Civilized, Midwestern style

 

Meridian offers premium fare

Hard-core city lovers may feel conflicted about it, but one of Indianapolis’ most endearing qualities is its uncanny ability to hide from itself. One minute you’re downtown, waiting for the light to change, and before you can think of the name of your representative on the City-County Council, you might find yourself in an environment that looks and feels miles from the urban grind. This is the essence of being civilized, Midwestern style.

Meridian Restaurant & Bar epitomizes this get-away-from-it-all graciousness. Located just south of the canal at 5694 N. Meridian St., on the site of old neighborhood favorite Dodd’s Townhouse, Meridian does everything it can to make you feel as if you’re out in the woods somewhere — that “somewhere” being a place with white tablecloths and a bartender capable of mixing a top shelf cocktail.

The place feels a little like a private club but, in this case, anyone can join so long as they’re willing to pay for premium foodstuffs, high-style preparation and attentive service. Dan Dunville, executive chef and general manager, has done a suave job of creating a classy environment with a menu to match. If the items on offer occasionally teeter on the brink of fussiness often associated with today’s over-striving food fanaticism, they make up for it with consistent freshness and a lively commitment to flavor.

Appetizers on Meridian’s dinner menu range in price from $9.75 to $11.75 and offer a range of intriguing combinations of flavor and texture, including a lobster pot pie ($11.50) with a wonderfully light crust; seared crab cake with fennel slaw, creamed mustard and red chili sauce ($11.75); and tuna poké with wasabi, sesame and cucumber ($11.25). At our server’s suggestion, we had a crack at the chicken fried oysters Rockefeller ($11.25) with a creamed spinach base, served on drizzles of Hollandaise and sweet and sour sauce, topped with a dab of smoked bacon. The oysters were tender and flavorful, if slightly overpowered by the batter. The bacon was a great touch. We also tried the potato gnocchi ($11.50), an original vegetarian option, in this case served with charred oyster mushrooms, roasted tomato, greens, sage and balsamic. Like a lot of the dishes at Meridian, the potato gnocchi borrowed liberally from Asian cuisines and flavors. The first bite was on the salty side — as if someone in the kitchen had gotten happy with a bottle of soy sauce — but that initial hit gave way to a pleasing aftertaste.

A highlight of the meal was the smoked corn puree ($6.50), a really terrific soup blending finely diced sweet red peppers with potato and bacon for a just about perfect winter dish. The house salad ($7.25) also showed a smart awareness of the season, emphasizing bits of apple along with dried cranberries and golden raisins on a handsome bed of fresh mixed greens.

Meridian’s entrees start at $21.25 for free range chicken with a wild mushroom fricassee and rosemary buttermilk biscuit and go up to $33.50 for a 10-ounce grilled filet. Meridian prides itself on the organic quality of its meat and poultry — the beef comes from Fischer Farms. Among our server’s recommendations was the pork tenderloin ($24.25), three skillfully prepared, dry-rubbed medallions on a scattering of sweet potato hash and chorizo, topped with little fright wigs of what tasted like dried seaweed (that Asian touch again). The green frazzle was decorative but a distraction. The pork itself was superb, bright pink at the center fading subtly to the crisp edge, with a wonderfully peppery aftertaste.

We also tried the barramundi, a pan-roasted white fish served with soba noodles, baby bok choy and a bit of Thai lime broth. This combination of elements seemed over-anxious to please — an attempt, perhaps, to compensate for what, at base, was a rather uninspiring fish.

The donuts and coffee ($7.75) is Meridian’s somewhat precious attempt at a signature dessert. The donuts are served in a paper sack that looks more like it came from a jeweler’s than a bakery. They’re light and warm, nicely done, and made for dipping in the accompanying sweet, creamy espresso sauce. The only chocolate for dessert is a warm chocolate bread pudding ($7.25). It’s a nutty-textured dish that’s a little reminiscent of a really good fruitcake. While very dark, the chocolate is almost an undertone, a little subtle, I suspect, for many chocoholics.

Meridian serves wines by the glass and pours generously. It also features a nice selection of international and craft beers on tap and by the bottle. Our server was knowledgeable and helpful. We went early on a Wednesday night and the place was packed, so reservations are recommended, though you can have full service in the bar — a cozy space in its own right.

Meridian

5694 N. Meridian St.

317-466-1111

Hours

Brunch: Sunday: 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Lunch: Monday-Saturday:

11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Dinner:

Monday-Thursday: 5-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday: 5-10:30 p.m.

Food: Four stars

Atmosphere: Five stars

Service: Five stars

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