Squeezed into a corner strip mall space near Meridian Middle School, Grant's Neighborhood Grill was completely packed on a recent weeknight. Young kids fresh from karate class attacked plates of crisp french fries, while couples grazed on salads and sipped martinis at the small, L-shaped bar. The clamor of conversation swirled around the hammered copper lamps hanging from the ceiling, past the wall lined with reclaimed wood and bounced off the roll-up garage door. From the open kitchen, a steaming plate of mussels and fries ($18) made its way to the bar, where my family waited for a five-top to free up.
Bathed in a rich yellow broth redolent with white wine, Dijon mustard, smoky bacon and ripe cherry tomatoes, the mussels were transportive. A hunk of Acme focaccia dunked in the sauce bloated like a sponge with the warm juice. When a table in the tiny gastropub still wasn't available after 20 minutes, the kitchen sent out another excellent snack: fried green tomatoes encased in a crisp cornmeal batter with a dot of red pepper aioli. Even the accompanying salad was a step up: strips of bitter radicchio mingled with shaved fennel, pickled shallots and grilled red cherry tomatoes.
Grant's is a bit of an anomaly in chain-heavy Meridian, hence the popularity. Instead of offering a giant menu peppered with previously frozen fried fare, Grant's serves a curated selection of simple, hearty plates made fresh. Not only is the spot owned by locals Mike and Rae Grant—who also own Papa Joe's—but chef Aaron Sheets uses local, seasonal products and makes many items in house. Case in point: The duck prosciutto and house-cured jerky from the Cured Board ($15). Though the jerky sported an odd, wet, earthy flavor, the prosciutto had a salty bite and paired nicely with a swipe of mustard. The bountiful board also boasted a wedge of nutty brie, a chunk of mild bleu cheese, a scoop of chevre, an oozing pile of honeycomb and a mound of spiced nuts.
Though Grant's offers a few other interesting apps, like braised pork belly on apple potato puree—the entrees were the most impressive.
Cooked to a pinkish medium, the tender ribeye ($23) came with tangy garlic mashed potatoes, a slab of charred cauliflower and an accompanying ramekin of creamy horseradish with just the slightest zip. Less subtle was the sweet brown sugar sauce pooling under the pork chop ($18). Thankfully, the meat was moist and the cubes of roasted sweet potato and dense slice of mushroom bread pudding were a complementary pairing. The puddle of au jus ladled over the herbed half chicken ($16) was much more pleasing as it soaked into a mound of brown rice pilaf and licked the edges of a pile of charred kale.
The best dish of the evening was the tender, pan-fried salmon ($18), served on perfectly cooked linguini tossed with Brussels sprouts, lardons and a sprinkle of micro greens. Everyone at our table agreed: This is precisely what pub food should be: simple, made with fresh ingredients and lacking pretense.