Anticipation is a beautiful thing. In that moment between dream and reality, anything and everything is possible.
But sometimes that anticipation is the best part of the experience.
That's the issue with The Meat Locker Delicatessen, just one of the showpieces of the much-touted Ivywild School, which recently reopened after a $4 million renovation. Now the community-oriented space offers a sprawling space for Bristol Brewing Co., a bar called The Principal's Office, a bakery and an art school. Even better, the focus is on local and organic products, and at the Meat Locker, all the meats are made and/or cured in-house.
So all of that handcrafted cookery combined with the backing of Joseph Coleman, the man behind eateries The Blue Star, Nosh and La'au's Taco Shop, promises memorably delicious and innovative eating.
While the space is lovely, ingredients top notch and the people friendly, a limited menu and off-target preparations fail the promise of Ivywild's big thinking.
In keeping with the casual atmosphere there, food orders are taken from a central counter and the food is delivered to your table in a comfortably sprawling room with quirky art and furnishing. You may or may not be told where to track down silverware and napkins. Want a drink? That's another counter all together.
The Mediterranean Salad ($6.95) was great. A pile of fresh greens (they were out of spinach that day) was topped with the best sundried tomatoes I've ever tasted, plus kalamata olives, crumbles of tangy feta cheese and a refreshing oregano vinaigrette. Excellent, but unfortunately missing from the small menu by the time I came back less than two weeks later.
Another hit: the cheese curds ($1.95). I haven't learned where they get these tasty little bits of cheesy goodness, but I can tell you they are fresh. How can you tell? When you bite into a fresh cheese curd, it squeaks against your teeth.
The sandwiches, which are the backbone of the menu, are a seriously mixed lot.
Take the Turkey Spiedie Sandwich ($5.95), which originated in the Binghamton, N.Y., area. Being from New York, I'm rather particular. In the original, the cubed meat (poultry, beef, pork or lamb) is marinated and grilled, then served on a roll. When I saw a sandwich with sliced turkey, I was not hopeful.
While it's not really a spiedie (pronounced speedy), the flavor profile is right and the ingredients are all high quality. The juicy turkey marries well with an Italian compound butter, which brings the proper flavors of lemon, garlic and oregano to the sandwich. This sandwich tastes good, but I bet if they hewed closer to the original, the char from the grill on the chunks of marinated meat would make it even better.
Traditional Bahn Mi sandwiches are an explosion of flavor and texture, including fresh cilantro, crispy fresh vegetables (such as cucumber) with pickled daikon radish and carrot for crunch, fresh chili for heat and a couple of different meats (such as pork pate) to add depth of flavor. The important piece is the bread, which should be a French baguette with a crispy crust.
The Meat Locker version of Bahn Mi ($5.95) doesn't compare well. It's a grilled Thai chicken peanut sausage on a hoagie roll with a drizzle of peanut sauce and a bit of shredded fresh basil. It doesn't sound too bad, but the housemade sausage was dry and tough and the peanut sauce was overly sweet. There was a lack of texture, brightness and freshness. An easy fix would be to add a simple slaw of lightly pickled daikon, carrot or cucumber, flavored with slivered jalapeno and fresh cilantro. Still not authentic, but at least it captures some of the trademark deliciousness you expect.
The Meat Locker offers a vegetarian Italian sausage grinder ($5.95), which is extremely considerate of a place that has "meat" in their name. The wheat-based patty is dull and has an overwhelming flavor of sage, which led me to think of a patty made of leftover Thanksgiving stuffing. I've sampled sausages based on wheat, soy and something called textured vegetable protein. "Wheat meat" is my friend, and I know that there are better options in existence.
On the plus side, the fresh-tasting tomato sauce was bright. The baby mozzarella melted on top was a nice accent, too.
One recent special was a meatball sandwich ($5.95) The roll was 4 inches long (yes, I measured it), and held two meatballs and perhaps two teaspoons of marinara sauce. The meatballs were well seasoned, but were dry and chewy. The sauce was good, a nice contrast and slightly sweet, but there was barely enough of it to taste.
All the sandwiches come ala carte, so this dish did not make a satisfying lunch. You might want to add one of the sides: Laughing Lab chili, Beehive Cheddar Soup and German potato salad (all $2.95) as well as a side salad and the cheese curds (both $1.95).
I can't recommend the Laughing Lab Chili ($2.95) to round out the meal. The day I sampled it, the turkey was very dry and the broth tasted of raw tomato, as though the chili hadn't been allowed to simmer long enough. There was enough heat to be pleasant, but not enough flavor to make this chili stand out.
THE MEAT LOCKER DELICATESSEN
Restaurant Character: Set in the renovated Ivywild School, the Meat Locker Delicatessen's dining area is lovely, ingredients top notch and the people friendly, but a limited menu and off-target preparations make it a hit or miss proposition.
Rating total: 3 out of 5 stars
Food: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Ambiance: 4 out of 5 stars
Service: 3 out of 5 stars
Value for the money: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Address: 1604 S. Cascade Ave. (CQ)
Contact: 368-6113; meatlockerativywild.com (CQ)
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays (CQ)
Entrees: $5.95-$12.95 (CQ)
Credit cards: Yes
Vegetarian options: Yes
What's online as of Sept. 11, 2013:
- 50 percent of 8 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon
- 5 out of 5 stars based on 5 reviews on Yelp
- Active on Facebook; search "The Meat Locker"
- No record of inspection by the El Paso County Health Department found.