Though it’s only been open several weeks, the ideas behind Meze Wine Café and Market have been years in the making.
Proprietors Kari Kittinger and Jason Edwards have both worn many hats in the local wine industry, including sales.
In that capacity, “we visited a lot of specialty stores and markets, and really enjoyed those places,” said Edwards, whose family’s Armenian heritage instilled a deep appreciation for Mediterranean flavors and ingredients.
Both he and Kittinger have studied and traveled abroad, “and we love seeking out food and wine spots, the local groceries, small places off the beaten path,” she said.
Combining their love of food and wine with their shared entrepreneurial spirit, the couple started dreaming about a place like Meze, “where we could combine food, wine, and the social aspect of people enjoying that together,” said Kittinger. Indeed, the word “meze” is described on their website as “pronounced: meh-zay a small-portion dish that is served to complement and enhance the taste of the drink and to provide the backdrop for a social gathering.”
Their dream came true on Dec. 7, when the market/cafe opened in San Luis Obispo’s Railroad Square.
Sporting exposed red brick, wooden beams and clean, inviting lines, Meze embodies the “urban and rustic” feel that Kittinger and Edwards wanted.
The market area takes up one side of the space, with high tables and chairs along the front wall of picture windows.
In the middle is a bustling open kitchen that lets everyone see the culinary action, most of it done by chef Michael Reyes.
A graduate of the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Reyes has a résumé that includes an internship at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and positions at several upscale restaurants, including local landmarks Café Roma, Cass House and Lido.
At Meze, Reyes composes artful small plates using fresh, seasonal fare and quality ingredients from an enviable pantry — the market itself.
Besides all the tempting cheeses and charcuterie (cured meats), the shelves of Meze hold a wide variety of gourmet products ranging from olive oils to honey to paprika to anchovies, plus several dozen wine labels.
Be aware that Meze is not the place to go if you want fast food or big, heaping plates. It’s a place to relish the atmosphere, whether you’re going there for some quiet time to read a book or to be in the mix of a busy weekend night.
Everything is prepared to order, right down to slicing the meats and cheeses, and “we never want to have actual entrees,” explained Edwards.
In fact, the cafe aspect really derived from the market because “we wanted to cultivate a flavorful community, to introduce people to new products, and the best way to do that is to serve them.”
Among the cafe’s recent standout mezes (which vary from day to day, and even throughout the day) have been peppers stuffed with Spanish salt cod, chicken with a chanterelle mushroom sauce, and a dish of Brussels sprout leaves, bacon, almonds, dried cherries and Manchego cheese.
Other offerings might include sandwiches, salads, soups and “Sweet Stuff” such as a bourbon bread pudding, or you can linger over one of the “Country Boards” — a spread of cheese, charcuterie and accompaniments, all specific to their country of origin, usually France, Spain and Italy.
Though Meze is closely modeled on market/cafes in Europe, San Francisco and the like, Kittinger and Edwards readily admit that “there’s just no other place where we would want to do this business, and there’s so much more we want to do here.”