Does the new Mezzo live up to the old Café Intermezzo?

Photo: Melati Citrawireja

About six years have elapsed since a fire in November 2011 destroyed the building that housed Café Intermezzo in Berkeley. But time hasn’t erased the memories for fans of this Southside salad mecca. Since reopening on June 27 with a new name, a new modern look and updated prices that reflect the cost of eating out today, Mezzo has been busy. You’ll find diners waiting outside before it opens at 11 a.m. and a long queue snaking out the door during its rush hours.

So is it just hype and nostalgia? Does the new Mezzo really live up to what fans remember about Intermezzo? And is it still the deal we all remember? We asked six Berkeleyside readers who consider themselves superfans to meet us for lunch and tell us how Mezzo stacks up to their memories of Intermezzo’s salad days.

Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Jonathan Curley

Age: 38
Lives in: Berkeley
Before it closed, how often did you eat at Café Intermezzo? Maybe once a month in 2001 to 2003.
Best or last memory of eating at Intermezzo? My wife and I used to meet up after her work at Cody’s bookstore and eat there when we first lived in Berkeley and didn’t have much money. So good! So much food for so little money!

Photo: Melati Citrawireja

What did you eat today? Veggie Delight Salad.
Did your food live up to your expectation or memory? Yes! There was SO MUCH FOOD. And that sweet, soft bread.
Compared to how you felt about Intermezzo before today’s lunch, is your feeling today about Mezzo the same, better or worse than it was before the meal? Better, mostly because the ambiance is airier.
Do you think Mezzo’s prices are less expensive, average, or more expensive than you normally like to spend on a meal? Less expensive for the amount of food — still an amazing deal.
Do you think the space is better, worse or about the same as you remember? Better! I remember it having kind of a dark and sticky feeling…
Will you return to Mezzo in the future? Yes!
Would you order the same meal or try something different? Same thing.


Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Melissa Male

Age: 39
Lives in: Berkeley
Before it closed, how often did you eat at Café Intermezzo? When in school, about once a week.
Best or last memory of eating at Intermezzo?  It was my absolute favorite place to go to for salads when I was in college and law school at Cal. I used to live right around the corner at the Rochdale co-ops. It was so sad when it burned down, and I am anxious to see if the new salads live up to the former space.

Photo: Melati Citrawireja

What did you eat today? Tossed green salad with poppy seed dressing.
Did your food live up to your expectation or memory? Yes. The poppy seed dressing is just as good as I remember. I do miss the round croutons, but the veggies are beautiful and fresh.
Compared to how you felt about Intermezzo before today’s lunch, is your feeling today about Mezzo the same, better or worse than it was before the meal? It’s just as delicious – more modern but fits in with the changing times on Telegraph and the younger Cal generation.
Do you think Mezzo’s prices are less expensive, average, or more expensive than you normally like to spend on a meal? Average.
Do you think the space is better, worse or about the same as you remember? It’s lighter. Less wood, more industrial and modern, but larger. The older space was smaller and cramped.
Will you return to Mezzo in the future? Definitely!
Would you order the same meal or try something different? I’d probably order the same thing — but maybe a sandwich too!

Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Jason Tharp

Age: 26
Lives in: Berkeley
Before it closed, how often did you eat at Café Intermezzo? Two times a month.
Best or last memory of eating at Intermezzo? With friends during summers. We would come and sit for hours in the afternoons.

Photo: Melati Citrawireja

What did you eat today? Chef’s Salad with bacon and poppy seed dressing.
Did your food live up to your expectation or memory? Yes, the salad was very similar. Delicious and massive. I had forgotten about the bread, but when it arrived, I definitely remembered the fresh, thick slices they serve.
Compared to how you felt about Intermezzo before today’s lunch, is your feeling today about Mezzo the same, better or worse than it was before the meal? Mezzo has certainly changed with the times. While the food is definitely similar, the space feels quite different. I don’t know if I would plan an afternoon to hang out [here] like we used to.
Do you think Mezzo’s prices are less expensive, average, or more expensive than you normally like to spend on a meal? I’d say that the prices are a little high, but for the volume of food, very reasonable. I could see splitting a salad between two people as a good value option likely to leave both people full.
Do you think the space is better, worse or about the same as you remember? The space is certainly more modern — it’s very clean and pleasant, but may lack the “homey-ness” of Intermezzo.
Will you return to Mezzo in the future? Sure!
Would you order the same meal or try something different? I will probably do a half salad, half sandwich next time.

Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Meredith Irby

Age: 32
Lives in: Oakland
Before it closed, how often did you eat at Café Intermezzo? Two times a week.
Best or last memory of eating at Intermezzo? I used to eat here all the time with my friend Erica while I was getting my teaching credential. It was the best (and most affordable!) lunch date!


Photo: Melati Citrawireja

What did you eat today? Chef’s Salad with turkey and poppy seed dressing.
Did your food live up to your expectation or memory? Mostly! Something about the poppy seed dressing felt a bit off, but otherwise, it was as fresh and delicious as always.
Compared to how you felt about Intermezzo before today’s lunch, is your feeling today about Mezzo the same, better or worse than it was before the meal?  About the same. I’m so excited it’s back!
Do you think Mezzo’s prices are less expensive, average, or more expensive than you normally like to spend on a meal? It seems about average, but I wish the prices stayed the same.
Do you think the space is better, worse or about the same as you remember? I like how open and light it feels! It’s nice that there’s more space.
Will you return to Mezzo in the future? Definitely!
Would you order the same meal or try something different? I’d like to branch out, but I assume I’ll order the same thing, since it never fails to be delicious.

Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Nushy Golriz

Age: 24
Lives in: Berkeley
Before it closed, how often did you eat at Café Intermezzo? A few times a month. I was born and raised in Berkeley and was super devastated when Cafe Intermezzo burned down.
Best or last memory of eating at Intermezzo? The excitement of finding a place to sit!

Photo: Melati Citrawireja

What did you eat today? Veggie Delight Salad with poppy seed dressing.
Did your food live up to your expectation or memory? Yes! They are just as big as they used to be.
Compared to how you felt about Intermezzo before today’s lunch, is your feeling today about Mezzo the same, better or worse than it was before the meal?  The food is pretty similar to what it used to be, except you get a piece of watermelon instead of orange and there is a new dressing (Greek Yougurt Green Goddess) that I can’t wait to try when it’s in stock. But the vibe is very different!
Do you think Mezzo’s prices are less expensive, average, or more expensive than you normally like to spend on a meal? I remember Intermezzo being very cheap before so it’s definitely a bit pricier now, but I think it matches the prices of restaurants these days. Also, the portions are so large that you can split it and then it’s very affordable.
Do you think the space is better, worse or about the same as you remember? It’s a very different ambiance now. I’m a bit partial to the homey look with the large tree of the old Intermezzo. But the new Mezzo has a refreshing modern vibe that I have to get used to!
Will you return to Mezzo in the future?  Yes, definitely!
Would you order the same meal or try something different? Next time I want to try the Green Goddess dressing.

It was Nushy’s birthday on the day of our lunch, so she brought her friend and her mother, Jacqueline Omania with her, to share her salad. Omania was not originally a part of this story, but once we found out she had been eating at Intermezzo since the early ’80s, we asked her to give us her feedback.

Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Jacqueline Omania

Age: 54
Lives in: Berkeley
Before it closed, how often did you eat at Café Intermezzo? As a college student (1983-1986), about two to three times a week then. After college, at least once a month.
Best or last memory of eating at Intermezzo? Eating with the whole extended family when my daughter was young.
What did you eat today? Shared the Veggie Delight Salad with Nushy.
Did your food live up to your expectation or memory? Yes!
Compared to how you felt about Intermezzo before today’s lunch, is your feeling today about Mezzo the same, better or worse than it was before the meal? I am happy to see it reopened.
Do you think Mezzo’s prices are less expensive, average, or more expensive than you normally like to spend on a meal? Average! But it is a deal.
Do you think the space is better, worse or about the same as you remember? It is very different — modern, upscale — but fitting with the times.
Will you return to Mezzo in the future? Yes! Definitely.
Would you order the same meal or try something different? I will try the various sandwiches and drinks.


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