Moab: Come for the views, stay for the sustenance
Moab, the state’s adventure capital in Southern Utah, normally has about 5,000 residents. But that number explodes to 20,000 visitors on any given weekend during the tourist high season. Only in Moab can you experience two national parks (Arches and Canyonlands) from one convenient location. It’s a magnet for mountain bikers who tackle an extensive network of trails, including the Slickrock Trail, and for off-roaders arriving for the annual Moab Jeep Safari. Moab is also a launch pad for canyoneering, hiking, river rafting and motorcycling.
With some of the country’s most unique scenery in its backyard, Moab is ready to handle the crowds and serve up cuisine that satisfies any adventure-loving palate. Here are four eateries to sample that showcase the diverse options available in this little town that could.
La Sal House
Historic building, modern fare
The La Sal House is a new eatery in a historic adobe building sitting prominently on a busy street corner. Owners Wes and Pennellope Shannon have applied their decade of experience at the Love Muffin Café across the street to treat customers just as they would guests in their own home. The uncluttered, dark wood tables and chairs placed before upholstered benches give it a contemporary feel, as do the handsome walnut bar and terra cotta sconces on white walls.
The couple spent time in New York City to study the latest dining trends, which they’ve brought to Moab. The First Plates section of the menu features Middle Eastern flavors like warm naan with za’atar. The macha chicken wings are served with rich macha sauce (which originated in Veracruz), peanuts, sesame and Gold Creek blue cheese from Kamas. The Sorrel Caesar salad with romaine, Gold Creek parmesan and baharat persaillade has croutons with Arabic baharat spices, which are combined with parsley and salt and added to gluten-free bread to create the persaillade.
Wes says working with local farmers is the most time-consuming part of his job but is committed to using all the produce that arrives at the back door. It’s no problem changing the menu to accommodate their offerings. The Colorado lamb and the Benton’s Burger topped with “Benton’s bacon, onion jam, bourbon pickled jalapenos and ’merican cheese, lettuce and mayo” are the most popular main courses. Prices range from $15 for the veggie Patty to $32 for the Western buffalo ribeye.
Cocktails are classics such as the Last Word, made with Beehive Gin, and 8th Ward, a play on words on the Ward 8 cocktail made with High West Double Rye. The owners prefer to offer a selection of fresh-juice cocktails such as watermelon fresca made with Espolon Blanco tequila, St. Germain, lime, watermelon and cucumber.
The emphasis at La Sal House is on friendly, unrushed and informative service. The helpful, local staff is ready to provide details and direct visitors to better experience Moab.
11 E. 100 North, Moab
High-flying, fast and fun
Since 1996, the ever-popular Moab Brewery has been proud to be Moab’s only microbrewery. Since then, they’ve produced 29 ales, stouts, hefeweizens, lagers and steamers both on tap and in cans and bottles. Their brew names like Dead Horse Amber Ale, Black Raven Oatmeal Stout and Moab Especial reflect local ties.
The massive pub can seat more than 300, serving up the kind of hearty lunch and dinners that riding, running, climbing, biking and hiking enthusiasts need to fuel their next outings.
The décor has a bustling Moab vibe, suggesting high-flying, fast and fun activities. Kayaks, bikes, full-size river rafts, hang gliders and a whacky skydiver dangle from the ceiling. A funky chandelier—half a beer keg with a seven-point elk antler loosely wired to the top—illuminates the bar’s pool table.
A new distillery was added to produce new Class 5 Vodka—named after the most challenging river rapids—and Spot On Gin, made from naturally filtered water from the nearby La Sal Mountains. Moab Brewery has its own in-house package agency for those wishing to purchase a bottle.
On the menu, starters include the popular Brew Pub nachos with optional add-ons of spicy chicken or pork verde. For main courses, choose from pastas, sandwiches, salads, wraps, gyros, burritos and half-pound burgers. The Brewhouse Burger—topped with jack cheese, green chiles, bacon and chipotle-ranch dressing—is a favorite.
Operations manager and co-founder John Borkowski has been there since the beginning. He and business partner Dave Sabey made use of Borkowski’s years of know-how from his microbrewery in McCall, Idaho, and restaurant experience in Park City at a time when there were only 300 microbreweries in the nation.
The décor, he says, just evolved over time as patrons and local business owners contributed to the recreation totems that represent Moab’s reputation as a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Good relations with the Moab community have allowed him to maintain a solid core staff, plus the restaurant stays open year-round to serve locals.
686 S. Main, Moab
Peace Tree Juice Cafe
Conveniently located in the middle of downtown Moab, the café’s patio misters beckon on a hot day. The cool, 800-square-foot restaurant’s adobe walls are painted yellow-amber and plum, giving it a Southwest feel. Track lighting is aimed at a painting of a flamboyant, colorful rooster and sunflowers. Natural light streams through the panes of several windows and doors.
Karen and Doug Whipple are the sole owners of Peach Tree. They live in Monticello and opened another PTJC there 12 years ago. All the made-to-order recipes on the extensive menu are Karen’s. She claims that the natural inconsistencies of ordering from local farmers has proven too much of a challenge, so she gets deliveries from wholesaler Sisco, whose truck rolls through almost every day. With the capacity for 120, the customers are mostly tourists, and she says staffing is never a problem because she can hire the same reliable group of migrant workers on work visas every year.
The takeout counter is clean and tidy with a floor-to-ceiling blackboard that lists the quality coffees, teas, smoothies, juices and shakes PTJC has been known for 20 years. The pesto chicken sandwich and apple, walnut, goat cheese and cranberry salad are favorites. With a liquor license, they also offer full wine and spirits selection. The Sage Garden cocktail—made with gin, fresh garden sage, orange juice and honey—is popular.
The Peace Tree Juice Café has a laid-back, yet professional, ’70s atmosphere. Music like The Moody Blues plays on the not-too-loud sound system, and sayings on the wall like “Believe” and “Laugh often, love lots” are reminiscent of a bygone era. “It feels laid back because we are,” Karen says. “That’s how we like it.”
20 S. Main, Moab
River Grill Restaurant
Posh riverside dining
Take an excursion up the scenic Colorado River Road to the River Grill for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. It’s located in the historic picture-perfect Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa, where stunning landscape of sandstone towers next to a verdant, working ranch provide just the right elements for high-end destination dining (and lodging).
The kitchen garden grows just inside the main entrance and calls attention to the farm-to-table dining experience that awaits. Garden manager Shelley Katz points out lettuces, herbs, red and purple potatoes, eggplant, beets, watermelon and more in the lush garden. Food and beverage director Casey Bulkley speaks enthusiastically about the many farmers, ranchers and local vendors who supply River Grill with veggies, cheeses, meats, honey, fruits, wines, spirits and even the bitters used for cocktails. He explains that, just as with wine, foods grown in a particular region have a pleasing synergy of flavors. Careful deliberation went into the decision whether to put shrimp on the menu, but because it’s poached in local wine it was acceptable.
The special Garden Dinner features in-season foods that are served al fresco, family style, at one big table every two weeks in the summer. Always discovering new ways to prepare quality ingredients, the restaurant acquired rabbits, which chef Josiah Gordon dressed with skills learned in his youth on his family’s Kentucky farm. Some diners were a bit hesitant until French guests began gushing over the dish. The whole table soon partook, and conversation and laughter filled the crisp, night air.
Open 11 months of the year, the core staff is local and reliable (90 percent of the employees live on the premises). Resort guests are mostly individuals and families, but large groups can easily be accommodated (the restaurant and riverside patio seat 175). Andy Damman, resort manager, listed numerous ranch activities and off-site tours and adventures that can be arranged for guests, which include guides, if needed, and transportation right from the ranch. Visitors come for the great food, Wild West activities and all the peace and quiet the ranch has to offer.
Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa
Mile 17, Highway 128, Moab