RESTAURANT REVIEW: Med Bistro 

Continuing A West Ashley Tradition

Med Bistro
American/Eclectic – Casual
Entrees: $15-$20
Lunch, Dinner, Sunday Brunch
90 Folly Road
West Ashley
766-0323

The Med Bistro, formerly the Med Deli, has seemingly been around forever. It certainly stretches to the beginnings of my wife's memory, who grew up on James Island long before it was a "town." She tells tales of riding down to the "Deli" to buy quail eggs (fresh from the deli case) and hauling them home to "incubate" under the glare of a 60-watt bulb. They never did hatch.

She introduced me to the Med Deli and it became, over the years, one of those places that you count on for weeknight meals when another wild experiment in your kitchen goes awry and you are left only with a smoking pot of burnt chicken gizzards or some other such disaster. It is at these moments that the Med Deli always came to the top of the list, perhaps because of its convenience, more likely due to its reliable food. It seemed to provide the perfect balance of value, authenticity, diversity, and downright comfort — in both its culinary efforts and surroundings.

I'm not sure how a hollowed-out shopping center space full of worn leather booths and overpriced art hanging from the walls emits such timeless appeal, but I suspect it resides somewhere in the multiculturalism, which has something for everyone. New owners, and a slight name change, signify a tweaked format. But why try? It's been a winning formula throughout the years and has a dedicated lunch and dinner crowd that might go through withdrawals were it to close for good.

So it was with trepidation that we visited this new rendition for lunch and dinner. Despite a nice facelift — brilliant blobs of color smeared directly on the glass front — we remained a bit uneasy about new blood changing up what must the one of the longest-running restaurant ventures in the city. What might change here besides the addition of a bit more art for sale on the walls, an old Gothic window hanging in the back alongside a mishmash of wrought iron, and the downfall of the old deli case?

Our fears were soon assuaged. The menu, the same old ratty plastic insert type, still offered the delicious pita pockets ($6.95). The kosher hot dog, a personal favorite, was still there ($5.95), and one taste of the ubiquitous pasta salad told us all we needed to know — Med Bistro might have gotten a new name, but the kitchen persistently hums with the soul of bygone days.

"Nick's Pocket" still groans with a heavy load of thinly sliced corned beef and juicy slaw, the Russian dressing breaking through at the bottom and rolling down your arms. "T.W.'s Famous Burger" ($7.95) remains a fine effort, cooked to a competent medium hue, heavy on the beef, and served with those buttered onions, mushrooms, and the ooze of melted Swiss cheese. Even the "Liverwurst & Onion" sandwich ($5.95) remains, which I recommend for rainy day lunches, packed between two slices of rye and served with a hot cup of black coffee.

Dinner, which has never been quite as alluring as lunch here, seems less satisfying. Tired ingredients populate the "Antipasti" plate ($9.95). A strange display of raw fennel, including a large proportion of the root's practically inedible core, offset Italian cold cuts of a mediocre nature, a pile of pre-crumbled gorgonzola, and an untraditional focaccia more reminiscent of Irish soda bread than the Italian flatbread. An equally mundane "NY Strip" ($19.95) soaks in a thin puddle of acceptable mashed potatoes, with floppy sautéed portobello mushrooms atop, and a thin moat of mushroom "jus" that really has no intensity of flavor at all — certainly not enough to compete with the steak's rich character. It is a decent dish, but lacks cohesion, and offers a steak that one might as well prepare at home.

The pasta offerings fall a bit flat, too. We had the "Sweet Potato, Walnut, & Gorgonzola Ravioli" ($13.95) recommended by our very capable waitress. The pasta itself, thick and chewy, might as well have come from the freezer case at Costco, and the interior filling, though good, intimated sweetness and an alluring bite of baker's spice that aggressively clashed with the red bell peppers piled atop. The lone winner was the "Crab Cake" appetizer ($9.95), which although available in an entrée format for $18.95, was an ample snack and not bad at all considering the other dinner offerings. While not displaying the chunk of backfin that truly great examples provide, the crab cake was good, satisfying, and reliable in the way that the lunch offerings have become. Paired with one of the great wine values available or the 58 bottled beers on ice, the crab cake is my new choice for a quick Tuesday night bite.

So the Med Bistro goes on, still worth a regular visit for lunch, and aspiring to create a more rounded business model (they have also added a Sunday brunch). It has not so much changed as shifted — an experiment that includes more offerings and a slightly different style of experience. The potential is still there, along with the old successes. If the Med Bistro can improve those areas that are lacking, it could be one of the best things going in all of West Ashley.

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