By Elaine Walker and Spencer Rose
Can't swing a trip to the Mediterranean or the Middle East? Here's a culinary journey around Broward County that will satisfy your appetite for baba ghanoush and baklava.
A cross between a Greek seaside tavern and a nightclub. It all depends on when you show up. If you're in the mood for a quiet dinner, arrive early. By 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, bellydancers take the stage, followed by a Greek band. Whenever you come, you'll find a vast menu of traditional Greek favorites, which work well on a budget because you can order a variety of generous "small" plates to share. The spanakopita has a light and flaky, just-baked quality, and the fried calamari is crispy with a bit of a peppery kick.
The best deal on the menu: a gyro platter that includes a generous portion of lamb, a Greek salad and piping hot, house-made fries. Homemade baklava, with a heavy dose of cinnamon and a finely chopped mix of nuts, is a great variation on a Greek classic.
3001 E. Commercial Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale; 954-616-1514; Appetizers and small plates $5.45-$14.95, traditional entrees $10.95-$15.95, seafood $18.95-$32.95.
Giorgio's Bakery & Bistro
On a nice night, tables at the patio here along the Intracoastal can be hard to come by. Inside, the atmosphere is like a European market café with an open kitchen and communal tables. The menu has Greek, Italian, French and American favorites, from moussaka and frittatas to grilled grouper and prosciutto sandwiches. The most expensive item is $16 (rib-eye steak), and most are under $10.
Save some of the complimentary, fresh-baked baguette for soaking up the flavorful tomato sauce of the frutti di mare pasta, a bowl loaded with calamari, mussels and shrimp -- way too much for one. Pair it with a Greek country salad featuring chunks of feta cheese, kalamata olives and a lemony vinaigrette, and you'll easily have a meal for two. The long-simmered lamb shank is falling-off-the-bone tender. Served with tomato orzo, it's a flavorful dish for a hearty appetite. Even if you're stuffed, it's hard to pass up the cases of fresh-baked chocolate layer cakes, tiramisu, napoleons and other desserts. Take one home for later or vow to return another night for coffee and dessert under the stars.
800 N. Ocean Dr., Hollywood; 954-929-5550; breakfast $1.25-$9.95, sandwiches and salads $6.50-$8.50, entrees and pasta $7.50-$16.
Al-Salam is one of those places you won't find unless someone sends you there. Tucked in a Plantation strip mall, the Middle Eastern restaurant is attached to a market that sells everything from spices to pita bread and desserts. The family-oriented restaurant is no-frills, with a Middle Eastern version of MTV playing on flat-screen televisions. Large parties of regulars come for the family grill platter, a dozen kebabs on a platter almost the size of the table.
If your group is smaller, there are still an overwhelming number of choices. The Al Salam mixed appetizer platter includes baba ghanoush, moussaka, tabouli, kibbeh, grape leaves, lemony hummus and falafel that was crispy on the outside and light and creamy inside. The chicken kebab was nicely charred yet moist inside, flavored by a tangy, vinegar-based marinade. One kebab was enough for two with a side salad and a serving of rice seasoned with cardamom, tumeric, coriander and other traditional spices.
1816 N. University Dr., Plantation; 954-916-5193; appetizers $3.49-$6.99, sandwiches $3.49-$6.99, platters $9.99-$14.99.
Got your own favorite Mideast resto in Broward? Leave a review!
Waitress Maria Ali carries a dinner order to a table at Al-Salam Restaurant. Photo: Jared Lazarus