One measure of a restaurant's dedication to the quality of its cuisine would have to be the size of its kitchen freezer. The bigger the icebox, the more the chef relies on frozen ingredients to stock his kitchen.
G.M.'s Bistro proprietors Udi and Hope Mekler didn't budget much space for a freezer when they set up shop in downtown Brooksville. There's little need for one when your menu calls for hand-cut meats, fresh seafood and just-picked veggies.
That underscores how much the dining public gained when the Meklers leased the long-neglected restaurant space inside the historic J.A. Jennings Building, across from the county courthouse.
Serving up imaginative, high-quality cuisine shouldn't be such a trick for any dining establishment looking for a bright future. Doing it with a nod toward the everyman budget is a noble mission.
"Good food shouldn't have to be expensive," Udi Mekler noted this week as he readied for the rush of noontimers who have been flocking to G.M.'s since it opened a month ago. "We wanted a restaurant where people could come and eat two or three times a week."
The G.M.'s Bistro breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings could make that a delicious proposition. Mekler, a native of Israel, has a global culinary background that includes years as an executive chef at numerous hotels and resorts. He has a knack for taking standards to intriguing new levels.
The restaurant has two distinct personalities. By day, it's a haven for time-challenged courthouse employees looking for a quick bite and who find that even griddle fare is far from pedestrian, with banana pecan pancakes ($4.75), orange marmalade crepes ($6.99) and a hearty on-the-go egg, chorizo and jalapeno sandwich ($5).
Lunch features a host of gourmet sandwiches served on fresh-baked baguettes, pita or whole-grain panini that include offbeat fare like fried soft-shell crab ($7.99) and lobster salad ($6.75).
Even the lowly chicken salad sandwich is pumped up, with chargrilled chicken blended with scallions, celery and a yummy garlic dressing.
By night, G.M.'s Bistro gets elegant and thoughtful, offering diners a laid-back atmosphere and a chance to savor building owner James Tsascrios' labored renovations. His grandfather, George Maillis — the G.M. in the restaurant's name — once ran a grocery on the site, so he kept with tradition by fashioning the bar and tabletops out of marble inlaid with antique cherry wood rescued from a land-clearing operation.
Mekler's creative talent honors quality meats, poultry and seafood. Steaks are rendered from top-choice Angus cuts individually carved in his kitchen. Among the more notable selections is the Steak Maurice ($22.99), a grilled ribeye topped with melted brie and mushrooms.
Seafood, too, is a specialty, favoring mostly local sources. The shrimp scampi ($15.75) offers generous portions of seafood and pasta.
A noted vegan chef during his days at Fit for Life Health Resort and Spa in Pompano Beach, Mekler is a devotee of vegetables as well, which he extends through numerous fresh salads and sides.
The Meklers wisely chose to open their establishment during the slower summer months to give them time to fine-tune the operation and their serving staff. For now, only beer and wine are offered, but that could change once the place has some time to mature.
For now, however, G.M.'s Bistro serves as a hopeful beacon in an area in need of a culinary spark. It could well end up what the Meklers hope it will be: a spot worthy of a drive from just about anywhere.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.