With legacy eateries like Grand Finale and the beloved Friendly Stop, Glendale’s always been a great neighborhood for dining. Now it’s added a new option this fall with Meritage.
Owners Tom and Kriste Fowee, the chef, opened their doors in early August. The grey-clad building is just north of the center of Glendale on the way to Tri-county. It’s an attractive space, with unassuming contemporary decor, Pottery Barn-style lighting and wood floors throughout the dining room.
At first glance, the menu looks unassuming, too. There are lots of standards with a nod towards the steakhouse, but the standards have been given tender loving care so that they pleasantly surprise you.
Meritage is a family restaurant, and the menu pays tribute to the chef's grandmothers with dishes like Oma's potato salad and Ginny’s chili. It’s a versatile menu — you could enjoy an evening in the bar with well-chosen cocktails and appetizers, stay in budget with sandwiches (in the $9-$15 range) or chili or splurge on a celebration. The staff is friendly and low-key enough to treat you well either way.
We were really impressed with the cocktail menu. I tried the seasonal "Thyme for Fall" ($8), with thyme-infused bourbon, Amaretto and apple cider, garnished with a thyme sprig, that made an authentically autumn treat.
But my favorite was my guest’s excellent Citrus Negroni ($8). The Negroni is a classic cocktail that's having a revival. This version, made with Tanqueray, Campari, sweet vermouth and freshly squeezed orange juice, was outstanding. We also liked the Blackberry Soda ($8) that our server, Josh, recommended because it’s lovely to look at: a tall glass with muddled blackberries, vodka and Chambord. Hubby chose the White Out ($8), a sophisticated take on the Dude's beverage of choice, with vanilla vodka, Godiva White Chocolate liqueur and Kahlua.
Ordinarily, you wouldn't expect to be wowed by Bruschetta ($9), but Meritage really took the time to make theirs special.
The thin slices of French baguette were lightly toasted and topped with garlicky Boursin cheese, chopped garden fresh tomatoes and shaved Parmesan. We upped the garlic quotient with delicious aioli that accompanied the Fried Zucchini and Eggplant ($8). The sauce was excellent, and so were the nice, manageable slices of eggplant and squash, battered and fried tempura style. My guests especially liked the homemade cocktail sauce. Portions are big, not overwhelming, but plenty to share.
Menu descriptions are seriously low-key here. You get no sense of the extra effort that went into making the bruschetta noteworthy. Meritage could afford to blow its own horn a little, unless they've deliberately decided to under-promise and over-deliver. We were pleasantly surprised by almost every dish and delighted with the attentive service.
If you order an entrée you can have a half order any of the featured dinner salads for $4. The best one we tried was the Meritage salad — as my guest joked, “It better be good if they named the restaurant after it!” A pretty presentation, the salad’s ubiquitous spring mix was treated to fun additions like crisped pancetta, perfectly ripe pear slices, slivers of brie cheese and candied pecans. The Wedge salad, sometimes a gimmicky throwback, was a sincere homage that dropped the gluey thick dressing it usually sports in favor of a lighter blue cheese vinaigrette and nicely chopped tomatoes, onion and bacon.
The restaurant really is named after Meritage wine, so we ordered a bottle to go with our entrées. On our server’s recommendation, we tried “The Other” from Peirano Estate ($26) a solid light blended red, the least expensive selection on a list that goes into the $200 range. According to Epicurious’ Food Dictionary, a Meritage is by definition a blend of American wines made with traditional Bordeaux grape varieties. Because they're not made with at least 75 percent of a single variety, they can't use the variety name on the label. But to be designated as Meritage, a wine must be the winery's best wine of its type — so you really can’t go too far wrong.
The entrée selections hold their own based on good quality ingredients, not showmanship. The Grilled Chicken Italiano ($17) features a boneless, skinless breast atop pasta, a presentation that usually winds up being over-sauced or alternately dried out to death. Meritage managed to make both the pasta and the chicken flavorful without drowning or dehydrating either one.
Our guests shared a Surf and Turf combo ($35) that was plenty for two. All the steaks can be topped with bearnaise, crab or bleu cheese. The Blue Cheese Crust ($3 upcharge) turned out to be a souffle-like pouf that was more of a garnish than a crust, and didn't add much in terms of texture or flavor to the filet. It was a good quality piece of meat that held its own.
The broiled lobster tail was accented with spices that let the flavor show though. On our server's recommendation, I tried the Pork Chop ($24), a top-notch bone-in chop that was perfectly done, moist and tender, topped with bourbon cream sauce. All of the entrées came with asparagus, and for my second vegetable I tried the vegetable of the day: sliced red cabbage sauteed and served with a port wine reduction, topped with dollops of creamy goat cheese. This was Meritage’s most daring offering. I haven't seen cabbage on a menu in ages, but this preparation was excellent and really showed that an old-fashioned staple can learn new tricks.
We were really much too full to appreciate dessert, but two of the
ones we tried were excellent. They did a good version of vanilla
bean Creme Brulee ($5), which is always one of the dessert offerings. The others change regularly. I liked the Cheesecake/Brownie layered pie ($5) best. Unfortunately, they'd warmed up the Homemade Carrot Cake ($5) — I'm not sure why since it made it seem less like cake and more like carrot porridge.
The coffee ($2) was good, though, and we'd had such a nice evening that I didn't mind leaving it behind.Go: 1140 Congress Ave., Glendale
Hours: 11a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11a.m.-11 p.m. Friday; 4-11 p.m. Saturday; 5-10 p.m. Sunday
Red meat options: Veggie side dishes, two veggie sandwiches, fish and chicken
Accessibility: Ramp entrance