- John Taylor
If you've visited the Central Ninth neighborhood recently, you've no doubt seen a whole lot of changes. This downtown enclave has become prime real estate for residential and commercial properties, and we're seeing it develop into a quirky, rough-around-the-edges sister to its eclectic east-side counterpart at 9th and 9th. The nucleus of all this development is on the corner of 200 West and 900 South (Harvey Milk Boulevard), and Meditrina (165 W. 900 South, 801-485-2055, meditrinaslc.com) is one of the hub's major players.
Meditrina's evolution involved changes—some positive, others not so much. "Food is something I've always loved wholeheartedly," chef and owner Jen Gilroy, pictured above, says during the quick interview permitted by the challenges of running two restaurants (she also operates Porch in South Jordan's Daybreak district). "It wasn't until moving to Nashville to attend Belmont University for music business that my eyes were opened to all that food could be."
Gilroy's enthusiasm for exploring the different flavors, textures and presentation is on prominent display at Meditrina. Since its menu consists of small plates and snacks, there's really no excuse to hold back. My most recent visit was steeped in lovely acidic notes of citrus and mustard seed and concluded with a boozy ode to Oreo cookies. I loved every minute of it.
The green papaya salad ($4), for example, tosses shreds of young, unripe papaya in thai chile sauce, creating a cool and refreshing dish that still packs enough heat to prick at the back of your throat. The London broil bruschetta ($14) is a polite name for what is essentially a gigantic, open-faced roast beef sandwich. Thin slices of roast beef are piled high on a slice of house-baked bread that has been generously doused with herbed cream cheese. The dish would be a success with just these three ingredients, but the mustard seed marinade puts the whole thing over the top. The drunken Oreos ($6) is the kind of dish that the kid in you will enjoy alongside your adult appreciation for a good wine and port reduction. The dessert consists of an Oreo stack topped with locally-made vanilla bean ice cream and drizzled with that beautifully rich reduction.
But perhaps it's the restaurant's flair for subverting our culinary expectations with dishes like the citrusy pan-seared basil gnocchi ($12) that has made Meditrina such an important dinner destination for those in the Central Ninth.
Its journey from its previous location near Smith's Ballpark on 1300 South was a difficult one—one that Gilroy undertook voluntarily as an opportunity to find a better location—and the move has continued to present its share of obstacles. "The struggle with Central Ninth is that the neighborhood has been slower to develop than originally anticipated," Gilroy says. "I'm still excited about the prospect ... but I'm hoping I can hold on to benefit from it." Despite a few setbacks, Gilroy remains positive for the direction the district is heading. "It's very exciting. Central Ninth is a touch gritty, and I mean that in a great way. It adds its own culture to the downtown scene," she boasts.
The burgeoning area has long been a bastion for LGBTQ members of the business community like Gilroy, and Moudi Sbeity and Derek Kitchen, the couple behind the neighboring "pop and pop" Laziz Kitchen. The sentiment is even more palpable now, in the run-up to Pride. "I love Pride," Gilroy says. "My favorite part is the overall camaraderie and connection that hovers over the entire city."
It's hard to talk about food and the upcoming Pride Festival without thinking about how a person's attitude or opinion toward an unfamiliar dish tends to echo an opinion about diversity in general. Eating something outside of our comfort zones has the power to change our perspective on new ideas and social constructs—we just have to let it. "Diversity is diversity," Gilroy says. "If we continue to grow as people to accept new ideas, much the same as we are willing to try new flavors, everyone will benefit."
Taking a cue from the Roman healing goddess from which the restaurant takes its name, Meditrina is a place where food and wine offerings have been carefully selected to soothe all that ails us. It's a welcome combination of casual but polished atmosphere with a menu that gleefully teaches us how good it feels to leave our expectations at the door.