Munch goes to Mediterranean Grill
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Munch was chatting up a Lebanese woman at a party, practicing undercover journalism at its finest.
"What's your favorite Middle Eastern restaurant in Pittsburgh?" Munch asked, casually assuming the identity of a small-talking party guest.
The woman, who lives in Wexford, told Munch that she'll make the trip all the way to Squirrel Hill to eat at Mediterranean Grill, on Forbes near Murray.
Munch was perplexed. Was this woman trying to dupe Munch? For Munch was rather familiar with the restaurants near Forbes and Murray, but had no idea what this woman was talking about.
Munch asked if she meant Aladdin's, and the women convincingly answered that she did not. It's on the same side of the street, the woman said, but closer to Murray.
Munch was fairly confident that no such place existed, but decided to round up Dear One of Munch (DOOM) and a pair of husband and wife Middle Eastern Food Fans (MEFFs) to investigate the matter.
The MEFFs quickly set Munch straight. Not only did such a place actually exist, but the male MEFF had once eaten there, and the female MEFF had eaten the take-out baba ghannouj.
But when Munch, DOOM, the MEFFs and their visiting Friend From Florida (FFF) actually piled into the Munchmobile to visit Mediterranean Grill, even the MEFFs started to lose faith. "I swear it was right around here," said the male MEFF.
Finally, Munch spotted a neon sign on a second story window, not visible for those keeping their eyes at street level (a likely scenario at this particular location, given the extensive display of lingerie in the window of the Pussycat store immediately next door).
Munch and friends entered the unmarked door and headed downstairs into an office building and around a corner to a darkened door. It wasn't until Munch actually walked in and saw other diners that Munch actually began to believe in the Mediterranean Grill.
And it wasn't until the restaurant passed the pita test that Munch truly started to relax. Munch absolutely cannot abide cold pita bread, and immediately touched a finger to the bread basket to make sure that the bread arrived to the table warm and toasty (it did).
When the cheery waitress brought menus, Munch was nearly overwhelmed with the options. Munch decided on baba ghannouj ($4.25) and lubia (green beans in tomato sauce, $4.95) for appetizers, and the table also insisted on vegetarian grape leaves ($5.25). While the prices may seem high for appetizers, Munch could easily make a perfectly adequate weekday lunch out of one of them, particularly when combined with the complimentary pita bread.
For entrees, Munch and the female MEFF split an order of falafel ($4.95) and a fattoush salad ($7.25). Male MEFF couldn't resist the moussaka (baked eggplant, $9) lunch special, FFF chose the tawook (grilled chicken, $9.25) lunch special and DOOM chose the baked kibbee (sirloin and bulghur wheat, $12.25).
The end result, was, shall we say, more food than could really even fit on the table, nearly all of it delicious. Munch was particularly impressed with the peppery fattoush, the moist and sweet chicken in the tawook and the deftly spiced grape leaves, a dish that Munch often finds cloying and overseasoned.
The male MEFF fawned over his moussaka, while the female MEFF praised the flavor of the falafel. The only negative, and it was slight, was DOOM's baked kibbee, which was a tad bland and dry. Slathering it in the complimentary cucumber yogurt salad seemed to remedy the problem, however.
Would Munch return to the Mediterranean Grill? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
But there's one thing Munch can't figure out. Even if it must be located in the basement of an office building, why doesn't the restaurant put a sign out front? Even the kung fu school located in the same building has a sidewalk sign.
It's one thing for Munch to adopt a disguise to thwart the prying eyes of an adoring public. But there's just no reason for the Mediterranean Grill to be hiding out undercover.
First Published December 6, 2007 12:00 am