West to the Mediterranean 

Avon's The Mediterranean Grill offers strip-mall alternative

Avon’s The Mediterranean Grill offers strip-mall alternative

Terry Kirts
A kabob combo ($21.95)
Leave it to Avon to throw another curveball into the suburban dining scene. An ever-sprawling strip of big-box department stores and chain restaurants along State Road 36, Avon isn’t the place you’d expect to find a wealth of independent international restaurants. Amidst the corporate static, however, one can also find excellent barbecue places, respectable Mexican joints, good Thai food and, now, a Mediterranean restaurant whose appetizer plate contends for one of the best at any Greek or Middle Eastern place in the city. But dining at The Mediterranean Grill, open just a couple of months across from a Super Target Plaza, can cause some cognitive dissonance. First off, getting to the place can be a chore. Though it’s visible from the strip, finding the right turn-off, especially on an icy winter night, can be treacherous. You’ll get to know the nearby parking lots all too well before you realize you first must overshoot the restaurant, turn down a frontage road and find a narrow alleyway to sneak in. Thankfully, your perseverance will be rewarded. But the curiosities don’t stop here. Next, there’s the question of what interpretation of “Mediterranean” the restaurant is aiming for. While your grade school geography reminds you that this expansive sea extends from Gibraltar and the Iberian Peninsula to the Suez Canal and the Lebanese coastal mountains, don’t expect any paella or Moroccan tagines. Nor is there any Italian food, despite watercolors of Italian vistas and trattorias on the walls. While a few Lebanese and Turkish dishes do appear on the menu, most items, from pasticchio and moussaka to gyros and even flaming saganaki, will be familiar to lovers of Greek food. The cuisine is surprising, given that owner Naeem Abdelhak, who runs the restaurant with American wife Rebecca, is Palestinian, not Greek. Even more unexpected is a large display of Christian iconography, all for sale, inside the front door. Made in Jerusalem of rosewood rubbed in olive oil, the rosaries, figurines of angels and Nativity sets almost allow this eatery to double as a Christian gift shop. Our utterly charming waitress extolled the beauties of the sanctified merchandise. When we asked if she owned any, however, she responded, “No, no, that’s not my religion.” Despite such puzzles, The Mediterranean Grill, which inherited its location from a former wine shop, is an elegant restaurant, with vibrant jewel-toned walls, a colorful display of hookahs above the main counter and sturdier furnishings than you’d expect. The staff went out of its way to make us feel welcome, and our waitress met just about every request, boxing up every morsel we wanted to take home. The kitchen gladly honored our request that spanikopita be substituted on the Maza plate ($9.95). In the end, however, they wanted us to try everything and brought us a huge selection of tasty appetizers to sample. Starters are clearly the kitchen’s strength, and everything was as fresh and flavorful as you’d find anywhere, including piquant tabouli, a creamy, garlicky hommous shimmering with deep green olive oil, and an equally tasty, slightly chunky baba ghannooj. Warm pita bread was especially fresh, and that spanikopita was golden and rich with spinach that didn’t leech water into the pastry. A Greek salad and cup of lentil soup were quite good, the former with obviously hand-torn iceberg, the latter with a warm, fortifying broth. Given this delicious beginning, our entrees were slightly uneven, though with definite highlights. A Mediterranean combo ($14.95) included gyros meat our waitress raved about, an eggplant casserole and stuffed grape leaves. The grape leaves were the highlight, perfectly seasoned without too much spice. Gyros were standard, though flavorful. The casserole, on the other hand, could have been seasoned more, and tomato sauce seemed more like tomato paste mounded atop ground beef and scant eggplant. A kabob combo ($21.95) was also hit and miss. The kofta kabob, served sans skewer, was the best — juicy and with curious flavors too diverse for the kitchen to disclose. Lamb was tender and plentiful, but chicken was slightly dry and lacking salt. Green beans and rice, however, made a tasty base for what turned out to be a mammoth dinner. Baklava, the lone dessert, was some of the best around, tender and flaky with a thick layer of ground nuts and a good hit of cinnamon. Whatever its cultural allegiances, The Mediterranean Grill is a definite contender among all area restaurants alluding to that great melting pot. As we left, Naeem handed us a flyer with coupons for $10 off two entrees or $2 off a great selection of lunch sandwiches, including good old American hamburgers. Now that we know how to get to the Mediterranean, we will surely be back soon. The Mediterranean Grill 10230 E. State Road 36 Avon 273-8570 HOURS: Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Food : 3.5 Stars Atmosphere : 3.5 Stars Service : 4 Stars

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