By Chris Klint
2:16 PM AKDT, March 19, 2012
Middle Way Café
1300 W. Northern Lights Blvd.
$6-$13 per plate
7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday through Sunday
On a recent visit to Title Wave Used Books in Spenard’s Northern Lights Center, I noticed that the place’s lunch options were in flux. The Kaladi Brothers Coffee location that had been adjacent to Title Wave was still one storefront away, but the Marty’s New York Bagel Deli that had replaced it was gone and in the process of being replaced by a Steamdot Coffee shop. Looking for some stability, I headed down the mall in search of some chow.
The Middle Way Café sits, appropriately enough, midway along the Northern Lights Center. Despite its position, it tends to lean more toward the REI Outfitters crowd that gathers at one end of the mall’s stores than the Title Wave crowd that frequents the other, with a somewhat Birkenstocky vibe to both the place and its young, college-age clientele. The café’s beverage options are patterned to compete with Kaladi Brothers, with a soda fountain ditched in lieu of a smoothie and coffee counter. You order your meal at order counters for food and drinks (although the drink counter seems able to take orders for both), then take a seat in the bustling dining room and wait for your food.
Much of Middle Way’s menu is light lunch fare including sandwiches, a variety of non-beef burgers and a selection of salads and soup; while numerous options are marked as vegan, there’s also a decent range of meat dishes available. My eye was drawn to a list of breakfast choices but they’re not usually midday options, with breakfast service ending at 11 a.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on weekends. Ultimately I chose a Greek salad, which I took as a half order ($6.95) after the huge salad I recently received at Nino’s Italian Eatery, asking for it with added chicken breast ($2.50). I also decided to test the baristas by ordering a 16-ounce mocha ($4). Despite the rising density of the lunch crowd, I didn’t have much trouble finding a table, and my food showed up in about 10 to 15 minutes.
I’d ordered the Greek salad without the listed avocado, but it was doused in a handful of toasted pumpkin seeds that appear in other salads on the menu yet aren’t listed in the Greek salad. Their nutty crunch didn’t significantly harm or enhance the salad, which incorporated generous quantities of Roma tomato, red bell pepper, red onion, cucumber, feta cheese and Kalamata olives; even a half order was easily big enough for two people to share. The sun-dried tomato balsamic vinaigrette with which I’d ordered the salad brought a zesty tang to match its powerful flavors, which I wished there were more of as I ate my way deeper into the mountain of greens before me. The chicken was something of a disappointment, cold and bone-dry pieces of meat instead of the warm and juicy grilled strips I’ve seen elsewhere.
Between the feta cheese and the chicken I was surprisingly parched as I ate the salad, which was where the mocha more or less saved me. I’d resisted the urge to drink it before the salad arrived, and sips of its light foam mingled with rich chocolate warmth relieved the dryness I’d been starting to feel during the meal. The already intense drink ultimately gave way to a puddle of even stronger sludge in the bottom of the cup, which I chugged down for a quick caffeinated rush before rising from the table to continue with my day.
A lot of how you judge Middle Way depends on context. Although Spenard offers several competing eateries with arguably broader and deeper menus (including the Organic Oasis in the healthy niche), Middle Way is the best food option in the Northern Lights Center, which makes it more attractive to people visiting the mall than driving somewhere else. If the number of customers I saw during my visit was any indication, that’s a conclusion both the REI crowd and the Title Wave crowd can agree with.
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