90 Folly Road Blvd.
American/Eclectic — Casual
Lunch, Dinner, Sun. Brunch
The old leather booths at Med Bistro, the ones that were so old your butt sank a good three inches when you sat down, so tattered that the cord leather on the edges was practically nonexistent, are finally gone. So are most of the commercial refrigerator doors that hung askew behind the bar. New lights hang above fresh leather, bisecting the old space and separating the bar from the dining room. It takes but one step inside to realize that Med Bistro is a bright, new reflection of its old self. Look into the back of the space where the semi-open kitchen used to be and you'll see yourself, staring back from a gleaming new mirrored wall. The newest incarnation of the old West Ashley standby that refuses to die is downright swank.
Of course, a solid cash infusion from wealthy backers can enable such a reinvention, but change usually comes with a desire for a return on investment. Higher prices inevitably creep in amid the new digs, and the game is on — a delicate balance between how fast the speed of innovation can attract new customers and how quickly the old crowd will bail when their favorite grub outpaces the rate of inflation. Med Deli is no exception to the rule. Even my regular lunch order — the Kosher Hot Dog ($6.95), slathered with mustard and piled high with slaw and red onions — has moved up a buck (that's a more than 16 percent increase for the non-accountants out there).
I'm also a liverwurst fan — with onions and brown mustard on pumpernickel — and if they ever 86 that puppy, I'm not coming back. Thankfully, you can still enjoy pretty much the same great lunch menu as always, and although the place lacks the quality of ingredients from years ago when it was, in fact, a real deli, fans of the old should not be too disappointed with the offerings.
The new management, like the previous, seems apt to experiment at night. The dinner menu reflects the affluence of the surrounding neighborhoods. Med Bistro clearly aims to reclaim their old Crescent and South Windermere constituents who have turned Avondale into such a happening place over the last few years.
But if you told me a year ago that Med Bistro would be offering filet mignon at $27.95 a plate, I'd have called you a fool. Don't get me wrong, it's a marvelous piece of meat, worthy of the fanciest downtown digs, served up with pretty good brie mashed potatoes — but 27 bucks? That must be some expensive leather on those benches, and while the steak was quality, the asparagus was oh-so-blah in the dead of winter and the "sauce Diane" was unlike any variation I've ever tasted. Commonly prepared with various mixtures of Worcestershire, citrus, and butter, the sauce came out tasting like an odd mixture of Orange Julius and Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil. Scrape it off the meat and I'd order it again, but I'd like it at a third of the price, please.
A better value was the grouper ($21.95). Pan seared and plopped atop a couple of fried green tomatoes and surrounded by a nice corn and crab salad.
The best deals can be found in the starter menu because the portions are large (two could easily make a meal), the stuff is fantastic, and it goes well with that great brew selection that Med Deli has been hawking since before the current high-gravity beer craze.
The two fried lobster tails ($14.95) are to die for, except for its accompanying sauce, which proved downright gross with its thick honey mustard texture and enough hot Srirachi to roast a goat. Luckily, you can eat those lobsters plain and they are simple and delicious.
The portobella fries ($8.95) are my new favorite bar food. They come in thick slices, hot and crispy, with a big dollop of hot blue cheese and a cool whorl of balsamic and olive oil for dipping — a beautiful presentation and a rare victory for the house saucier. But the tastiest dish is the calamari ($8.95), fried but lukewarm, mixed with greens like a postmodern Caesar salad, and thick slices of prosciutto, all dressed with garlic aioli. The greens could have been colder — perhaps hot squid juxtaposed against that chill — but the flavor is right-on.
I'm glad the Med Deli has stable ownership these days. Even the steep prices can be stomached, if for no other reason than because some places shouldn't die — they've got too much sentiment attached to them, too many memories and people and good times. And for the dollars they're charging, the rough spots will be honed smooth. They'll stop putting gloopy sauces all over great pieces of lobster and steak, thousands of rear ends will wear down that shiny new leather, and I'll still be coming by for my liverwurst sandwich with onions and a cold beer.