Meze 119 is a vegetarian bistro located in St. Petersburg. It was recently named by Creative Loafing as a Best of the Bay in the category of “Best Vegetarian Restaurant Even a Carnivore Could Enjoy.” Despite the buzz, when I arrived at their door after having run four miles on an empty stomach and found that they were still closed even though their sign said they would be open, I almost walked away. But a drink at the coffee shop down the street calmed my shakes just enough to help me wait until the pillows had been fluffed and the chain removed.
To be honest, it wasn’t my idea to go here. When I hear “vegetarian bistro” I immediately think “overpriced, overspiced and overcooked.” But our friends Bob and Elizabeth seemed to really want to try it out, so I kept my comments to myself and had a look at the menu. As soon as I locked eyes with the chicken nuggets (Chikk’n Nug’itz) it was all over. I don’t like most veggie nuggets but for some reason I keep getting excited thinking next time someone will get it right. Meze 119 did. Unfortunately my camera (read J-Fur’s phone) died in the middle of the photo and they were all eaten before I borrowed Bob’s. What I liked about them was that they were thin and crispy despite being made with tofu and gluten (and love according to the server). Most of the time veggie nuggets are very flibbery and thick due to the amount of gluten that is in them. These weren’t. The nuggets came with a bbq sauce and tamarind honey for dipping purposes. I didn’t even bother with the honey which Bob said was too sweet.
J-Fur ordered hummus as an appetizer. It was made with pine nuts among other things (I was too hungry to catch it all). The hummus was very chill. It wasn’t overly spiced or trying to be something it wasn’t. I liked that.
Pine Nut Hummus
For my main course I went with the Flat Iron STaK which was sliced veggie steak, caramelized onions, wild mushrooms, cheese and house made hot sauce on garlic flat bread. While the hummus was great because it wasn’t in your face I was disappointed that this dish didn’t have a little more attitude. The flat bread was excellent, not too crisp not too clean, the steak was done perfect and the other ingredients really played off each other. The problem? The house made hot sauce didn’t even register. I kept waiting for it to hit me upside the taste buds or at least slightly prick them but…nothing. A little hot sauce, I’m imagining Frank’s style, and we’ve got ourselves a beast of a sandwich. Instead it was just a lousy cow:
Flat Iron STaK
J-Fur and Bob both eyed the Cyprus BLT (though Bob eventually went with something different). This bad boy was also on garlic flat bread and included panko encrusted tomatoes, olive tapenade, tempeh bacon, caramelized onions and Syrian Cheese. It was much more in your face than the STaK thanks to the tempeh bacon. I’ve not had much luck with tempeh bacon in my own kitchen so I can appreciate those that do it well. Having never had Syrian Cheese or panko tomatoes I expected something even crazier but they restrained themselves pretty good. They let the bacon be the bad guy. But in sandwich talk bad is the new good and this sandwich was exactly that:
I can’t remember what Bob ordered. Might’ve been the Grilled Vegetable Napoleon. I had no room left to try his though (c’mon I polished off the hummus, nuggets and a full sandwich, that’s about my breaking point). Elizabeth ordered the Stuffed Acorn Squash which I found way too sweet.
Bob’s Mystery Ride
Aside from the food Meze 119 also has a pretty unique bathroom experience (I’ve always contemplated starting a bathroom blog to rate them but never have gotten around to it). While taking care of your business there is a separate speaker system from the one in the restaurant. Here they pump pro-washing your hand songs such as a rendition of the Beatles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” which becomes “I Wanna Wash My Hands.” Probably annoying as hell if you work there but for the non-workers it just made you shake your head in amazement. J-Fur and I actually spent half of the care ride back to the other side of the bay brainstorming other songs that could be transformed (Hootie and the Blowfish for instance).
Overall this is the best all vegetarian place I’ve eaten in a long, long time. I can’t wait to go back and try some of the other dishes (or get the same thing while asking them to double…triple the hot sauce).
A trip to Meze 119 is best served with a side of “A Very Serious Man” by Diehard. It starts slow and calm like a closed restaurant, rises into something controlled, yet aggressive and ends by blowing everything out of the water. Don’t try to sneak out without washing your hands on this one, they’re liable to hunt you down and give you the 3:22. Their first full length, The Times We Didn’t Have Fun, is out now.