Before Café Mediterranean, my attitude toward Mediterranean food was becoming a bit jaded.
It was that cynical “if you’ve seen one stuffed grape leaf, you’ve seen them all” mentality. But when I took my first bite of Stuffed Grape Leaves ($5.45) at Café Mediterranean (which serves Turkish, Greek and Lebanese dishes), I fell in love with them all over again.
These weren’t the dry, thin and stingy grape leaves you often find in restaurants or, worse, in specialty food stores. No, these were fat and sumptuous, doused but not drowning in olive oil and flooding the palate with a rush of sweet cinnamon, plump currants and pine nuts.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a more sensuous Turkish dish, and it was just a grape leaf.
This was only our appetizer, so you can imagine that we were really looking forward to our entrees.
Tucked into Anderson Towne Center next to Macy’s, Café Mediterranean is swimming in a sea of chains. When we first arrived and I saw its polished sign and facade, I assumed it too was a chain and that someone had made a mistake. But Mehmet Coskun, one of two owners, assured us that it's an independently-owned business.
For a relatively new restaurant, it’s remarkably polished. The service is impeccable and professional, so much so that it seems choreographed. The dining room is spacious and the décor is elegant and sophisticated.
While the restaurant has been open 18 months, the owner still has that “new restaurant glow” and a high degree of passion (not jadedness) when he talks about his venture.
Open, friendly and soft-spoken, Coskun explained to us that it had always been his dream to open a restaurant and that he’d gotten his start when he helped open Café Istanbul in Columbus and later in Newport. But soon the call to open his own place was too overwhelming not to follow it.
While it’s been a lot of work and he lost a partner along the way, Coskun is hopeful that the restaurant will ride out the wave of the recession. While we dined, we watched him go to every table and introduce himself, also making sure to say goodbye to every party that was leaving. It’s this type of hospitality that makes a good restaurant even better.
While I struggled a bit with the menu because I’m allergic to tomatoes — Turkish food loves its tomato bases and most of the vegetarian entrees, such as the Couscous and Vegetables ($13.95), were made ahead of time — our server recommended alternatives. I always think one of the marks of a good restaurant is a willingness to work with “special food need” folks like me. While I considered making a meal of appetizers such as Borek ($4.95), lightly fried pastry with cheese and parsley, and Spinach Pie ($6.95), filled with pastrami and red peppers and topped with cheese, I finally opted for the Broiled Tilapia ($17.75) with special cream sauce and a mixed green salad. While I think tilapia is a fairly boring fish, I wasn’t up for the Swordfish Kebab ($20.75) or the Shrimp Casserole ($16.95).
My dining partner ordered the Salmon in Grape Leaves ($16.95) after asking a multitude of questions about where the salmon hailed from and how it was raised. There were so many questions I think the server started wondering if he was planning on marrying it instead of eating it, but she was endlessly patient with us.
Our entrees arrived with a presentation fit for royalty. Hot pink slaw, a shock of orange carrots and European greens brightly accented both dishes; the plates were huge and the portions generous.
Of course, we were just as thrilled with our entrees as we were with our appetizer. While my dining partner remarked that the Atlantic salmon was a bit “mushy,” we decided that this was inescapable since it was buried in grape leaves and olive oil. The tilapia was fresh and peppered with paprika. The cream sauce was simple, with salt and pepper, onions and plump sautéed mushrooms.
While it’s a bit of a drive for us, we promised we’d return to Café Mediterranean many times. But next time we’ll come on a Monday or Tuesday, both half-price wine nights, and reserve the Ottoman room, where you can eat on ornate pillows strewn across the floor, rural Turkish style.
Go: 7454 Beechmont Ave., Anderson Twp.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.- 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Entrée Prices: $12.95-16.95
Payment: Most major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty
Accessibility: Fully accessible