EJ expands to second location at Meridian Cafe
Q: Do you know what’s going on at the Meridian Cafe on Pine Ridge? — Alete Adler, Naples North
A: Meridian Cafe will soon be EJ’s Meridian Cafe, the sequel to EJ’s Bayfront Cafe in Naples.
Second servings of EJ’s popular varieties of Eggs Benedict and Banana Stuffed French Toast might be the perfect breakfast and lunch recipe for a smooth transition from Meridian Cafe to the new EJ’s, which faces Pine Ridge Road just east of Livingston Road at Meridian Marketplace. After 10 years of success in Naples, EJ owner Eric Becker is excited to expand his business nearly 8 miles northeast of his original cafe. Becker hopes to have everything in place to open her new cafe in mid-May.
“I really hope it takes off. It’s a good location,” he said.[Meridian Cafe] had a fairly good following and a fairly good reputation. I just want to get in there and, if I can’t do better, at least do what they were doing.
The Meridian Cafe operated from October 2017 until it closed at the end of January this year. EJ’s will be the third restaurant in this end unit. The Sakura Hawaiian Grill preceded the Meridian Cafe there.
Myles Strohl, the owner of the Meridian Marketplace mall, feels lucky that Becker is moving in. “I think he’s going to be a good operator there,” Strohl said. “Exactly what we need to transfer from Meridian Cafe to EJ’s Cafe.”
Mr. Strohl said he was even going to share the Meridian Cafe cookbook with Becker, who said he could add items from the Meridian playbook. Chef Rae, who started Meridian, wrote the book on tasty gluten-free meals. Mr. Strohl should also share the cookbook for Sakura, if it’s still available. Wouldn’t it be great to see Hawaiians’ favorite loco moco on the new menu as a nod to the late chef Paul Chen? Simple comfort food.
Mr. Becker really doesn’t need any guidance, though. He graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in St. Louis and began his career as a chef in country clubs. He was associated with Eli’s Restaurant & Lounge in Carlyle, Illinois, the same area of the Midwest where he also worked as a chicken egg farmer. So you can bet he knows a thing or two about chickens and eggs – and maybe even which came first.
At EJ’s, eggs definitely come first. In addition to classic Benedict, bacon, garden, crab, and smoked salmon, EJ’s menu features scrambles, skillets, and omelettes. The breakfast line also includes pancakes, waffles and specialties such as burritos, cookies and breakfast gravy and even half a dozen “healthy side” choices such as cakes with black beans and a platter of avocado toast. For lunch, EJ’s offers more than 10 selections of salads, burgers, sandwiches, paninis, wraps, soups and smoothies.
“We’re proud of our Benedicts and we sell a lot of our Banana Stuffed French Toasts (made with Challah bread and rolled in cinnamon and sugar),” he said. “We also sell a good portion of our salads for lunch.”
Basically, building on the success of the first EJs, launched in March 2012, Mr Becker is planning a mirror image of the Bayfront venue, although he said he could brighten things up a bit such as his toast to the avocado to please Meridian followers. “For the most part it will be the same old EJ that is at Bayfront,” he said. “We’ll just try to bring the same game to Meridian.”
Outside of a few additions such as a soda fountain dispenser, more coffee drinks, and a TV in the dining room, expect a few decor changes, but maybe not right away. “Eventually we will,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re going to do it first from the start.”
Since taking office on April 1, Mr. Becker’s team has been working in the new space. “We are in there. We’re going through everything right now,” he said. “We clean it up, just empty it, go through what we know we need and sort of organize everything.”
EJ’s Meridian will have 80 seats to start, which is the same as EJ’s Bayfront and what Mr. Becker’s team is comfortable serving. His new cooks are now training at Bayfront. “The kitchen is a little bigger at the Meridian, so we’ll have a little more space, which will be nice,” Becker said.
Mr. Becker doesn’t program himself in the kitchen, but he does what needs to be done, he said. “I mean, one day I might be taking tables. One day I might sit down and greet people. One day, maybe I’ll flip pancakes. I do whatever it takes,” he said.
He said he would likely split his weekly schedule between the two restaurants, spending three days at Bayfront and three days at Meridian. The restaurants are open from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, so he will have a day off.
As a seasoned restaurateur, Mr. Becker knows the daily and seasonal setbacks that restaurants face even in good times. “It’s always been difficult,” he said. “You really have to take advantage of it. I love every moment. I know it’s hard work, but I’ve worked hard all my life.
roll with it
Q: When does Lobster Rolls open at the Galleria? —Patricia Raco, Napoli
A: Although large white letters spell out Lobster Rolls on the storefront of Galleria Shoppes in Vanderbilt, the name of the new restaurant launching April 7 is actually on the small red logo above the letters. Mystic Lobster Roll Company is open for business in North Naples.
Naples is Mystic Lobster Roll’s first location on Florida’s Gulf Coast, and it’s the new company’s first franchise with a bar that serves beer, wine, and hard seltzer. Of course, the bread and butter of the concept are its traditional and non-traditional lobster rolls.
The new restaurant, 2355 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 148, is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. ¦