776 N Terminal Dr.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Visited on February 22, 2009
Okay, so including brewpubs in airports might be cheating just a little bit. They’re definitely not brewing beer on premises and the kitchen can likely only reheat premade meals. But damn it, it’s the only chance I have to try some places, so I’m going to count them.
Squatters in the Salt Lake City airport exceeded expectations. Then again, every airport experience to me starts with very low expectations. They had six drafts on tap when I visited – quite the number for an airport brewpub. The burger I ate was pretty tasty too. But the highlight of the visit was the bartender. He was working his ass off making drinks and working the cash register. That mad deserved a raise.
Is it true that your expectations have a high impact on your final impressions? If so, it could help explain why I liked a brewpub in an airport so much. After having visited – and been thoroughly disappointed by – the Rock Bottom in Minneapolis’s airport, I was skeptical coming in. But read on to find out what the Squatters in Salt Lake’s airport is better than most of the brewpubs I’ve visited.
It’s an airport. There isn’t much room. Squatters makes good use of what they have, however, and were completely jammed packed when I visited. The restaurant is a giant U, or more like a [ if you want to get technical. Tables fill the ends of the bracket, a long bar fills the straightaway with small two-tops filling the back wall of said straightaway. Several plasma screen televisions can be seen from any seat. It’s dim, lively, and decked out with Squatters posters and awards. Actually, if you sit where you can’t see the airport or the airplanes out the window, you can easily forget you’re in an airport.
All of their food is prepped at their location downtown and assembled at the airport. So of course it’s not quite as good quality as an actual restaurant. But they do fairly well for what they have to work with. I ordered a burger topped with mushrooms and onions sautéed in garlic and bourbon and topped with cheddar. The onions weren’t sautéed long enough to brown, and I didn’t get any bourbon flavor. The burger patties were ala McDonalds, though they could have still come from fresh beef more recently than a Mickey D’s. The bun is made by Squatters with spent grain, and is absolutely fantastic. Overall, the burger was much better than fast food, but not anywhere close to a properly grilled piece of beef. They had no fries; chips and salsa came with the dish. However, the cheesecake they make downtown and ship to the airport is absolutely fantastic. It fit my cheesecake preferences perfectly; light and fluffy, sweet, rich, and slightly lemony in a graham cracker crust. Very, very well done.
They offered seven beers on tap and one bottled (their IPA) along with two brews from their sister pub, Wastach. Maybe I ordered the wrong beers from my trip downtown a year ago (there were at least 12 to choose from!) but these seven Squatters beers are absolutely superb. The golden was a perfectly balanced and drinkable beer well suited for newbies. The pilsner had a strong German accent, I could easily have been drinking Beck’s. The Hefe was good too. But my favorites were the Full Suspension Pale Ale, Organic Amber Ale and Captain Bastard’s Oatmeal Stout. The Pale and Stout were simply excellent examples of their styles. The pale was hoppy enough to notice, but not enough to discourage even newbies. The stout was rich and complex with a heavy mouth feel, everything I want from an oatmeal stout. The real surprise was the organic amber, which had a clean, crisp start with a finish reminiscent of a nut brown, though not quite as strong or as thick.
I sat at the bar since the place was full, and watched a bartender named Mike work is magic. I have no idea how this guy got a bartending job in an airport. He should be in downtown New York. The man set a blistering pace, never spilling anything, and getting every single order correct and done in a timely manner while still servicing several of us at the bar. He was a miracle worker. If anybody is starting an upscale bar within 100 miles of Salt Lake City, find out who this guy is and hire him quick.