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
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