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Here's the thing: I don't know much about Turkish cuisine. But here's the other thing: You don't have to know much to know that Bosphorous, a new Turkish restaurant gracing Park Avenue, has exceptional food. After being initiated into the world of Turkish food by Bosphorous, I daydream about a culinary journey to Turkey. Aren't daydreams what good ethnic cuisine should inspire? Shouldn't foreign foods hold adventure with a healthy dose of curiosity to wash it down?

When thinking about Turkish food, think ancient fusion. The crescent-shaped region lies on a swath of land that juts out between the Black and the Mediterranean seas, dividing Europe from the Middle East. Turkey was touched by all the major spice routes in the 15th century and was a major hub of other trade during its heyday under Ottoman rule, which lasted 600 years. Not surprisingly, Turkish food is an amalgamation of the many people who have passed through. I noticed hints of Italian, Lebanese and Greek, yet this food has a style all its own. It's rich in eggplant and lamb and spices of all sorts; citrusy red sumac is served alongside verdant dill, while zesty coriander, cumin and cayenne are also likely to make appearances.

We started with lavas ($4.99), an unleavened, griddle-baked bread. This oversized, hollow pocket puffed up into a feathery pillow and was served with a light smattering of butter and sesame seeds. The flavor was superbly sweet with a pleasing sour tang. I loved tearing off small pieces and dipping it into one of the many cold appetizers scattered across our table. We tried three different eggplant appetizers: One grilled, with a heavy dose of dill, called patlican salatasi; another, soslu patlican, was made with fried eggplant in a tomato sauce; and a third was smoky and garlicky and familiar – baba ghanoush ($7.50 each). In addition, we got tarama ($7.50), an emulsion of olive oil and lemon juice whipped with orange caviar, and haydari ($6.95), a creamy yogurt dip made with lemon, walnuts and fresh dill. Oh, and some of the best hummus ($6.95) I've ever tasted.

Among my favorite entrees, there were many made with dšner kebab, a spiced mixture of ground lamb that originated in Anatolia and was the predecessor of Greek gyro and Arabic shawarma. I especially liked the iskender kebap ($18.95), which featured this spiced lamb meat served with a delicate tomato sauce and a heap of yogurt. The beautiful and popular C. got etli manti ($15.95), a Turkish-style ravioli stuffed with lamb (what else?), squash and onions. A whole section of the menu is dedicated to pide, a pizza-like Turkish pastry that is stuffed with various ingredients. We tried the spinach pide ($12.99), which came with a hearty mix of feta, onions, tomatoes and spinach.

Special mention should be made of Bosphorous' wine selection from the Turkish Kavaklidere winery. A deliciously tannic red paired well with the olive oil-rich cuisine, while the white variety was refreshingly fruity. I also couldn't get enough of the nonalcoholic beverages imported from Turkey, especially the mouth-puckering cherry juice ($2).

After making our way through the surfeit of victuals that Bosphorous has to offer, we went outside so that some of my friends could smoke the nargile, or water pipe, while I chowed on some homemade baklava ($5.50) and Turkish coffee ($2.50). Wafts of apple-scented smoke piled up around us as straight-laced Winter Parkers passed with mouths agape at this beautifully derelict form of entertainment taking over the block. The owners of Bosphorous fell in love with Park Avenue and moved down from New York, bringing four Turkish chefs in tow, just to open their restaurant. I'd go a lot further than that for this food.

Ah, progress. It seems whenever something new appears (the downtown Mini dealership for example), something old and treasured gets shoved aside. Such was the case with Café Annie, a neighborhood breakfast and lunch staple that occupied the corner spot on Jefferson Street and North Orange Avenue -- spiffy new cars in, gyros for lunch out.

So it was a great pleasure for downtown dwellers to see Café Annie return, displaced one door over. The spot, a cavernous storefront that was occupied by the Tin Can Alley restaurant for about five minutes, affords owner and chef Nazih Sebaali a large space for his Mediterranean and Middle Eastern recipes ("A bit of everything," he says) that have more to do with flavor than flair.

The food has a feeling of health and simplicity. Baba ghanoush ($2.95), a smooth paste of roast eggplant and garlic, sits on the plate simply adorned with a drizzle of olive oil, imploring you to eat. When you order a roasted chicken ($4.99), that's what you get, a dark or white quarter, oven-brown and juicy, served with two side dishes.

And what side dishes they are. Greek fasolia salad (butter beans stewed with tomato), snappy crisp green beans, or vinegary vegetarian stuffed grape leaves ($1.95 each) share a table with hummus ($2.95) and the best garlic mashed potatoes I've had in ages ($1.75, order extra).

The chicken kebab ($5.95) is charred and slightly lemony, and is available pressed in a pita, as is the gyro, a broiled beef and lamb combination with tomato, lettuce and a yogurt dressing ($4.25).

Specials change day to day; that afternoon it was richly seasoned lasagna and a salad for $5.50. How can you beat that? The point should be clear by now that if you don't like garlic, this might not be a good destination, but the thick roasted-garlic and tomato soup, loaded with savory chunks of tomato and rice, was worthy of nearby high-priced restaurants, and only $1.95 for the cup.

Breakfast starts at 7 a.m.; eggs, bacon, sausage, croissant sandwiches are joined by "Annie's eggpita" ($4.25) a dense Mediterranean omelet in pita bread.

Sebaali came to Orlando as an engineering student 25 years ago. When asked why he got into the restaurant business, he replied, "I don't really know how to answer that question." But despite his uncertainty, the previous home of Café Annie (named after his wife) stayed in business for 13 years. The revamped cafe opens for dinner starting this weekend, serving the same menu plus lamb kebabs, steak and seafood, with table service. I'll be going. How about you?

 

UCF-area café-deli caters to a diverse clientele, many of whom come for the all-halal menu and cut-rate prices. Don’t pass up the amazing hummus. Spit-fired shawarmas and gyros keep the college set content, and meaty platters offer more bang for your buck. End with Turkish coffee and baklava fragrant with orange-blossom water. Closed Sundays. 


Teaser: UCF-area café-deli caters to a diverse clientele, many of whom come for the all-halal menu and cut-rate prices. Don't pass up the amazing hummus, though fat kibbeh make worthy starters too. Spit-fired shawarmas and gyros keep the college set content, and meaty platters offer more bang for your buck. End with Turkish coffee and baklava fragrant with orange-blossom water. Closed Sundays.

I'm an appetizer fanatic. Gimme a big assortment of little dishes and I am happy. That's why Korean, Indian and Chinese food pleases me so much. Now, with the opening of Cedar's Restaurant, I can add Lebanese to that list.

In a break from the Corporate Fooding of the Sand Lake Road corridor through the Dr. Phillips area, Cedar's is privately owned, and it's hard to beat the hands-on care. With a background in restaurants in New York, the owners say they wanted to "present healthy, well-made food" to Central Florida, and they've succeeded.

In a break from the Corporate Fooding of the Sand Lake Road corridor through the Dr. Phillips area, Cedar's is privately owned, and it's hard to beat the hands-on care. With a background in restaurants in New York, the owners say they wanted to "present healthy, well-made food" to Central Florida, and they've succeeded.

My other obsession is food that is authentically traditional, and Cedar's, in a pistachio nutshell, does it right. Their spin on traditional Lebanese seems to be a lightness of texture and flavor that is both refreshing and inviting. If you're familiar, with Middle Eastern food you won't be disappointed. But if your only experience has been leaden falafel and overwhelming spices, you are in for a treat.

My other obsession is food that is authentically traditional, and Cedar's, in a pistachio nutshell, does it right. Their spin on traditional Lebanese seems to be a lightness of texture and flavor that is both refreshing and inviting. If you're familiar, with Middle Eastern food you won't be disappointed. But if your only experience has been leaden falafel and overwhelming spices, you are in for a treat.

There are far too many appetizers to describe. Even the small pitas are splendid, puffy and hot from the clay oven. Use them to scoop up baba ghannouj, a smooth roasted eggplant and garlic puree with a wonderfully smokey taste ($3.75), as well as shanklish, crumbled cheese blended with thyme, onions and tomato that's so creamy it literally does melt in your mouth ($4.75). Falafel (fried chick peas and bean patties; $3.75) is far lighter than I've ever come across, and a tasty pleasure. The very traditional kebbeh ($4.25) is a flavorful cracked wheat ball stuffed with ground meat and onions.

There are far too many appetizers to describe. Even the small pitas are splendid, puffy and hot from the clay oven. Use them to scoop up baba ghannouj, a smooth roasted eggplant and garlic puree with a wonderfully smokey taste ($3.75), as well as shanklish, crumbled cheese blended with thyme, onions and tomato that's so creamy it literally does melt in your mouth ($4.75). Falafel (fried chick peas and bean patties; $3.75) is far lighter than I've ever come across, and a tasty pleasure. The very traditional kebbeh ($4.25) is a flavorful cracked wheat ball stuffed with ground meat and onions.

If you want to start with something familiar, here's a restaurant that knows its shish kabobs ($14.75) – cubes of marinated lamb, slow roasted and tender. When you feel adventurous, move on to mouloukhieh ($10.75), chicken with malow leaves, cilantro and garlic.

If you want to start with something familiar, here's a restaurant that knows its shish kabobs ($14.75) – cubes of marinated lamb, slow roasted and tender. When you feel adventurous, move on to mouloukhieh ($10.75), chicken with malow leaves, cilantro and garlic.

"Sultan Ibrahim" ($16) is a plateful of small red mullet (I had five), an ancient coastal fish that has a deep, freshwater flavor and is seldom served in the U.S. The fish are served whole and it takes work to get around the bones. But it's delicious, accompanied by tender fried-eggplant rounds and sesame tahini sauce, and worth the effort.

"Sultan Ibrahim" ($16) is a plateful of small red mullet (I had five), an ancient coastal fish that has a deep, freshwater flavor and is seldom served in the U.S. The fish are served whole and it takes work to get around the bones. But it's delicious, accompanied by tender fried-eggplant rounds and sesame tahini sauce, and worth the effort.

The place itself is light and window-filled, with Ottoman arches, columns and a pleasant dining terrace. Be sure to eat just the right amount so you're sleepy enough to offset the jolt of pure caffeine disguised as Turkish coffee. It's a delicate balance that may take two or three visits to get right. Fortunately, you'll enjoy every attempt.

College students and cheap, ethnic eateries seem to go hand in hand. Where there's a school of higher learning, you'll usually find a stable of offbeat, funky restaurants where the young and impoverished can chart untried culinary territory.

For sure, the University of Central Florida area needs more of these type of restaurants. But for the last nine years, while the surrounding area exploded with cookie-cutter subdivisions and food chains, the low-key Falafel Cafe has been dishing out a taste of the Middle East to students and others hooked on the culture's culinary favors.

Falafel Cafe is quite small, with less than two dozen tables. There's no view to speak of, but an enormous painting dominates the entrance, capturing a scene from the Beirut waterfront. Back in the 1970s, that's where chef Hind Dajani perfected her recipes as a mother of four. Piped-in Middle Eastern music enhances the cuisine. And while service isn't always fast, it's usually friendly.

Descriptions of each dish make the menu reader-friendly. And if you can't commit to any one item, skip the entrees and fill up on tapas-style appetizers, which are in the $2 to $5 range.

Vegetarian dishes are a Middle Eastern strength, and Dajani is particularly deft with the namesake falafels ($3.99) – fried croquettes made with crushed garbanzo and fava beans, onions and a mixed bag of seasonings. They're delicious by themselves or dipped in the accompanying tahini sauce, a thick paste of ground sesame seeds. Kibbe balls ($4.99) are similar, except they're made with bulghur wheat and seasoned ground beef.

Falafel Cafe's hummus ($2.49) is creamy and tempting, made with pureed garbanzo beans, sesame sauce, olive oil and garlic. A splash of lemon brings out the naturally nutty flavors. Baba ghanoush ($2.49) gets a similar treatment, made of eggplant mashed to a pulp and mixed with yogurt. Use it as a dip for pita bread, or better yet, ask for the garlic bread pita ($1.99), which is brushed with butter and minced garlic.

The success of the simple "cedar salad" ($7.99) is in the fresh ingredients. Bright greens are topped with herb-crusted chicken kababs, olives and peppers. Pickled turnips add hot-pink color.

When you're in the mood for warm, hearty Middle Eastern cooking, you'll find it here.

Tucked in a corner of the Dr. Phillips Marketplace, this humble eatery may not have the cachet of its neighbor Anatolia, but as a kebaberia, it more than holds it down. The exclellent rice complements flavorful kafta kebab, shish tawook and rack of lmb. Traditional starters are all worthy, but consider crunchy fattoush sala and pizza-like safiha for a change. Baklava is served cold, but Turkish coffee is properly steaming,.


Teaser: Tucked in a corner of the Dr. Phillips Marketplace, this humble eatery may not have the cachet of its neighbor Anatolia, but as a kebaberia, it more than holds its own. The excellent rice complements flavorful kafta kebab, shish tawook and rack of lamb. Traditional starters are all worthy, but consider crunchy fattoush salad and pizza-like safiha for a change. Baklava is served cold, but Turkish coffee is properly steaming.

I've never been to Greece, but I hear that eating at restaurants is mostly an outdoor affair. This fact bodes well for the Greek Corner on Orange Avenue, where the outside tables afford a picturesque view over Lake Ivanhoe. Formerly the home of Tiramisu Café, the new restaurant has a better grasp of Greek food than Tiramisu had of Italian. And there's a logical reason for that: The Greek Corner is owned by Demetrius and Tia Tsafonias, a husband-and-wife team from a small village outside Athens, Greece. The couple ran restaurants in the northern U.S. for years before coming south.

The inside space is still cramped and a little cheesy, but fortunately the outside space has been gussied up in Greek décor and is still a great asset. When the weather is right, it's lovely to sit on the patio, looking over the lake that's pooled in front of the downtown skyline, nibbling dolmathakia ($6.50), tightly wrapped cigars of grape leaves surrounding rice spiced with dill, mint and pungent lemon.

Some of the earliest written records about Mediterranean cuisine come from ancient Greece, but the Greek cuisine of today is more closely linked with the Albanians and Turks. Proud of their culinary history, many Greeks would be distressed to hear that their country's cuisine was influenced by surrounding Mediterranean countries, rather than the other way around. For instance, we can thank the Albanians on the Isle of Crete for the technique of spit-roasting used in traditional Greek kebab dishes. Another influence on modern Greek cooking comes from the Byzantine era, which heralded the emergence of the popular dish moussaka ($13.50), concocted with eggplant and lamb baked in béchamel sauce.

The most awe-inspiring dish I ordered at Greek Corner was the hot meze platter ($12.50), one of the restaurant's specialties. Four of us ordered the appetizer, which is recommended for two people, and we were stuffed silly before we finished. The platter has a dizzying array of samplings from the menu, including two distinct salads that deserve honorable mention: melitzanosalat, made from roasted eggplant and red pepper, is smoky and sultry; and taramosalata, featuring the oceany flavor of whipped orange caviar. Besides these two salads, the big fat Greek appetizer brimmed with baked feta, gyro meat, braised lamb and more. If we had known the huge portions on the meze, we wouldn't have ordered the calamari ($8.50) appetizer, which was chewy but had flavor. Its red sauce tasted mostly of the grassy finish of Greek olive oil.

There were many other starters, including the ever-present spanikopita ($6), which stems from a traditional Lent snack. Greek Corner's is a standard envelope of phyllo stuffed with tangy feta and spinach so well-cooked that it almost tastes more like an herb than a vegetable. The Greek salad ($6.75) is an OK version of what you'd expect – mixed greens with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, kalamata olives and fresh feta cheese with a dressing loaded with oregano. Avgolemono soup ($3), so named from the Greek words for "egg" and "lemon" and heavy on both ingredients, is a chicken soup stocked with bright lemon juice and musky black pepper as well as ribbons of egg yolk.

Among the entrees, the braised lamb ($13.95) was one of the best. The meat was succulently tender and had a heavy sauce rich with sweet spices – I tasted cinnamon, nutmeg and garlic. Pastitsio ($13.50), the Greek version of lasagna, was perfectly crusty and crunchy on the outside, while having an inner layer that was pliable and soft. Spiced beef and cream sauce with a hint of nutmeg rounded out the ziti-like pasta. Culinary historians might be interested to know that pastitsio has both Italian and Muslim influences – Italian in name but Muslim in technique.

We couldn't leave without indulging in the baklava ($2.50) with walnuts drenched in simple syrup. The homemade galaktoboureko ($3.50) may be more difficult to say but is vastly better, featuring a lemony custard. As is Greek tradition, your belly will be full as you finish those last bites of dessert and look out over Lake Ivanhoe, wondering if you'll be able to get up and walk.

No lamb?, I incredulously asked myself. Poring over the streamlined menu at the counter of Habibi Fine Lebanese Cuisine, I noticed beef and chicken were well-represented, but the staple meat defining Middle Eastern cooking was nowhere to be seen. Feeling somewhat nonplussed, I posed the question to owner Frank Ashriki, a seasoned restaurateur who traded the refined rues of Montreal for the boilerplate boulevards of MetroWest. A downward glance, a deliberate pause and an uncomfortable wriggle later, the response: 'We plan on having lamb on the menu soon.� Not that Habibi's culinary legitimacy rests solely on rotisseried ruminants, but a Lebanese restaurant without lamb is, well, like Certs without the Retsyn�. 

So for the time being we settled and, ultimately, really settled into Habibi's two-meat offerings, but not before getting our fill of their vegetarian platter ($8). A cluster of standards ' fresh-fried falafel, smoky babaganoush, hummus, tabouli and incomparably lemony grape leaves ' it's a flesh-spurner's delight. Just keep in mind that allowing falafel to cool zaps it of its moisture, so eat the tahini-drizzled orbs first. 

At the hub of the platter sat a sliver of eggplant coiled around fluffy toum, the garlicky white sauce often dolloped alongside chicken kebabs. Speaking of those, the flame-licked pieces of poultry were a highlight of the combo kebab ($13.99), with or without a toum dip. Biting into fattened morsels of beef and peppery kefta provoked the most vocal mm-mmm moments ' moments which, given our choice of outdoor seating, seemed to rouse the interests of passers-by. Granted, most of them were heading to Habibi's anyway, primarily for takeout. The two booths and counter seating inside the atmo-less space don't exactly lend themselves to prolonged stays, yet it's not unusual to find a contingent of Arab and African patrons outside talking food and football with Frank. Being swept into the conversation is probable, and that speaks to the undeniable conviviality of the joint. 

Caught up in all the World Cup chatter, I nearly missed the fact that the fattoush salad ($3.99) lacked its characteristic toasted pita. A fattoush salad without the pita is, well, like the World Cup without its vuvuzelas. A surprising omission, to say the least, but if there's one item Habibi can toot its own horn about, it's their fried kibbeh ($1.75) and beef shawarma ($4.50). The seasoned top sirloin of the latter is shaved from a spit and, along with supremely tart pickles, radishes and tomatoes stuffed in a pita, makes for a consummate lunchtime sandwich. Take-home test: After a 10-minute sweat in a 250-degree oven, the shawarma held up just fine the following night.

The 'Fine� in 'Habibi Fine Lebanese Cuisine� is somewhat misleading. Plastic utensils and paper napkins in no way resemble the fine dining scene of Cedar's Restaurant in Dr. Phillips, but what Habibi does, it does relatively well. Most dishes are made to order, so don't expect immediate delivery of comestibles, as is customary with many counter-service eateries. And credit Ashriki for fostering Habibi's hospitable and neighborly vibe. In a single visit, it was easy to discern that Montreal's loss was MetroWest's gain. 

For grammatical correctness, the name of this Winter Park newcomer should be "House of Kabobs" – plural, not singular, as the family-owned enterprise serves several varieties of grilled skewers. But the sound of the singular "House of Kabob" has a quirky ring to it – "Hey, I'm headed over to House of Kabob, want something?" – that matches its quirky vibe. There just aren't that many Iranian fast-food joints around.

"Persian" is how one of the counter workers described the atmospheric music playing during a busy lunch hour. Further inquiry revealed that it was contemporary music from Iran – an interesting subject in itself, what with all the censorship. So while there's a sunny, modern, generic feel to House of Kabob, there is more than food inspired by Middle Eastern culture to be tasted. Traditionally, Persian cuisine makes use of spices that come together gently (no burning sensations); the lemony taste of sumac in particular imparts a clean flavor.

House of Kabob is in an upscale shopping plaza with a culinary history – The Mill brewery was the first anchor and Taqueria Quetzalcoatl originally opened there. And several other restaurants currently are under construction. It's good to see some places to eat returning to an area that's most recently been dominated by a bridal salon. The menu is small but satisfying. There are kabobs made from ground beef, chicken, scolar (a mild white fish) and "shiesh" (beef tenderloin). The kabobs can be prepared as a platter ($4.95 to $7.95), served with rice (they call it white rice but it's saffron yellow), flatbread and "shiraz" salad (with chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, mint and lemon juice). Or they can be prepared as a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, red onion and cucumber ($2.95 to $4.95). Ordered cooked medium, the shiesh was bloody raw in the middle but tender; the tart sumac did wonders for the chicken, which was a favorite, as was the shiraz, a harmonious concoction.

Reasonably priced vegetarian wraps – hummus, baba ghanoush and tabouli ($3.90 small, $5.90 large) – were filling. Ask for some feta to be thrown into the mix, a worthy recommendation from the sandwich maker. There's much to be appreciated at the House of Kabob – nothing is heavy but it's protein-rich, and the centuries-old spicing is a refreshing discovery.

You wouldn’t expect to find a restaurant on Orange Blossom Trail serving entrees at $30 per plate, but then again, who would expect a former Friendly’s restaurant, left to decay at the Sand Lake Road intersection for the past 8 years, to be gutted, refurbished at the cost of nearly $2 million and transformed into one of the most attractively ornamented restaurants in the city? Not many, I imagine, but there she stands, all dolled up and equipped to receive lovers of Mediterranean cuisine. Yet, unlike other segments of the strip, pleasure-seekers are nowhere to be seen, refuting the notion that if you build it they will come.

Inflated prices may have something to do with it, though lack of direct access to Maraya off either OBT or Sand Lake Road may also be a deterrent. But once inside, you can’t help but admire proprietor Violeta “Sabrina” Haddad’s interior design skills – the beautiful Italian porcelain tile floors alone are worthy of a prostrate perusal, and the wrought-iron wall hangings lend a pleasing rustic touch. Rustic touches appear on the menu as well, as in the simple roasted rack of lamb ($29.99), four succulent chops marinated in a blend of rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, cinnamon and other “Middle Eastern” seasonings that supplanted the lamb’s distinct flavor with an essence more akin to beef. Just as outstanding was the accompanying mound of rice, boiled in a veal-and-chicken stock that underscores the high standards of the kitchen. One sip of the broth in the chicken soup ($6.99) is all it takes to confirm the stock’s authenticity, while haricots verts and carrots add a bit of texture.

An appetizer plate of customary Lebanese staples ($15.99) offers a proper gastronomic cross-section of the owners’ native land: dense, crispy falafel; crackling kibbeh stuffed with seasoned ground beef, pine nuts and onions; creamy hummus with sesame tahini; zesty tabbouleh with fresh-squeezed lemon; and a flawless, garlic-tinged baba ghanoush.

Fish Parisienne ($17.99), spaghetti Bolognese ($14.99) and deep-fried Dubrovnik shrimp ($12.99) are somewhat representative of the region, but chicken kebabs ($16.99) are a truer, and extraordinary, Mediterranean offering. An assertive dip of garlic paste sharpened every juicy bite, augmented further by that wonderful rice. The beef kebabs ($19.99) proved too meager to endorse – I would’ve expected twice as much even if I were paying half the price.

Kenafa ($8.99), a baked pastry filled with semi-soft ackawi cheese and drizzled with a light syrup, ended the affair with intrigue. At once sweet, salty, flaky and sticky, the dense dessert filled the void left by the beef kebabs. Chocolate sauce and cinnamon overwhelmed the tiramisu ($7.99).

It’s a tall order, but if you can look beyond the prices, there’s some outstanding food to be had here, and if you can’t, prices on the lunch menu are much less steep. Even so, one can’t help but root for Maraya to press on in the face of facelessness and pull out all the stops to attract patrons to the restaurant. A new sign on OBT will help, as will belly dancers and a beautiful outdoor hookah terrace, but in the fickle world of the food and beverage industry, smoke and mirrors can only go so far.

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.

OBT spot is equal parts specialty grocery store, hookah supply, deli (all sorts of ready-prepared foods to take away) and lunch counter (fresh hot sandwiches sliced to order). A gaggle of smiling, gregarious women serve some of the best shawarma in town, sided with refreshing tomato-and-cucumber salad garlicky enough to ward off the undead.


Teaser: OBT spot is equal parts specialty grocery store, hookah supply, deli (all sorts of ready-prepared foods to take away) and lunch counter (fresh hot sandwiches sliced to order). A gaggle of smiling, gregarious women serve some of the best shawarma in town, sided with refreshing tomato-and-cucumber salad garlicky enough to ward off the undead.

Judaic dietary law dictates that in order for a kitchen to be considered kashrut, dairy products and ritually slaughtered meat (beef and chicken) need to be segregated. As a result, you won’t find cheese pizza at a kosher deli with a meat kitchen, or beef brisket at a kosher sandwich joint with a dairy kitchen. Olé Gourmet falls into the latter category, and because of the dearth of meat dishes (fish notwithstanding), it’s become a draw for area vegetarians intrigued by the mix of Mediterranean, Mexican, Italian and, of course, Israeli staples.

The small space is dominated by mustard and coffee-colored walls, not to mention a sizable open kitchen where owner Ed Leibowitz, as friendly and accommodating a chap as you’ll ever meet, along with his wife Bracha and sous-chef Meir Kokin, prepare a slew of items from the multicultural menu, often with mixed results. Fried falafel anchors the Israeli platter ($13.95) and while the crisp, greaseless chickpea croquettes met all textural requirements, the flavor had the distinct flavor and aroma of the sea, likely because they were fried in the same oil as the fish and chips ($8.95). Matbucha, a cooked salad dish brought to the Holy Land by North African immigrants, was the winner of the lot with its fiery mix of tomatoes, roasted peppers, olive oil and garlic. Tearing up a piece of pita bread and scooping up Turkish eggplant salad also proved enjoyable, but the hummus and vinegary red cabbage salad were both a tad ordinary. Baba ganoush, tahini and tabouli (items listed as part of the platter) failed to materialize, but I later learned that the platter includes falafel and your choice of five items. This isn’t evident from reading the menu, and nothing was mentioned, so the house made the selections for me.

Sesame-flecked bureka ($8.50), another Turkish staple, disappointed, but had it been served warm, it could’ve been the fulfilling, flaky, potato-filled pastry I was expecting. The ashen core of the accompanying hard-boiled egg marked it as a victim of overboiling, though garden-fresh Israeli salad – cubed cucumbers and tomatoes splashed with lemon juice and olive oil – made an ideal palate cleanser.

The mild brining and smoky essence of Nova salmon ($11.95) should please fans of the cured fish, though I can’t say I was all too crazy about the oily consistency. The platter also came with a toasted bagel, cream cheese and chopped salad.

Doughy pizza olé ($12.95) is a saucy number made all the more gooey by a liberal crumbling of feta and mozzarella cheese, and further burdened by a healthy dose of olives and onions. Ungluing a pie wedge from the plate was an exercise in patience; shoving it into my mouth required speed, agility and dexterous use of my digits. Ultimately, the slice collapsed under the weight of the toppings, but the flavors were good.

For dessert, the Mount Hermon ($5.95), a moist, chocolatey representation of the Israeli peak, is everything a warm homemade brownie should be, with two dollops of melting vanilla ice cream resembling the snowy summit. Cherry essence overwhelmed the thick slab of chocolate “mudcake” ($4.95).

Olé means “going up” in Hebrew, and it’s a fitting moniker, considering the Leibowitzes’ commitment to elevating the standards of the fare. Paring down their extensive menu and focusing on dishes they do best will help them get to that promised land.

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