One of these days, I hope to take a trip to the Mediterranean, but for now I have to look locally for my fix of fresh grilled flavors and lemon zest. Here are three places worth exploring…
- When Maan Barazi opened Taza, a spin-off of his brother’s Ferdos Grill, about a year ago, the menu featured pizzas and pastas, but lately Barazi has been transitioning to Mediterranean and Greek specialties. You’ll still find chicken scaloppine and gnocchi, but the focus is on kebabs and Mediterranean appetizers. Large baskets of pita bread and fried pita chips arrive while you’re checking out the menu. The best way to get a little bit of everything is the sampler with hummus, baba ganoush (roasted eggplant spread), fatoosh (tomato and cucumber salad), stuffed grape leaves and falafel. If there are more than two of you, get a side order of falafel — the fried bites are so good you’ll be fighting over them otherwise. The signature kebabs with two large skewers are huge portions. The chicken version was incredibly flavorful and the gyro was another winner, but the steak kebab was bland and chewy. Gauzy curtains and separated dining areas make the 220-seat restaurant seem cozy. Live belly dancing shows on Saturday night are particularly fun for large groups.
- The Greek Joint in downtown Hollywood is a major upgrade for a tiny Harrison Street storefront that was once a fast-food wings spot. The interior, with about a half-dozen tables, has been spruced up, and outside seating has been added. The buffalo wings remain, but the rest of the menu focuses on souvlaki, gyros and pita sandwiches at incredibly reasonable prices, with a number of items under $5. The trade-off is that there are no extras like complimentary hummus. An order of the chickpea spread costs $4.95, and pita bread is another $1. For the same price, the spanakopita is a better choice. We would definitely return for the chicken souvlaki, with a lemon and oregano marinade that’s a perfect blend of flavors. The platter with two skewers, a side salad and fries is too much for one, unless you’re a huge eater. The gyros here are not made from the typical formed meat carved off a rotisserie but from chunks of lamb, though my husband would have liked more meat and punchier seasoning.
- Fort Lauderdale-based Greek Islands is one of the best places around to get Greek food, and everyone seems to know it. They don’t take reservations, so arrive early on a Saturday night or be guaranteed a wait in a line that snakes around the front of the restaurant. One of the things we love about Greek Islands’ menu is the wide variety of meze (small plates), including versions of house specialties like baby back ribs ladoregano. While you’re trying to decide, enjoy the chunky hummus and two kinds of fresh bread. If you’re on a budget, stick with the small plates and traditional Greek favorites like moussaka and pastisio, all $14 or under. If you want to splurge, go for the lamb chops, a house specialty. Perfectly grilled with lemon, oregano and olive oil, they have just the right zest. With about a half dozen chops, they’re perfect for sharing along with a few small plates. Some of our other favorites include spanakopita (spinach pie), calamari and the large baked shrimp with a lemon sauce. Keftedes (hamburger patties with mint, parsley and garlic) are perfect for kids.