The food at Baxter's American is a little like the art piece adorning its south wall.

At first, it looks like a homey American quilt hung for display. But it's actually lots of separate squares, made from different materials, each one a little piece of art on its own. It's homey, eclectic, creative and engaging all at the same time, just like the menu at this eatery just down 400 South from EnergySolutions Arena.

The space at Baxter's is also diverse: There's a row of tables backed by a wall of water and fronted with firm little LoveSacs instead of chairs, a section of booths and a section of window tables and, near the bar, a grouping of round tables surrounded by cushy club chairs. Hard to picture how it would all work together unless you've seen, and enjoyed, it.

The food works, too, starting with the basket of onion rings we ordered straight off, from the section of the menu titled, "To Order Before You Order."

Boy, were they delicious. I can't remember ever tasting better onion rings than these, cut thick and covered with batter made from Czech Black Lion beer. The batter was so light it practically floated down my throat, highlighting rather than overwhelming the juicy onions.

We also shared the ceviche and chopped salad. The salad, molded into a colorful column, was a harmonious blend of baby greens, tart apple, cucumber, feta cheese and roasted beets in a honey dijon dressing, topped with a wig of crunchy frizzled carrots. The ceviche was just plain wonderful, a large glass layered with shrimp, scallops, calamari and halibut marinated in lime and yuzu juices with tomato, mango and chiles, plus crunchy deep-fried crackers to scoop it up.

I knew I'd be almost full after the ceviche (my fish-averse husband wasn't interested), so I thought I'd go with a light dinner and chose the "handkerchief" ravioli. But I hadn't reckoned on how nourishing I'd find this dish, a super-thin, almost-hanky-size square of pasta laid on my plate and covered with pureed butternut squash and ricotta, with a second pasta square laid on top. The dish was surrounded by fresh arugula and roasted hazelnuts and drizzled with brown butter. Comforting, creative and full of flavor.

My husband had Baxter's "original CheeseSteak," which despite being made of beef, cheese, onions and bread, is almost completely unlike a Philly cheesesteak. Readers who find this disappointing should wait until they try this enticing dish composed of thick-sliced, beautifully seared hanger steak resting on a bed of caramelized onions, Gouda cheese and bread. It was served with a pile of crispy, thin-cut haystack fries and a simple, delicious salad of micro greens, grape tomatoes and yellow pear tomatoes.

For dessert, my husband had (don't be shocked) the chocolate bonanza, a symphony of chocolatey tastes and textures with its brownie base, filling of silky chocolate mousse and crisp chocolate cracker on top. I had the fruit tart, fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries nestled in hazelnut cream in a firm, slightly sweet crust.

Lunch: three-course express lunch $9.95, soup and salad $3.75-$11.25, lunch entrees $7.50-$17.50. Dinner: appetizers and salads $6.50-$12.75, entrees $12.75-$29.95, sides $4-$6. Brunch: Starters and salad $4.25-$10.25, entrees $6.25-$13.25.


Baxter's American

Rating: *** 1/2

Where: 400 W. South Temple

Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Dinner: Daily 5-10:30 p.m. (brunch Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.)

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Phone: 456-2803

Wheelchair access: Easy

Also: Catering available


E-mail: skratz@desnews.com