Where once brown fields and green meadows sat, brown- and green-colored retail spaces have proliferated east of the Eagle exit in Meridian. Coffee shops, sandwich shops, nail salons and pubs inhabit these cloned spaces, and with my geographical disability (I'm always getting lost) and the fact that so many of these building clusters look the same, I'm loath to venture into their midst.
A restaurant filled to capacity and a crowd of people waiting in line thwarted our recent planned trip to Rudy's Pub and Grill for dinner one Friday evening. Our hunger-rumbling stomachs forced us to move on and find sustenance elsewhere. It was an inconvenience, but also a good sign: Any place packed to the rafters with people by 6 p.m. on a Friday night clearly has something to offer.
I returned one Sunday afternoon with my sister-in-law, The Teacher. Rudy's interior, which reflects that of the houses crammed into subdivisions sprouting up around it—marble tabletops, beige and forest green paint, tall picture windows, faux Tiffany light fixtures and dark, Mission-style wood furniture—is serviceable but boring.
We drank Tazo tea ($2.55) and Coke ($2.55) and shared a cup of Rudy's homemade mushroom and brie soup ($3.55). Large chunks of chewy, savory mushrooms floated in the thick, salty, creamy base. I considered finishing off the cup and upgrading to a bowl, but stuck with my order of Cobb salad ($10.95) knowing that A), the Cobb would come with bacon and bleu cheese—two food items I adore—and B), the Teacher would offer me at least a bite of her Reuben ($9.95).
The Cobb did come with bacon and bleu cheese—big fat crumbles of both. In a hubcap-sized bowl, green leafy lettuce (I didn't spot so much as a leaf of iceberg) was covered in sliced hard-boiled egg, avocado, carrots, radishes and black olives, chunks of tomato and big strips of grilled chicken. The carrots and radishes were bright and crunchy with none of the telltale brown color or softness that not-fresh veggies carry, and the chicken was moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. I ordered ranch dressing on the side to save on a few calories, but the homemade dressing (all of Rudy's dressings are homemade) was so tantalizing, I poured it over my salad anyway, adding to it what was left of the rest of the Teacher's tangy bleu cheese dressing that accompanied her side salad.
The real kicker of the meal was the Teacher's Reuben. She and I decided long ago that you can tell a lot about a place by its Reuben sandwich. What we learned about Rudy's came by way of a lesson plan made up of seven layers of corned beef, a thick slice of Swiss cheese and a slather of sweet, pimiento-laden sauce between two buttery, toasty pieces of marbled rye. It taught us, a writer and a teacher who should probably know better, that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover. What Rudy's lacked in design originality and desirable location for us, it quickly made up for in quality.
I make few trips into Meridian because of a fear of getting lost in one of the cookie-cutter commercial communities. But for a cup of that mushroom soup and my own Reuben, I'd venture into serviceable-but-boring-big-box-land any time. Plus, I got a GPS for Christmas.
—Amy Atkins won't judge a book by its cover,
but will judge a restaurant by its Reuben.
Not all sports pubs are created equal, even in this valley where you can hit one every few miles in any direction.
Some offer little more than warm snacks and draft beer in a windowless closet, while others strive to be something greater, with substantial menus with gourmet touches. Such is Rudy's Pub and Grill, the Meridian watering hole that attempts to be part family friendly casual dining restaurant and part sports bar.
To a large degree, it pulls it off, offering diners the choice of comfortable booths or tables in one half of the space, or a bar with pool and assorted games in the other, divided simply by a row of high-backed booths.
The menu offers the standard fare of sandwiches, burgers and munchies, but steps it up with entree selections that include locally raised Kobe beef, salmon and roasted chicken.
The results were a little mixed. Some options were pulled off with skill, while others were almost there, leaving diners to wish for that little extra that would have thrown it over the top. If the experience was simply mediocre, diners wouldn't remember much about the meal other than that they ate, but since so many dishes came so close to being really outstanding, they leave thinking about what those dishes were lacking.
For instance, the Philly sandwich ($9.95) was packed with thin-sliced roast beef, peppers, mushrooms and Swiss cheese and accompanied by beef au jus, creating a tasty bun-clad treat. But the accompanying coleslaw had only a ghost of vinegar dressing haunting the pile of shredded cabbage.
The burgers, made from ground chuck, were actually flavorful, but the patties were disappointingly thin for a burger which could have been a nice big, juicy celebration of burgerdom. The State Fair Burger ($8.95) came topped with melted Swiss and sauteed onions on a big, soft bun, but the thin patty was overwhelmed by the other flavors.
On the highly successful side was the Kobe beef sirloin from Snake River Farms ($14.95). With just a dollop of butter on top, the steak was a celebration of why it pays to be an omnivore. It arrived just pink and juicy enough inside that you hardly needed a knife to cut it, without being so rare that you wonder if it might still recover and try to walk off your plate. The steak stood on its own merit without relying on seasoning or a fancy sauce.
One of the lingering issues with the meal could be easily rectified simply by turning up the temperature on the grease fryer. The thick-cut onion ring appetizer ($7.95) looked fantastic, until a closer inspection revealed that each ring seemed to be oozing oil. It was the same with the french fries, which otherwise would have been decent had they not been so saturated. A hotter oil temperature would have left both the onion rings and the fries clean and crispy tidbits to be savored.
A big plus for Rudy's is the selection of more than a dozen draft beers—a prerequisite for any self-respecting sports pub in the Northwest. Rudy's offers a variety of both domestics and microbrews, including some seasonals. Recently they featured Montana's Lang Brewery's Winter Warmer, which any beer aficionado who likes dark beers with a nice, hoppy bite will appreciate.
With massive flatscreen televisions mounted everywhere and a clean, comfortable interior, Rudy's is busy most nights, especially when there's a big game to be shared. Given just a few small tweaks to the way dishes are prepared (hotter oil, thicker burgers ...) it will be a sports pub worth driving a little out of your way for.
—Deanna Darr has no idea who's playing.