Get appy with these 12 delicious starters that lend themselves well to sharing
By Aimee L. Cook, Amanda Rock, Jen Hill & Jerre Wroble
Appetizers can be a portal to another time/space dimension. They’re the first kiss, the gold-embossed invitation to a royal ball. Not enough to fill you up but sufficient to put you in the mood, appetizers use intense, concentrated flavors to wake up the palate and arouse the senses.
It’s a great pleasure to share appetizers—also called starters, small plates, bar bites, finger foods, (Spanish) tapas, (Mediterranean) mezza, (Italian) antipasto, (French) hors d’oeuvres, canapes, amuse-bouche, (Chinese) dim sum and (Japanese) sushi. Is there a culture that doesn’t offer a taste of food to stimulate the appetite? This is where the English word appetizer comes from, meaning “something to whet the appetite” or “something to appetize.”
So vital are appetizers to the success of a meal that it’s mystifying to think back on appetizer trays of yesteryear: celery boats slathered with pimiento cheese; cold crunchy crudités with a side of ranch dip; black olives, bread & butter pickles and pepperoncini waiting to be stabbed with a cocktail fork; and Vienna sausages drenched in barbecue sauce.
Thankfully, we’ve all upped our game since the days of the ’50s housewife. Pickled mini-gherkins need not apply (unless they’re rolled in a seasoned goat cheese and wrapped in bacon). Appetizers went on to become heartier and more filling—think pigs in a blanket, nachos, mini quiches, stuffed mushrooms, chicken wings and shrimp cocktails. And nowadays, small plates at many eateries are a draw unto themselves, with patrons eagerly anticipating the day’s artisan ingredients and distinct flavors—such as beet latkes or kimchi pancakes with shrimp.
We’ve asked the Devour crew to identify their favorite appetizers, and the Devour Dozen is the result. It is by no means a complete or supreme list, but rather a tasty grouping of small bites to try and share if you haven’t already enjoyed them. If your own favorites aren’t mentioned here, add them on our social media pages or at DevourUtah.com.
Sushi Nachos $14 pictured above
Yes, they really are a thing! Created somewhat by accident, chef Rene Negron needed a use for some left over spicy tuna. These hand-held delights consist of crispy fried wontons, topped with spicy tuna and crab salad that has been tossed in a Sriracha aioli, allowing for a slight kick. Finished with eel sauce, cilantro, green onion and bits of crunchy tempura, you get the best of two worlds in these unique nachos. Unfortunately, they are not available on Sundays so be sure to get them during the other six days of the week. (Aimee L. Cook)
The Cliff Dining Pub
12234 Draper Gate Drive, Draper
Fried Green Tomatoes $9
If you’ve never tasted a fried green tomato, make a note to give these a try. The tender slices are dredged in cornmeal and perfectly pan fried. What makes these fried green tomatoes even better is the almond-garlic pesto on which they are plated and the sweet-and-savory topping finishing them off: A generous spread of chipotle aioli is spooned on the tomatoes, then further topped with a chili jam. Each bite has a crunch and a burst of sweet and smoky flavors. (Aimee L. Cook)
501 E. 900 South, SLC
Small Plate Combo
The Mazza Trio 3 for $12
Mix and match any of Mazza’s starter options to create a delicious trio or quartet.
Fried kibbeh is like a small croquette filled with minced beef, bulgur, herbs, spices, walnuts and pine nuts and is fried to achieve a perfect crunch. The filling is rich and full of flavor.
Tabbouleh is chopped parsley, tomatoes, green onions and bulgur finished off with mint, lemon and olive oil. This salad of sorts is light and a great starter to any entrée.
The spinach fatayer is another filled crust of tastiness complete with spinach, onions, garlic, herbs and all those wonderful spices that make your taste buds very happy. (Aimee L. Cook)
Take your standard pasta dough, fill it with seared mashed potatoes mixed with some horseradish, pan sear them to a golden brown and you have a traditional pierogi. But chef Troy Thomas didn’t stop there, he created a creamy mustard and kale sauce to accompany these light but satisfying dumplings. In addition to the more traditional versions, Thomas has crafted a pierogi of pulled pork and cabbage. These are finished off with a cider-honey reduction and mustard vinaigrette, a melange of flavors that go delightfully well together. Try them both, as they are pleasantly different. (Aimee L. Cook)
1513 S. 1500 East, SLC
Baked Mushrooms $9
It’s one of those appetizers you order for the table, but after the first bite, you want them all for yourself. Juicy, plump mushrooms are stuffed with a mellow cashew cheese, then baked to perfection. I love the way the crisp outside gives way to warm, creamy cheese. A generous drizzle of rich pesto and red pepper coulis decorates the plate, adding a dimension of bright flavor. Six mushrooms come in an order, and they’re pretty big, so even though you have to share (boo!), you’ll still get a generous serving (yay!). (Amanda Rock)
Zest Kitchen & Bar
275 S. 200 West, SLC
“Gary” Vegan Cheese Tasting $12
The name “Gary” is an inside joke among vegans, based on a viral rant where a woman demands non-dairy cheeses be named “Gary or something.” Whatever you call them—Zest’s housemade cheeses are delicious. The cashew smoked Gouda has a deep, smoky, savory flavor balanced with a tangy finish. Sunflower cheddar with an espresso rub is visually stunning, and packs a wallop of espresso and zippy flavors. The other two cheeses, a coconut jalapeño Brie and a dollop of creamy cashew cheese are mellow, and pair perfectly with sweet blueberries and housemade berry coulis. Served with gluten-free sweet potato crackers, this cheese plate is a tasty way to start a meal. (Amanda Rock)
Zest Kitchen & Bar
275 S. 200 West, SLC
Three-Dip Sampler $12
An absolute must at Laziz Kitchen is the Three-Dip Sampler. There are five dips to choose from, including their famous hummus and decadent labne. You can’t go wrong with whatever you order, but I’m partial to the pepper tajen (made with tahini, onions, lemon, red pepper and tomato, and topped with pine nuts and crispy fried onions); the muhammara (a slightly sweet combination of red pepper, walnuts and pomegranate molasses) and the savory baba ghannouj (made with smoky eggplant, tahini, lemon and garlic). Served with housemade pita, crisp pita chips or veggies, this sampler is a fantastic way to whet your appetite. (Amanda Rock)
912 S. Jefferson St., SLC
Stuffed Grape Leaves $7
Stuffed grape leaves are a mainstay in Middle Eastern cuisine, and I’ve eaten plenty of them, but these are my favorite. Bundles of rice, mixed with a potent combination of tomatoes, garlic, parsley, lemon and walnuts are neatly swaddled in a grape leaf. These little flavor bombs will definitely wake up your taste buds. The flavor is piquant and addictive; you’ll relish each bite. Made fresh daily, the stuffed grape leaves at Laziz Kitchen are a fine example of a simple dish executed perfectly. (Amanda Rock)
912 S. Jefferson St., SLC
Rarebit Fries $5.99
Originating in 18th-century Britain, “rarebit” sauce or Welsh rabbit is a creamy, melted cheese sauce—minus the hippity-hop. As was the custom, hot rarebit sauce was poured lavishly over toasted bread. Don’t go prim with it. Chef de Cuisine Daniel Moreland serves Proper Burger Co.’s rarebit fries sizzling-hot with his 21st-century recipe, created with a savory, heart-stopping beer-cheese sauce. Diced bacon, red onion and tomato top this generous side, which can feed two modest locals or one with a royal appetite. When combined with a pint of Proper’s home draft, you can call it a feast. (Jen Hill)
Proper Burger Co.
865 S. Main, SLC
Mini Thermal Detonators $7
“You scruffy-looking nerf herder!” Cruise your Millennium Falcon over to Twin Suns Café for these satisfying bites of “nerf.” Mini Thermal Detonators are not Star Wars grenades but in fact very tender, cantina-style meatballs created from the kitchen of young Jedi Master/caterer/chef Daniel Cantu. Blending Italian seasonings and a ratio of two parts beef, two parts lamb and one part pork, this appetizer comes at you like a discblade spiraling in hyperspace. Served with a creamy roasted pepper sauce, sizzling on a galactic bed of fresh spinach, this force is gonna get you. (Jen Hill)
Twin Suns Café
2305 S. Highland Drive, SLC
Shrimp & Hominy $12
Eva’s intimate dining room with tables set close together creates a cozy vibe, perfect for sharing plates and sipping craft cocktails. The shrimp and hominy dish, in particular, is a delightfully complex small-plate offering. You’ll want to savor its spicy broth made with roasted tomatillo butter, thin slices of smoky Spanish chorizo and chewy, tender pillows of white hominy. Perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp are added to the broth, which is topped with tortilla strips and fresh cilantro. Be sure to have some crusty bread on hand to soak up the flavorsome broth. (Jerre Wroble)
317 S. Main, SLC
Charcuterie Board $21
After a day of healthy skiing, climbing or hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon, it is oh-so-tempting to stop in at the Silver Fork Lodge and undo all your commendable calorie-burning with a bodacious breakfast, burger or sandwich. But, in the interests of keeping your carb count down, why not share the savory selections of Silver Fork’s charcuterie board? Packed with Beehive cheeses, seasonal cured meats, fig gastrique, honeycomb and whole olives, it’s an après snack that really hits the spot. Munching on meat and cheese while sitting on a fur-covered chair on the heated patio, you’ll feel like the king of the mountain. (Jerre Wroble)
Silver Fork Lodge
11332 E. Big Cottonwood
Canyon Road, Brighton
Tom Kha $4.95-$12.95
Ever enchanting, Chanon Thai Café perfects tom kha, and I haven’t found another to compare with its delicate nature in the whole of SLC. This exotic coconut soup is influenced with kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass and thin slices of tropical rhizomatous galangal. Mildly sweet and soothing to the palate, the vegetable version has additional broccoli, along with fresh mushrooms, cabbage and green onions (you can choose between tofu, chicken or prawns for your protein)—then is garnished with cilantro. Order a large tureen of tom kha (or tom yum, the Thai hot pot with a spectacular flaming presentation), and share a steaming bowl with everyone at your table (Jen Hill)
Chanon Thai Café
278 E. 900 South, SLC
Rainbow Salad $5.88
Don’t expect to nibble on lettuce when ordering Oh Mai’s gluten-free Vietnamese-style goi salad. The Rainbow Salad’s tangy-sweet flavors of thinly sliced veggies, mango and a sidekick of heat pack a raw and satisfying crunch. Finished with a garlic-chile lime fish vinaigrette or a vegan citrus soy dressing, it becomes a meal on its own, both satisfying and seriously addicting. You won’t be able to stop shoveling it in, while at the same time anticipating how you’ll be craving it for lunch tomorrow, all while deliberately fanning your mouth between each delicious bite. (Jen Hill)