Loafin’ Around

Michael Nagrant / 01.04.09

As anyone who’s ever seen the films “Serial Mom” or “Mommy Dearest” knows, you don’t mess with mother. But, Cynthia Kallile, chef/owner of The Meatloaf Bakery, isn’t quaking in her kitchen clogs. She’s ready to go baking mitt to baking mitt with the assurance that she’s got the best meatloaf you’ve ever tasted.
But that’s no easy task with such an iconic plate. In 2007, Good Housekeeping dubbed the “loaf” the seventh favorite dish in the United States. Though the modern American version became popular in part during the early twentieth century as a result of recipes created by the Quaker Oats company to sell more oatmeal, minced meat loaves also make an appearance in the fifth-century Roman cookery collection “Apicius” (the ancient tome suggests that fried, ground peacock meat was best for this type of preparation). First lady Pat Nixon seasoned her meatloaf with marjoram and had her recipe printed on White House stationery to be mailed on request. And most importantly, almost every mother in America worth her Jell-O mold makes a version.

As a ubiquitous part of the parent/offspring culinary covenant, meatloaf is therefore subject to the rule of nostalgia. No matter how bad it was, the fact that it was a staple of your childhood counts for far too much—how else to explain the inferior blue-box reign of Kraft Mac and Cheese. If your mom had a way with deep-fried grasshoppers when you were a rugrat, then the adult you probably has a deep yen for the crunchy buggers.

My own mother combined pork and beef with egg, breadcrumbs soaked in milk, onion, salt, pepper and topped it all off with a Heinz ketchup lacquer. Frankly, as open-minded as I’ve been about food, and despite sampling meatloaf made with Waygu beef and artisan bacon and glazed in balsamic thyme tomato reduction, my mother’s is the only version for which I hanker for seconds. That is until I stopped in at Kallile’s Lakeview spot.

When I first heard about the Meatloaf Bakery, I’d suggested the whole idea sounded like the pipe dream of an overworked insurance salesman or a stockbroker character in a Ben Stiller or Judd Apatow movie. What? There’s a place that serves $9 meatloaf cupcakes with faux frosting made from mashed potatoes? I mean, what next, a cereal restaurant? Oh wait… Cereality, we hardly knew ye.

My job, though, is not to mock leads, but to follow them. Then again, the story I found on the Meatloaf Bakery was almost as illogical as the concept. Kallile is a twenty-five-year veteran corporate communications and PR executive. She has no formal culinary training, just a passion for cooking. She says, “After college I lived with a couple of sorority girls, and they’d eat Cheez-Its while I whipped up full-course dinners for myself.” In the tradition of great home cooks cum experts like Madhur Jaffrey, or even great chefs like Thomas Keller, who never went to culinary school, she trusted her palate.

Her palate was honed growing up in a Lebanese family where the flavors of lemon, spearmint and curly parsley dominated. In fact, her flagship loaf, aka the Mother Loaf, is her 86-year-old mother’s beef-, pork- and veal-based recipe, save for the use of red pepper in place of green (she doesn’t like green).

But still, the road to restaurant bankruptcy is paved with the good intentions of great home cooks. Kallile, though, doesn’t suffer from the usual faux pas of under-seasoning. Her Loaf-a-Roma meatloaf, featuring oozy mozzerella, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and red-wine-infused beef and Italian sausage, stands up as a supreme nona- (aka Italian Grandmother) beater. You could toss it in the linguine at Spiaggia and Barack Obama would be none the wiser.

I’d always thought turkey and salmon alternatives at restaurants were throw-away courses reserved for health nuts and those whose undergarments were cinched just a little too tight. But 0Kallile’s turkey meatloaf studded with garlic and red pepper, dusted with parmesan and crowned with cranberry sauce might be her best, if not the Omega-3, an Alaskan salmon croquette perfumed with lemon, dill and parsley.

Truly not afraid of busting through the nostalgia barrier, even her MACnificent pasta, aka mac and cheese featuring a funky cheese blend and a crispy panko crust, might be better than my previous favorite side mac found at Smoque BBQ.

While there are a couple of tables, the Meatloaf Bakery is generally a take-out spot, and the loaves come in three sizes, a “loafie,” a cupcake and a full loaf or tart portion. The loafie, despite sounding a little too scatological, is actually an appetizer portion served in a pastry crust. My only quibble is that the pastry masks the meat flavor a bit, and I prefer the cupcake as the best ratio of meat to mashed-potato topping.

While the prices aren’t necessarily friendly during these trying economic times, approximately $9 for a large cupcake portion, or $30-plus for a full loaf, they’re not unfair considering the quality and luxury of the ingredients. And, while our governor sells senate seats, our newspapers file for bankruptcy and your wallet tightens, you can bet at the Meatloaf Bakery you’re getting a certain priceless dose of tasty comfort, maybe almost as good as your mom’s.

Meatloaf Bakery is located at 2464 North Clark, (773)698-6667

This article first appeared in Newcity