Corned beef sandwich at Merician Cafe. LEO photo by Ron Jasin.

Tasty new fare at Meridian Cafe, but tricky parking remains

If you think the Balkans are bad for bloody border warfare, just try to find a space in the maze of parking lots behind the busy storefronts of downtown St. Matthews. Warring posters warn of dire consequences if pilgrims bound for Mellow Mushroom, for example, or Plehn’s bakery, dare to park in St. Matthews Station’s parking lot. Or vice versa.

I thought I was facing a “Papers, please!” moment on the way in the other day, when a friendly but stern uniformed Metro cop moonlighting in a private car hailed me and demanded to know where I was going. “M- M- Meridian Cafe,” I mumbled, which got a smile and a thumbs-up of approval. Apparently my destination made his good-guys list.

It’s a good thing, too, as Meridian Cafe has long been a favorite of mine (after overcoming a rocky start years ago). It is one of the most popular St. Matthews-area lunch spots on the sound basis of quality, reasonable prices and an appealing old-house setting. What’s more, Chef Mike Ross does a great job of keeping the old menu favorites around while mixing in enough new dishes to keep things interesting.

They rolled out a half-dozen new dishes last month, along with a strengthened commitment to have all meats locally farmed and, to boot, all “trans” fats out of the menu, so it seemed like a good time to check in.

The bones of the menu are familiar, with a good mix of soups, sandwiches and lunch entrees with appetizing breakfast options served through the day. About 18 lunch choices, subdivided among grilled pita sandwiches, paninis, “heartier fare” and “house specialties,” are all under $10 and come with chips and a pickle; you can add a side dish for $1.50.

More than a dozen breakfast dishes hit the same affordable price range, plus a la carte breakfast items that allow you to assemble your own morning repast featuring an egg cooked to order ($1.95), Garey Farm bacon ($3.25), toast ($1.50) and just about any other breakfast item your hungry heart desires. If you’re in a hurry, grab the “breakfast express menu” with a half-dozen choices — granola, cheese biscuits and sausage gravy, smoked salmon pita and more, all $4.99.

We started with Pop’s Grilled Pita Quesadilla ($5.99), a warm and filling wheat-flour tortilla folded over cheese and fired on the panini grill until it was toasty and molten, then plated with spicy fresh-tomato salsa and mixed lettuces.

We went to the new menu items for our main dishes, choosing a breakfast option, Blanca’s Breakfast Tacos ($8.25), a pair of fresh soft corn tortillas overloaded with light, fluffy scrambled eggs, tender black beans, mixed cheddar and provolone and spicy salsa; and a lunch dish, Richard’s Corned Beef, a layer of made-in-house beef — more like pulled brisket than traditional corned beef — layered with swiss cheese, hot mustard, pickle and tomato on thick-sliced rye.

A cup of thin, steaming roasted tomato soup and a side of tangy roasted tomatoes in a Dijon sauce rounded out a lunch too full to leave room for otherwise tempting desserts.

Other new menu items include fluffy Hall and Oats Cakes made with creamy steel-cut oats topped with seasonal fruit; The James, slow-roasted Garey Farm pork loin on toasted potato roll; the East Coast, Garey Farm pastured turkey with cranberry spread, cheddar and apples; and a collection of smoothies.

Our filling lunch for two came to $28.03, plus a $6 tip. I saw no reason to tip the parking-lot cop.

Meridian Cafe
112 Meridian Ave.
Rating: 86