Keltie’s, Zest revise the midday meal
When a restaurant caters baby showers and offers etiquette training for kids, you wonder if it’s a little fussy for a weekday meal. But Keltie’s, tucked into a corner storefront in Westfield, came with such enthusiastic recommendations from informed foodies it seemed it couldn’t disappoint. Trouble was, it’s only open for lunch. How could I convince a friend to sacrifice a chunk of the afternoon to drive up to 176th Street for salad and quiche?
As it turns out, Keltie Sullivan Domina, Keltie’s Portland, Ore.-trained chef/owner whose first job was scooping ice cream in native Delphi, Ind., is too sensible a restaurateur to appeal merely to the white gloves set. Sure, buttery yellow walls, creamy table linens and turn-of-the-century touches make Keltie’s more demure than your typical Northside takeout. But crab cake salads, Reubens and barbecued pork sandwiches appeal to the heartiest of appetites, not just the daintiest. Good thing, since the friend I found, who had the day off, wasn’t going to stand for a steamed vegetable plate.
Domina has also employed a friendly, efficient staff to serve customers’ needs. Stuck in construction on State Road 32, we got expert directions, via cellphone, to get us where we needed to go. Inside the café, our waitress’ helpful suggestions steered us toward the café’s best dishes. Definitely a signature item is the chicken strudel beggars purse ($11.75). A nicely browned puff pastry package came stuffed with creamy chicken salad with plenty of melted cheeses, including tangy bleu. A cranberry compote and sweet mustard sauce added great flavor without being too heavy, though the plate was somewhat over-garnished with berries, “gathered” greens and superfluous toast points. Fortunately, we could work around those extras to a delicious dish.
The “cup and a half” ($8.75) offered both the day’s soup — a nicely spiced chicken tortilla soup with plenty of tomato, rice and beans — as well as a half of a hefty turkey club with pepper bacon and chipotle mayo. Cool dill potato salad was a nice alternative to potato wedges without swimming in dressing. Even my condiment-shy friend downed a few forkfuls. Among desserts, only the bread pudding ($4) is house-made, but it’s a comfortingly sweet concoction with a light caramel sauce. A lemon tart ($4) is lusciously creamy with a tangy layer of lemon curd and a buttery crust. A surf and turf dinner planned for Saturday, July 15 hints that Keltie’s may soon be open at night. For now, it’s more than worth the drive — maybe the day off — to remind yourself how zesty lunch can be.
Strolling off the Monon for some post-workout refreshment at Zest, you’ll definitely be underdressed in your workout gear. After an extensive gutting, this one-time antique shop on East 54th Street is no fly-by-night lunch counter but a spiffy catering outfit that just happens to serve some very tasty brunch dishes. The brainchild of mother-daughter team Carol and Valerie Vanderpool, this unique eatery was a decade in the making for Valerie, a longtime professional caterer, who dreamed of a place where she could introduce locals to her flavorful cuisine. If the first few weeks are any indication, her food shop has paid off: Catering business is booming.
Brunch business is brisk, too, and despite our attire, we enjoyed a rejuvenating snack in colorful environs tempered with cut flowers and jazz. After figuring out which counter to order from — one for cold salads, one for hot eats — and the somewhat do-it-yourself service — you get your own cutlery, water, etc. — we could finally enjoy some eclectic creations. A salad trio offered a mélange of beans with briny olives and roasted peppers; a somewhat mild chicken salad with bleu cheese; and a crunchy, piquant chipotle slaw with carrots and bright flecks of cilantro. Bread or some greens might have tied this together better, but the cool salads offered a perfect antidote to the sweltering trails.
Comfort food came in the form of a meatloaf sandwich ($8.35) served panini-style with white cheddar and tomato marmalade on sourdough. While the meatloaf wasn’t overly seasoned, a side of extremely cheesy mac and cheese topped with thick-cut, homemade potato chips definitely woke the palate. An orchid-crowned chocolate banana cupcake was prettier than luscious, but a delicious dark chocolate brownie finally spoiled our workout.
Returning in less sweaty togs, we tried the grilled eggplant sandwich ($7.75), a vegetarian delight with smoked gouda and a slightly spicy tomato conserve. Baja tacos ($8.25) came with crusty cornmeal-battered cod, white cheddar and a healthy topping of that chipotle slaw, accompanied by edamame “succotash” — a fusion riff on the Southern staple fortified with avocado and goat cheese. Carol says they’ll soon offer more products by local culinary artisans — breads, jams, etc. — and that they hope more locals will drop in to pick up a whole meal or just a few items for party guests. Whether customers dine in or out, Zest is spreading flavor well beyond the neighborhood.
102 S. Union St.
Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sunday 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Food: 4 stars
Atmosphere: 3.5 stars
Service: 4 stars
Zest! Exciting Food Creations
1134 E. 54th St.
Tuesday-Friday 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sunday 7:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Food: 4 stars
Atmosphere: 3.5 stars
Service: 3.5 stars