Chef Mike Henry thinks it’s funny. People in other parts of the world go to the market every day to buy fresh food. Restaurants visit the markets and buy from the farmers. Here, it’s “a hoity-toity kind of thing. All of a sudden it’s trendy… ‘Oh, I buy from the farm’”.
Mike believes it’s just the way it should be done. He uses local, sustainable, organic foods and thinks the only reason you wouldn’t with the abundance of farms in Riverside and San Diego counties “you’re lazy… you really shouldn’t be using anything but.”
The restaurant at Callaway, Allie’s at the time, had been closed for about two years when Mike took it over at the end of 2008. The kitchen was ripped out to studs. After rebuilding the kitchen and redoing the patio and entire interior, he opened Meritage at Callaway with a new approach. He wanted to offer tapas and wanted to make sure his food complimented winemaker Craig Larson‘s wines. He wanted guests to enjoy a whole food and wine experience.
As far as using fresh, local ingredients, he says “it’s not anything to brag about, you just do it.” Mike’s food is worth bragging about. It’s flat out delicious. With the warmer weather, the menu has taken on a lighter approach. Gone are most of the gourds and heavier items. Look for more lettuces, vegetables like asparagus, beets and various onions. You’ll also find lots of seafood from Carlsbad Aquafarm. Some of it is almost “beachy” he says, like ceviche, steamed clams and mussels and fried calamari and a selection of fish including seared ahi and yellowtail. He likes to offer things Temecula diners may not be used to seeing here, like frog legs and his take on Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches. Those includes a lamb cheeseburger on their own sesame rolls with fresh, spicy Asian slaw – daikon, jicama, carrots, peanuts, mint and chile. It’s sweet, crunchy, fresh and spicy. He also offers a ham and brie baguette with butter, similar to what you might find at a French bistro or café.
You’ll also find a food and wine parings menu with four items offered daily. You get a small portion paired with a certain wine, one for $11 or two for $20. He thinks it’s a good way to eat lightly while trying a few different things.
Meritage at Callaway is also vegetarian and vegan friendly. In addition to existing menu items, they’ll be happy to prepare a meal for you. They always have pasta choices, some kind of potato, polenta and risotto as well as different salads with or without dairy and proteins like beans and tofu. Meritage at Callaway is open for lunch until 4pm, ideal for a late bite in wine country. Chef Mike may not think it’s a big deal, but his embrace of local ingredients makes for a tasty dining experience.