Few serious eaters need a nudge to head to Midway for good food. But if you do, it’s worth the drive to try Mezzo.
This restaurant and tavern is the latest addition to that small town’s lively culinary scene and to the growing family of restaurants operated by chef-proprietor Mark Wombles.
I am a little leery of Italian or Italian-wannabe food in Central Kentucky, but I have been impressed by Wombles’ creative and well-executed menus at Heirloom, just down the street from Mezzo, and Distilled in Lexington. So I was willing to give Mezzo a try. After a lunch on the patio and dinner in the café, I am satisfied that Mezzo lives up to the standards of its sister restaurants. Lower-key and lower priced than the other two, it delivers good food — I’d call it Italian-influenced Bluegrass cuisine — in a pleasant atmosphere. It has been open only since March, and the service at dinner seemed a little slow-footed, but at lunch everything was smooth and timely.
Mezzo has a wood-fired oven to cook its pizzas, and it shows. At dinner, we tried the Midway margherita ($7.95) which is as good a pizza as I’ve had in this area. The tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella and basil were each distinct but extremely well-balanced. The crust tasted like real bread — why is so much pizza crust like a cross between crackers and cardboard? — but was thin and crusty. We also tried the fig and prosciutto jpizza ($11.95), which is richer, with fig marmalade, riccotta and provolone cheeses, and prosciutto dressed with rosemary, cippolini onions, arugula and olive oil. We all liked this pizza but found it maybe a little too rich and a little too sweet in the context of the dinner we ordered. I think it might be perfectly offset by the excellent arugula salad ($5.95 small; $9.25 entree) dressed with lemon, olive oil and Parmesan. Alas, I had them at different meals and will have to wait for a return trip to try that combination.
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At dinner we tried the mixed salad (same prices as the arugula) that includes cucumber, pickled peppers, cippolini and the tasty Nueske bacon. This is the thing I love about Mezzo: The peppers don’t come out of a can or a jar; they are pickled in-house, meaning they were crisp and slightly acidic but not knock-out vinegary like what you often get. The lettuce, like the arugula in the other salad, is certainly local and fresh as advertised. I grow the stuff, and I know the difference.
The only appetizer I tried was the excellent fried calamari ($7.95), which also is served with those delightful peppers, and two dipping sauces. The calamari were great, but shared among three, it wasn’t a very large serving.
At lunch, my companion and I tried the Mezzo burger ($9.95), described as a mixture of sirloin and short rib meat. It comes on a brioche bun topped with a red onion marmalade, a delightful concoction that complimented the burger beautifully, arugula and provolone. The kitchen cooked it medium as ordered, but the meat was certainly good enough to merit ordering it rare. This is the kind of burger you remember from those long lost days of yore: tasty beef, juicy, thick and satisfying.
We also shared the muffuletta ($11), Mezzo’s version of the New Orleans classic combination of cured meats, cheeses and olive salad. Mezzo has more pickled vegetables than olives in its salad, which was a nice departure. The menu says the ciabatta that it is served on is toasted, but it tasted like that toasting might have happened on a well-oiled grill. Both the burger and the muffuletta were served with excellent, crispy, curly fries, and it might be that I just felt a little fried-out by the time I got to the muffuletta bread.
We tried two desserts, each $5.95. The cannoli was good but not the ricotta-stuffed wonder of my experience in authentically Italian bakeries. The strawberry shortcake, however, is a wonder. It features a shortcake, clearly made in-house, that benefits from the taste and texture of cornmeal, encasing fresh berries, enhanced with balsamic vinegar and topped with real, wonderful whipped cream. Mezzo promises a fresh and seasonal menu, so I doubt the strawberry shortcake will be with us much longer. Don’t wait until strawberry season 2017 to try it.
Jacalyn Carfagno: 859-231-1652.
Mezzo Italian Café and Provisions
Where: 131 E. Main St., Midway
Hours: Tavern: 4 p.m. ‘until they roll up the streets’ Mon.-Sat. Café: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Notes: All major credit cards, handicap accessible, vegetarian options.