Find the The Meadows in Middletown

Photo: Roasted Rack of Lamb paired with Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes at The Meadows in Middletown; photo: Paula Johnson

By Paula Johnson

It’s not often you discover a hidden gem, a real “find,” a place no one else seems to know about. I’m often asked if I know of any—and I can now say that I do. As with most hidden gems, this one is tucked away in an unexpected place: in the backyard of the industrial part of Middletown.

You’ll find a retro-style neon sign with an arrow pointing to The Meadows, a small Tudor-style building with a parking lot on the corner of Yankee Street. How did I discover The Meadows? DCP Publisher Paul Noah happened by and saw the sign, prompting a quick drop in to see what the restaurant was about. He reported it to me, saying, “This place is either going to be a real home run, or the complete opposite.” Paul, PIP (Palate In Progress), and I arranged a dinner to find out.

The Meadows has been a restaurant with that name since 1934, but has been owned and operated by Chef Ken Ledford and partner Emily Profitt for the past three years. Before taking over The Meadows, Ledford gained vast experience from a stint at Dayton’s beloved, erstwhile L’Auberge and one as head chef at a Cincinnati country club. But we went in cold, not knowing anything about Ledford or the restaurant, and with modest expectations.

We found a dining room with an old-time, supper-club, speakeasy kind of feel along with rustic pine wood paneling, private high backed booths, and the original windows still intact. Historic black and white photos of gangsters, and even a few mug shots, line walls of the space, which seats about 70. It’s easy to picture a bunch of nattily dressed, prohibition-era guys hunched together making deals in one of those booths.

Escargot in Middletown?

If the space says old school, so does the menu. PIP, Paul, and I ordered up classic Shrimp Cocktail ($12.95), French Onion Soup ($6), and Escargot Persillade ($10.95). The escargot was done not with the usual herbaceous garlic butter in an individually compartmentalized tray, but casserole-style with toasted bread. Creamy rather than buttery, there was still a little garlicky jolt and nice flavor. PIP, an escargot newbie, gave it a thumbs up, as did I.

PIP loves French onion soup, and we were both really happy to taste the savory rich broth made with both chicken and beef, not over-salted as so many tend to be. (Paul and I later sampled the Clam Chowder and had the same reaction—not too salty with a nicely developed broth.) We asked if the soups were homemade. “He makes everything,” our server responded. “Including the cocktail sauce?” I asked. She affirmed and I concurred that it had to be, after tasting the spicy horseradish-y concoction. So far, we were impressed.

The Meadows’ menu is quite small with about six entrées or so, and only a few sandwiches. We had many questions about the offerings, but were not given any detailed information other than which dishes seemed most popular. We ordered what was advised:  Roasted Rack of Lamb (at $29.50, this was the highest priced menu item) and the Southern Pork Chop ($21.00) for Paul and me, and PIP’s favorite, Fish and Chips ($15). The chop had a bourbon-apple-butter glaze, which I expected to be cloying and awful, sort of what might be served at Applebee’s. I was happily surprised to find the meat was not overcome and the glaze was just that, perfectly paired with slightly salty and sweet fried onion straws. My lamb dish was equally surprising and so very good with the herb-rubbed rack portioned into chops, done perfectly medium rare. A Dijon sauce with herbs and roasted garlic paired well, along with roasted Brussels sprouts and chunky, rich, mashed potatoes.

Nothing tasted institutional; it was obvious that everything had a chef’s touch. From the texture of the wonderful potatoes to the fresh herbs in the sauce to the dusting of caraway seeds on the Brussels sprouts, this place kept surprising me.

We had begun with salads, sampling the Maytag blue cheese dressing, Sweet Parsley, and Caesar. “This is the best Blue cheese dressing I’ve tasted,” Paul said. While I found the Sweet Parsley too sweet for my taste. PIP was pleased with his Caesar, finding it creamy, bright, and garlicky. And as to PIP’s Fish and Chips, the crunchy tempura batter was a perfectly light and crisp coating for the fish and also for another tasty surprise—the chips. Thick, cottage-style potato slices were coated in the batter and fried. We agreed they should be on the menu as an appetizer snack.

The sweet hereafter

After finding out the chef made his own soups, dressings, and sauces—even tartar and cocktail—I had to ask about desserts. Doing pastry is a different animal, requiring a different skill set than that which is used in cooking. Many chefs don’t make desserts; they bring them in. “Oh no—he makes those too!” our server reported. And it was most obvious on my first bite of luscious coconut pie, with crumbly crust and a pool of chocolate sauce as the perfect complement. PIP had the Key Lime Pie, another favorite of his, finding it equally wonderful ($5.50 each).

I will make one small criticism about the raspberry sauce decoration on the plate, which I found extraneous and detracting from the bright tartness of the lime. The Crême Brulée was a showstopper for me, a perfect vanilla custard crowned with a crackle of burnt sugar and an almond tuille cookie ($5.75). This small touch impressed me—the chef made the tuille cookie, something he easily could have ordered.

I listed all the prices earlier in the review, and it’s obvious that The Meadows is well priced, a real value for the money. As we savored the sweet, we asked to chat with the chef, and he obligingly appeared, filling us in about his history and the history of The Meadows.

Sometimes, I am guilty of contempt prior to investigation, and I admit to grumbling about having to go to “some joint in Middletown,” as I had told PIP. I got schooled on that one. But while we were enchanted with the chef’s story and the meal, my hope is that The Meadows will be able to staff the front of the house with a knowledgeable service staff who can do better than inform the guests that a dish is popular. Chef Ledford’s efforts deserve to be more adequately communicated.

The Meadows is a small, nearly two-person operation, it seemed. Hopefully this review will prompt DCP readers to head for Middletown, and hopefully The Meadows will be ready for it!

The Meadows is located at 2102 Yankee Rd. in Middletown. For more information, please call 513.422.2131 or visit Meadows1934.com.

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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