Allen Pierleoni

First Impressions: Land Park’s new Meet & Eat

The mushroom cheeseburger and skinny fries are menu stars at Meet & Eat.
The mushroom cheeseburger and skinny fries are menu stars at Meet & Eat.

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Nearby residents from Land Park were sore when they learned that a restaurant was opening in the Freeport Boulevard space vacated in 2013 by Crepe Escape.

Rumor had it the place would feature noisy al-fresco dining, or might even be a nightclub. That never happened. Instead, Meet & Eat, a self-described “gastro lounge,” serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a very cool space, none of it yet outdoors. It’s co-owned by husband-wife Rafi Rozbahani and Banafsheh “Viola” Nabizadeh, who also own the nearby Cafe Dantorels.

We’d heard Meet & Eat had been slammed since the opening bell, and it was packed at lunchtime last week. Presumably, many of the same locals who opposed it are among the crowd so eager to dine there.

Menu: Lumberjacks need not apply for the surprisingly lean (seven items) breakfast menu. The most substantial plate is a trio of breakfast tacos with three eggs, cheese, bacon and smoked salmon.

Note the menu boasts, “Serving local farm-to-fork brown eggs.” Science says there is no significant nutritional difference between white and brown eggs, and egg color is determined by the breed of the bird. Somehow, though, brown eggs give the impression of being fresher and more “farm-y,” and supermarkets charge more for them. We’ve even eaten eggs with green shells, but there was no connection to Dr. Seuss.

The lunch-dinner menu shows more action than breakfast, with 13 burgers (including lamb, salmon, chicken and turkey), five tacos, seven salads, five “signature” sandwiches (pork belly, grilled steak) and good-looking sides (garlic-Parmesan fries, a trio of sliders). We were taken aback by the description of the $11 (!) “Niman Ranch hot dog,” which replaces mustard with mayo and adds melted cheese. That’s just wrong.

Price point: Breakfast is $8-$14, lunch-dinner is $5-$17. That seems pricey, but quality and portion generally offset the dollar signs.

Ambiance: Attractive and well-designed, with beautiful wood throughout. Also, a sense of humor: Check out the “Burger Facts” list on one wall (the hamburger was called the Liberty sandwich during World War II) and the alliterative explanation of its operation on another (“Bread, Burgers, Bubbles, Brew, Belly, Butter, Bacon & Beyond”).

The place to be is on the 12-table enclosed patio, which in daytime is natural light-filled. One wall is a row of commercial garagelike roll-up doors that should come in handy this summer (but what about the flies?)

Drinks: Craft brews from 24 taps join mimosas, red and white wines, coffee drinks, teas, and milkshakes with Gunther’s ice cream.

Service: Friendly, informative and very together, unlike the chaos that ruled the first week.

First impressions: As our table got more and more crowded with heaped plates that arrived pretty much simultaneously, one passing server took a look and remarked, “You’re my heroes!”

The meaty mushroom-cheeseburger was a two-handed treat, served with excellent crisp and skinny fries. “I want to taste good-quality meat on my burger, and this one delivers,” said a lunch pal. Competing with that four-star sandwich was a trio of messy marinated-shrimp tacos. The tortillas, with satisfying corn flavor, were topped with perfectly ripe avocado, mixed greens, diced onion-tomato, cilantro dressing and, for once, a whole bunch of really tasty shrimp. The side of fiery salsa added the right bite.

Another star was the lush and gorgeous roasted red beet salad with crumbles of goat cheese and some of the most beautiful mixed greens we’ve seen (and in December, no less). Topping it were sliced roasted almonds and an intriguing orange-honey-balsamic vinegar dressing.

Under the “not so much” category was a much-anticipated veggie sandwich, served on way-too-thick and spongy focaccia bread. The bitter and stringy centerpiece, “grilled garlic- and herb-marinated eggplant,” turned to mush and got lost among the other ingredients.

Though a bowl of vibrant-green, al-dente “garlic and chile sauteed broccoli” was ready for a close-up, the garlic and chili flavors barely showed up. More of each, please.

Try it if: You relish the vitality and see-and-be-seen vibe that accompany a restaurant’s opening and don’t mind paying a bit more for a meal if the goods are delivered.

Forget it if: You don’t like crowds or noisy table conversations, and you’re watching your dining-out budget.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

Meet & Eat

Where: 3445 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento

Hours: Lunch and dinner are served daily 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Breakfast is served 7-11 a.m. Mondays-Fridays, and 7 a.m.-3 p.m. weekends.

Information: (916) 476-3082