Thursday, May 23, 2013
By NANCY HEISER
When friends who used to live in the Middle East came to visit Maine recently, the four of us decided to visit the Mediterranean Grill in Freeport.
Mediterranean Grill has been open in Freeport since 2004. Don’t miss the tiropita – seasoned ground beef in phyllo;– or the baklava and Turkish coffee.
Jill Brady/Staff Photographer
MEDITERRANEAN GRILL, 10 School St., Freeport. 865-1688; mediterraneangrill.biz
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
CREDIT CARDS: All major
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $5.95 to $13.95, entrees, $15.95 to $29.95
KIDS: Welcome. Separate children's menu.
BAR: Full. Wines from Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, Spain, France, Sicily and California. About 60 different labels, $22 to $80. Nine beers on draft; Turkish beer in bottles.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No. An outdoor staircase leads to the front door.
BOTTOM LINE: The Mediterranean Grill offers a large menu of authentic food of Turkey, where the owners are from. Unusual blends of seasonings and ingredients create satisfying and robust dishes uncommon in Maine. You'll find large portions of homemade and home-style dishes, many at prices that won't break the bank. There were a few minor glitches on the night we visited, and the decor doesn't jibe with the authentic food, but when the kitchen and staff run on all cylinders, watch out. This place could be great. Outdoor seating in the summer.
Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:
* Poor ** Fair *** Good **** Excellent ***** Extraordinary.
The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.
Since 2004, co-owners and brothers Kemal and Erkan Cigri have been bringing authentic flavors from their native Turkey to this spot located just off Route 1's stretch of retail outlets. Kemal works the front of the house; Erkan is the chef. He uses many of their mother's recipes in the restaurant.
Turkish food fuses cuisine from surrounding regions -- the Middle East, Balkans, Central Asia and Western Europe. Yogurt is frequently consumed (the English word derives from the Turkish), as are eggplant, leeks, potatoes, nuts, legumes, lamb, ground meat and some seafood.
Within the country, regions differ in how they season dishes, although parsley, oregano, thyme, mint, red pepper, cumin and olive oil are common.
My friend loves hummus, and makes it all the time. He wanted to try it at Mediterranean Grill, where the cook adds homemade yogurt to the mashed chickpeas, garlic and tahini. But they were out of this standard and popular spread, which was surprising at 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday.
Babaghannush, an eggplant puree, ably stood in ($6.50). The mix was milder than my friends were used to -- less garlicky and missing a roasted taste, which was probably due to regional differences -- but we enjoyed it all the same.
We added another delectable appetizer, shredded carrots mixed with garlic and yogurt ($5.95), to our mezze table. We dipped the two appetizers, along with the house's seasoned olive oil -- it is infused with pomegranate paste and other spices -- in slices of their homemade bread, which resembled Italian but is traditional. "We use flatbread for sandwiches," Kemal said later when I asked about the round loaf.
A nicely composed salad of mixed greens, pistachios, sunflower seeds, raisins and cow's milk feta cheese in a homemade balsamic vinaigrette ($8.95) completed our introductory course. (Worth noting is the fact that the restaurant's appetizer of sliced feta uses sheep's milk cheese imported from Turkey.)
The tang of yogurt and the low heat of cumin and red pepper primed our palates for the main course. Once we got beyond the disappointing news that the kitchen's homemade iskender -- gyro meat of beef and lamb made on traditional cone spit, shaved thin, and served with red pepper and tomato sauce -- was not available, we enjoyed our entrees quite a bit. The gyro meat takes four to five hours to prepare, and they sold out at lunch, Kemal told me later.
Chicken kofte was four slider-sized patties of ground chicken with a char-grilled flavor and spiced to a mild heat. It was moist with the seasoned olive oil, and topped with a mushroom sauce ($17.95). Delicious.
Large cubes of well-done lamb shish kebabs served off their skewer bore an earthy and deep flavor ($25.95). A golden and custardy bechamel topped a robust vegetable musakka. The baked dish was a tasty medley of potato, eggplant and plenty of soft onions ($15.95) in a creamy sauce with bite.
The hearty tiropita ($17.95) resembled a French-Canadian tourtiere in appearance. Ground beef sauteed with herbs and plenty of onions and garlic came encased in a large, pie-like package of golden, crusty phyllo. Dip forkfuls of meat and pastry into a mushroom or tangy red sauce, and you'll end up full and happy.
Two of us began with red lentil soup ($2.50 when added to an entree) that was barely thicker than water. This texture may be surprising to Westerners, but it is customary. Likewise, the side of mostly green beans cooked so soft that they lose their shape (think of your grandmother's) is the traditional Turkish preparation. I liked this mound of spicy, pulpy vegetables.
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