By Noah Austin | Photo by Paul Markow
‘‘Not everyone here wears flannel,” Rica Girardi says with a laugh.
Girardi, a longtime Pinetop-Lakeside resident, wanted to give the town something pointedly different from the steakhouses and Mexican restaurants that are so common in this rustic White Mountains community. In May 2012, she and Rich Crockett opened Salt Restaurant and Wine Bar on the town’s main drag. And on a Wednesday evening, there’s no flannel in sight.
Salt’s ultra-modern atmosphere — soft lighting, exposed ceiling beams and a jazz trio playing in the corner — is unusual in Pinetop-Lakeside, and that’s the whole point. But the décor and the entertainment would feel like window dressing if the food didn’t match that fish-out-of-water vibe.
For that, Girardi turned to executive chef Spencer Gorman-Prow, a Chicago native who worked at restaurants in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Athens, Georgia, before coming to Arizona. Gorman-Prow left Salt in 2013, but his menu remains, and it includes old favorites with unique twists.
The chicken and waffles are a good example. Perfectly fried chicken breast is paired with light, airy herb waffles topped with a spicy honey that provides an unexpected kick. Combined with a beer from one of several Arizona breweries, or with a selection from Salt’s extensive wine list, it’s a can’t-miss guilty pleasure.
But Gorman-Prow left something for steak lovers, too: The Filet, served with a truffle mushroom and faro risotto, has been a huge hit among the locals — some of whom say it’s the best steak they’ve ever had.
The menu has evolved since Salt opened, and the clientele has followed suit. The jazz trio plays every Wednesday and attracts a devoted following of diners who tap their feet along with the beat. And patio seating is popular during the warm summer months, when business really heats up.
So, why the name “Salt”? The answer, predictably, goes back to a desire to break the mold in Pinetop-Lakeside.
“I wish I had some grandiose story,” Girardi says, “but I just wanted something different. Plus, people put salt on everything.”
Salt Restaurant and Wine Bar is located at 476 W. White Mountains Road in Pinetop-Lakeside. For more information, call 928-367-1819 or visit www.saltpinetop.com.