Thursday, December 8, 2005

A HUMBLE CLUB MED FOR EVERYDAY EATS

Posted on Thu, Dec 8, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Mediterranean Deli tops my list of places to eat for $10 or less. Located in a 1950s-style strip mall on the western edge of Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park, it sits like an oasis of authenticity.

I'm not talking about the kind of quaint Mediterranean place that makes you feel as if you're sipping Monacos at a resort by the sea. That's tourist-variety authenticity. Mediterranean Deli makes you feel like you're eating the way the residents of the Mediterranean region really eat: From small, run-down places with odd decorations, exhilaratingly exotic smells and hearty but inexpensive meals.

Chipped terrazzo flooring, an industrial sink in the dining room and crooked counters are mere blemishes when it comes to tasting the homemade Greek and Lebanese dishes that are prepared by owner Walaid Ali and his wife. Besides, you can always gaze upon the beaded screen of palm trees that leads to the bathroom or the holographic eagle paintings or the fruit-decorated place mats.

The hummus ($2.80) was perfect, both nutty from the garbanzos and pleasingly tart from the fresh lemon juice. Although chickpeas are the dominant ingredient, they nicely hold the flavors of tahini and garlic.

Kibbeh ($4.99), one of my favorite Mediterranean dishes, is made in advance and reheated on the spot. These flavorful balls of seasoned ground lamb and pine nuts swaddled in an outer shell of deep-fried buckwheat were superior specimens.

If you like spinach pies, don't miss Mediterranean Deli's boreeka ($4.99), rich with verdant spinach and tangy feta cheese in puff pastry. It's not served as the typical individual pie, but cut from a larger sheet pan. This is one of the best I've tried.

The visit wouldn't have complete without at least sampling a gyro sandwich ($4.99), and the Mediterranean Deli rendition is superb. The sauce is cool and creamy and complements the ground lamb and beef. The bread enhances the sandwich rather than just sitting around the ingredients. Visiting Mediterranean Deli may not be like a vacation, but the fare is tasty enough for everyday eating.

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