Thursday, March 14, 2013

Menu at Mikie;s 7th should delight locavores



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Several years ago, a dear, tree-hugging friend described the steak in front of me as "happy steak." Of course, I looked puzzled.

She explained the philosophy of grass-fed and free-range agriculture - a concept still fairly new to mainstream America at that time. "Happy meat" was her definition of meat produced using those all-natural farming methods.

Since then, the local food movement has picked up steam and moved into the far corners of Southwest Virginia, much to the delight of locavores. Mikie's 7th, a restaurant serving organic and grass-fed foods, opened in Newport in 2009. The restaurant is named such because the owner has six kids and considers the restaurant her seventh baby.

My first visit to Mikie's was filled with excitement for local foods from the mountains I love so much. The restaurant serves meat from places such as Riverstone Farm in Floyd County and Leaping Waters Farm in Alleghany Springs.

I was promptly seated in the cozy eatery and noted the quaint decor. Photos adorn the walls of the restaurant, and one can quickly tell the staff has a familylike bond with one another and with customers. Mikie, the founder and owner, chatted cozily with a couple that appeared to be regulars.

The menu includes a variety of dishes. Pizzas range from traditional to the Roman, which combines artichokes, spinach, onions, garlic oil, mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano. The "Burger Workshop" section of the menu offers grass-fed selections such as the Signature Burger topped with sauteed portobello mushrooms, onions and Muenster cheese; the Inferno Burger with lettuce, tomato, onion ring, jalapeno pepper Jack cheese and ghost pepper sauce; and the Western Burger with an over-easy egg, onion ring, bacon, cheddar and barbecue sauce.

Innovative dishes such as a Southwestern egg roll - a mixture of spinach, black beans, corn and green chili wrapped together - round out the menu. Mikie's serves a variety of soft drinks but no alcohol, which I found disappointing. I had looked forward to a glass of red wine with my meal.

I settled on the Bulgogi Burger ($7) because of the unique combination of thinly sliced marinated sirloin, sauteed onions, peppers, Sriracha hot sauce, mayonnaise and spinach. Each item on the menu is a la carte, which may be disappointing to those looking for a pre-set pairing; however, the prices were fair so I ordered some sides. Unfortunately, they were out of the waffle fries, so I settled for shoe-string sweet potato fries ($2) and a side salad ($2) to stave off any guilt over burgers and fries.

The food arrived in fewer than 10 minutes looking fresh but with picnic presentation: paper plates, plastic forks and a to-go-style plastic bowl for my side salad. But the food quality and taste far exceeded the meager presentation. The Bulgogi Burger burst with flavor and needed no extra condiments. The beef melted in my mouth with a distinct tenderness. The salad was fresh and colorful but depressingly small. In all fairness, it was a mere $2, so I shouldn't have been deflated by the size. The sweet potato fries were incredible with a perfect texture - crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Once again, because of their robust flavor, I opted against any sauce.

My second visit to Mikie's was much like the first: The food was delicious but lacked thoughtful presentation. Because I love salads, this time I ordered the Cobb Salad ($8.50), complete with fresh bacon, ham, egg, avocado, tomato, cucumber and blue cheese. It was a good size for the price and was served with house-made beer bread.

Mikie's 7th boasts outstanding fare at exceptionally reasonable prices. People who want to support the local movement should dine there often and take advantage of the catering and at-home meal service (where Mikie cooks your dinner herself). The location and presentation, however, lack the warmth and comfort to match the fantastic food. I plan to become one of Mikie's regulars, but I'll order my food to go so I can enjoy that glass of red.