgers Approachable Again.
Other items such as the mushroom risotto, cast iron bavette, and roasted steelhead trout left me anxious to stop by again to try them out. With their quickly-rotating menu, I hope that I’ll be able to catch them before they’re gone, although I’m sure that when they are replaced, they’ll be replaced with items that are equally delicious.
The layout of the restaurant is, shall we say, unique. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the eclectic architectural designs of Avenues residences and businesses. Our reservation was at 6, and so the dinner service was just getting into full swing, with the main-level dining room completely packed.
The hostess beckoned us to follow her, and indeed we did, past all of the diners, past the galley-style kitchen, being careful to avoid the dish rinsing station, kitchen racks, and other various “back of the house” objects. We made it past the kitchen, to the back of the building, and then down a narrow staircase into what can best be described as a downstairs bar/speakeasy. The speakeasy was plenty dark, and we were the only ones down there. The tables were rounded glass perched atop High West whiskey barrels, so leg-stretching was not an option. The chairs were backless mid-height barstools.
On one hand, it was a cool, unique experience. On the other had, it was somewhat uncomfortable, and lacked the typical conviviality that is usually experienced in a busy, bustling restaurant. I felt like we were sitting at the otherwise empty kids’ table at Aunt Mildred’s house.
But the awkwardness abated after a half hour or so, as other diners found themselves seated in our intimate dining dungeon. It was actually sort of fun as we laughed about the situation and found some humor in all of it.
The separation also made me wonder if the attentiveness of service would suffer as a result of our being cast into outer darkness. But those concerns were unfounded as our server was extremely attentive and did everything he could to make sure we had a special experience at Wildwood.
My advice is as follows: if you want a busy, loud dining experience with a bunch of hub-bub, ask to be seated in the main dining room. If you’re looking for something more intimate and secluded, and are fine sitting on stools and dining on whiskey barrels, then by all means ask for downstairs. It was a fun experience. My suggestion to WildWood would be that if you’re going to seat someone down there, make sure you ask them ahead of time when they make the reservation, if it’s ok. Explain the situation. Don’t put your diners in the uncomfortable situation of either requesting a seating change and disrupting the dining plans for the evening, or just dealing with the surprise of the seating situation.
Either way, no matter what you decide, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the food, or the experience. As an Avenues resident, I’m glad that we have these small neighborhood spots to enjoy, and hope that Wildwood will be around for many years to come.
Wildwood is currently open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner service only, from 5pm to close.
564 E 3rd Ave
Salt Lake City