Cucina Deli has served the Avenues as a durable breakfast and lunch spot for many years indeed, the current owners have more than a decade under their belts. Earlier this year, the business acquired a liquor license, spurring the restaurant to begin serving a new dinner menu.
The newer nighttime menu is chiefly salads and small plates. At first glance, there's little connection between dishes that merrily skip from one continent to the next. A hint to the main theme of the menu appears on the table at the start of every meal: a bowl of smoked and salted almonds. The smoky notes of this complimentary appetizer pop up time and again as the menu shows a fondness for all things spicy, smoky and sweet not without a sense of playfulness, either.
All of these elements come together in the duo of sliders ($7) from the small-plates menu. Two toasted buns are served open-faced, heaped with house-smoked pulled pork and crunchy coleslaw. Each bun is finished with a curiously named koolickle a vibrant, red, Kool-Aid-soaked pickle. It's a little bit silly, a little bit smoky and a whole heap of tasty. Duck and Seeds ($10) continues the quirky zeal of the menu. A whole duck breast is smoked, plated cold in eight segments and served alongside Dijon mustard and nutty sesame seeds. While the duck was salty, the richly smoked meat retained plenty of fatty goodness, and salty or not, I happily finished it all by dunking in the tandem of dips.
Less appetizing was a chicken wings ($6) special. Six wings came coated in a sticky ancho chile and cherry glaze but hit the table lukewarm. So did four baby back ribs ($7) in a peach barbecue sauce during the same meal. I couldn't help but wonder if our dinner selections had suffered from being delivered in one fell swoop. I would have been happier, and I suspect our plates all the better for it, to have items appear one by one as completed by the kitchen.
Nonetheless, there were other hits. Thick polenta fries ($4) were a crunchy golden brown and orange on the exterior, light and creamy on the inside. The side of tamarind-spiked ketchup was a bright change of pace, too. Equally palatable were three lemon ricotta dumplings ($6), bathed in a mildly zesty lemon cream sauce and a respectable trio of crab cakes ($8) perched atop a chipotle aioli. Aside from the near misses of the wings and ribs, the small plates felt like good value. Given the 18 options (not counting nightly specials), there's much festivity to be had mixing, matching and creating your own ad hoc meal.
In addition to the solid core of small plates, there are a number of respectable salads, such as the beet salad ($9), a beautifully presented layering of gold and ruby red beets, topped with fennel, orange and champagne vinaigrette. Rounding out the menu are a small number of entrée-size specials, usually a couple per evening. On one visit our charming server detailed the chef's earlier visit to the farmers market. The trove of fresh vegetables from the journey resulted in the evening specials. We were instantly sold and ordered both a tender, apple cider-brined pork chop ($18) with blueberry chipotle sauce, grilled sweet potato and fresh kohlrabi chip and a more delicate salmon ($17) with grilled fresh greens and artichoke risotto.
The pretty little patio outside the restaurant is especially suited to the new wine and beer offerings. Kick back and choose from 10 wines by the glass (25 by the bottle) or sample one of 24 beers, from draft options to strong bottled ales, that include a Who's Who of local brewers including Uinta, Squatters, Red Rock, Shades of Pale and Epic.
It's not often I caution saving room for dessert, but with Cucina Deli's years of experience, you'd be foolish to not glance at the tantalizing dessert display cases. Ask your server what's good, but any choice is likely to hit the spot. I thoroughly enjoyed a zingy lemon bar ($3.49), a soft and melty sugar cookie ($2) and creamy blueberry cheesecake ($5) all top notch and reasonably priced.
Despite some minor flaws, I found a lot to like about the new dinner service at Cucina Deli. Like a favorite sweater you can't quite throw out, the restaurant has so much charm and character, it's easy to overlook an undercooked vegetable, a salty piece of meat or a slow check. The whole package is so endearingly enjoyable, for regulars and newcomers, I'd happily recommend Cucina Deli's evening experience.
Food • HH
Mood • HHH
Service • HH
Noise • bb
This Avenues stalwart now offers an evening menu peppered with spicy and smoky notes, a dash of fun, and a new wine and beer menu. Try the polenta fries, lemon ricotta dumplings or the duck and seeds appetizer.
Location • 1026 2nd Ave., Salt Lake City; 801-322-3055
Online • cucinadeli.com
Hours • Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 8 am to 5 p.m.
Children's menu • No
Prices • $$
Liquor • Wine and beer
Reservations • No
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • All major