When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Salut Kitchen Bar Location: 1435 East University Drive, Tempe Open: About a month Eats: American/Mediterranean Price: $11 to $30 per person
The dual advantage of Salut Kitchen Bar in Tempe is that it serves as a spot you can take your parents as well as a hangout you wouldn't mind calling your own.
Courtesy of Cyprus-native Anastasios Tirkas (a.k.a. Taso), Salut, on the corner of a nearly abandoned strip mall on University Drive (between McClintock and Rural), is decidedly understated. The new restaurant and bar offers up an easygoing atmosphere, a thoughtful list of American and Mediterranean-inspired eats, and enough wine and beer options to satisfy your folks as well as your friends.
And absinthe? Yeah, apparently that's still a thing.
Taso, along with chef Jesse Carlson (Merc Bar, The Grind, Chick Rotisserie) created Salut's small yet solid menu of American and Mediterranean-inspired small plates, bruschetta, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. You won't find much in the way of gastronomical one-of-a-kinds here, but that's not the point of Salut's food. What you will get are well-prepared and satisfying dishes, most around the $10 mark, that leave enough room for a libation or two.
You could start with the hummus "nachos" ($7), triangular wedges of crispy pita bread topped with a creamy, thick, and delicately lemony hummus topped with feta, red onion, pomegranate seeds, and drizzles of balsamic. Although gratifying, I would have preferred this dish in its more conventional form -- a bowl of hummus surrounded by pita chips -- rather than too-loaded bites that, because of the balsamic, made hand-washing following their consumption a must.
There's also pleasantly rich wild mushroom ravioli ($9) in a smooth white wine and butter sauce topped with toasted pine nuts and Parmesan that would be perfect as a light, affordable dinner or a shareable snack.
For burger lovers, there is Salut's simple yet satisfying signature creation ($10). Featuring a juicy, well-seasoned ground Angus beef patty (cooked to my temperature specification of medium rare), it gets layered with Romaine, tomato, red onion, melted cheddar, and a tasty roasted garlic aioli between a soft but sturdy bun for a burger that may be basic, but is anything but boring.
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On a "side" note if, like mine, your burger's accompanying Parmesan fries taste as if they need an oil change, opt for a fresh salad instead.
The restaurant's rustic-meets-contemporary space features an outdoor patio with a garage door that leads to a cozy, narrow room of reclaimed wood, metal chairs, leather booths, and a long bar topped with a couple of Art Nouveau fountains for absinthe which, the manager tells me, is popular with Salut's patrons. Thanks to several large windows, natural light floods the room for most of the day.
The service is as easygoing as the restaurant. I'm looking forward to kicking back at Salut again soon.