Hugh Crawford pulls off the walk-and-talk better than most Aaron Sorkin characters. Moving briskly through the Village at Meridian's side streets--past dozens of construction workers milling about in hard hats--he maintains commendable focus on his monologue.
"The Village at Meridian is a million-square-foot lifestyle/entertainment, mixed-use project," said Crawford, general manager for the development, located at Eagle Road and Fairview Avenue. "We're not just building a shopping center, we're building a place where the community can come and gather."
As he steps onto the manicured main plaza, the imaginary camera pans out to reveal a massive, dancing water fountain with sculptures hovering on its rim, surrounded by patio seating that spills out in every direction.
"This is what we call Fountain Square; this is our centerpiece," Crawford said with a proud grin. "All of our restaurants interact with that square."
Fountain Square has as much in common with a mall food court as the open-air Village at Meridian does with a typical mall. And nothing supports that claim better than the fountain itself.
"It's the most technologically advanced, dancing, choreographed water fountain in the world," said Crawford. "It's not the largest, but the capabilities of this fountain--it does things that no other fountain in the world can do. ... We have a whole playlist of songs, so every hour-on-the-hour a show kicks off. ...The jets have a capability of shooting 60 feet in the air; we've toned it down to about 35 feet."
In total, there are five sprawling restaurant spaces surrounding the spewing fountain--Kona Grill, Yard House, Twigs Bistro & Martini Bar and Backstage Bistro--with the fifth space still available. There are also two Pavilion buildings that will house permanent locations for local food trucks Calle 75 Street Tacos and RiceWorks Asian Food, along with some other, yet-to-be-announced concepts.
"They're only 250 square feet ... so you have to know how to operate in a small space," said Crawford. "The food truck guys know how to do that."
The Pavilion buildings are tricked out with large windows and long, wooden communal seating tables where diners can wolf something down or linger with their laptops.
The small, open space appealed to Calle 75 co-owner Mike Weems, who was seeking a more stationary kitchen.
"We didn't really want to open up a full-blown restaurant, but what we're doing out there is one of their Pavilion buildings, so it's actually a counter-service deal and it's in a really modern, new glass building," said Weems. "What it'll allow us to do is basically be open seven days a week, sell and prep, and service our mobile deal so we can still do all of our events."
But the adjacent chain restaurants dwarf these tiny Pavilion spaces. Kona Grill is about 28 times larger than Calle 75--or a little less than 7,000 square feet--with a glistening open kitchen, a modern bar with wood accents and pocket doors that open up onto an indoor/outdoor patio with heaters and a mister system.
"It'll be the first and only in Idaho probably for us," said Marci Rude, VP of real estate and development at Arizona-based Kona Grill, which boasts 23 restaurants in 16 states. The Meridian location will be the chain's 24th.
Kona Grill serves an extensive sushi menu, along with flatbreads, salads and an array of Asian fusion entrees, like Big Island Meatloaf with shoyu cream and Miso-Sake Sea Bass with pan-Asian ratatouille.
"We fly in our fish fresh daily from Hawaii, Alaska. ... We're still one of the few restaurant concepts that does everything by scratch," said Rude. "So we make all of our dressings, all of our sauces, our pickles, our desserts, everything is homemade back in our kitchen."
Across the way, another expanding chain, Yard House, has also unveiled its first Idaho outpost. Though its original location in Long Beach, Calif., serves 250 beers on tap, the 7,800-square-foot Meridian pub offers 140--from big name domestics to rotating micros.
Yard House's kegs are housed in two giant walk-in coolers. The beers flow through hundreds of lines that zoom up across the ceiling and into two tap islands. Each time a keg blows, the line is hooked into the wall, where it's flushed with fresh water until it runs clean. This keeps air from getting in the line, which reduces foam by almost three-quarters.
As well as serving brews in a variety of sizes--from 9-ounce "shorty" pours to 36-ounce "half yard" glasses--Yard House also features a full bar and a variety of American fusion menu items, like shiitake garlic noodles, pear and gorgonzola flatbread, grilled Korean beef short rib street tacos and Mediterranean seared scallops.
While Kona Grill and Yard House are the only two restaurants currently up-and-running in Fountain Square--with Big Al's, Which Which, Chipotle, Noodles and Co. and Chick-fil-A operating in other parts of the massive complex--Twigs Bistro & Martini Bar, Backstage Bistro, La Creme Frozen Yogurt, Calle 75 and RiceWorks are slated to open over the holidays.
Twigs, a small, Spokane, Wash.-based chain, will crank out more American fusion fare--like butternut squash flatbread, Cuban dip sandwiches and pork osso bucco--along with 36 signature, sugary martinis.
Backstage Bistro, located inside the Village Cinema, will lean more toward Fin de Siecle than Sex and the City. The second-story, global fusion eatery and wine bar is decked out with Art Nouveau flourishes, a blown-glass chandelier and a screen that loops classic movies. Diners can sit on the restaurant's romantic patio or order food and drinks while watching new releases inside the Cinema's Dolby Atmos-equipped theaters.
"Eleven of the theaters have a second-level balcony, which is an extension of the restaurant and bar so you can go into the theater and order dinner and a glass of wine in the balcony seating," Crawford said. "They have servers up there ... and they have runners that will bring the food in."
And if these dining concepts somehow don't seem massive enough, Toby Keith's 17,000-square-foot I Love This Bar & Grill will open in early 2014, along with The Counter Custom Built Burgers. Add in around 20 retail stores, a 37,000-square-foot Axiom Fitness Center, 150,000 square feet of office space, a stage for summer concerts and a playground with a swath of grass that converts into an ice-skating rink, and the Village at Meridian starts to live up to its name.
"This is not, 'Come and shop,'" said Crawford. "This is, 'Come and hang out.'"