A new name and continued culinary excellence at Mezza
The name The Pita Spot hardly captured the totality of the experience at the Lebanese restaurant on Route 1 in Mystic: grilled calamari over couscous ($20), eggplant, chickpea and slivered onion mousaka over rice ($15), grilled 'Lala' chicken served with garlic spread, pickles and pita bread ($10 half chicken; $20 whole), and Lebanese juices, pomegranate included, served alone ($4) or spritzed with seltzer ($5).
But now there is a sophisticated, and aptly more cosmopolitan, name: Mezza.
With ample parking in the front and outdoor seating in the warmer months, the interior of Mezza achieves the vibrant feel of a Middle Eastern cafe and grill its owner appears to be striving for.
The walls are a faux stucco. The floors are a tan tile. Ornaments and ceiling fans hang down from above diners seated at wooden chairs with matching wooden tables. A grill with an open flame is visible from the sides of the restaurant, as is a large press where the likes of the special fiery falafel wrap with grilled tomatoes ($12 lunch; $15 dinner) are pressed. Fresh flowers are at the center of the tables, and there is a consistent rhythm from upbeat music playing in the background.
I've been to Mezza enough times to consider myself something of a student of this uncommon menu, and I have to say the appetizer section is the most diverse, original and tasty section of this culinary syllabus.
There aren't many — really, there are zero — dishes I can compare to the grilled maloof pita ($8). It resembles a grilled quesadilla filled with purple cabbage, but its flavor is completely unexpected. Shreds of cabbage are marinated in olive oil, butter and garlic, then stuffed aplenty into a pita that's then charred on the grill. It's an exquisite combination of texture and taste, and it's the item I'd recommend most on account of the uniqueness of the concept and its stellar execution.
A delicious, though simply so, option is the fava bean starter — favas cooked with chickpeas before being marinated in a refreshing mix of olive oil and lemon, then served with fresh chopped parsley ($7).
Kibbeh consists of two oblong pouches formed from a mix of lean ground beef and bulgar wheat and stuffed with minced meat and pine nuts before being baked to a falafel like consistency($8.50).
And for the indecisive patron who wants to try a bit of everything, there is the Mezza platter, consisting of an eclectic pairing of the restaurant's most popular vegetarian appetizers: hummus, baba ghannouj, tabouli, falafel, and stuffed grape leaves ($15).
On the main entree side of things, there are many options you can't go wrong with, including the aforementioned fiery and fresh falafel wrap, also served as a plate ($11.50), and the eggplant and chickpea mousaka. A few I'd like to highlight in greater detail are the grilled tuna ($20), charbroiled lamb chops (offered at market price), and the "Lala" chicken.
The grilled tuna is prepared kabob-style and served over a romaine and citrus salad with a light, honey cilantro dressing. The effect is a delightfully tangy piquancy in a meal that is both fresh and refreshing. The tuna, flavorful, savory and moist, is best when prepared medium rare. The lamb chops are thick cuts of meat, well seasoned and charred until reaching a mouthwatering caramelization. It comes served over rice pilaf and a mix of grilled veggies.
The "Lala" chicken, dubbed "Uncle Andre's Famous" and secret recipe, consists of a whole or half chicken liberally marinated in herbs and spices before being charbroiled. The meat, when served, peels off easily and is noteworthy for its exceptional tenderness and flavor. I consider the half portion a steal at $10 and plenty for a single person (especially a patron who went a little wild on the appetizers).
Service at Mezza is prompt, efficient, charming and helpful. Several members of the wait staff work in unison to ensure steady service at each table. They take dinner and lunch orders, refill waters regularly, explain the ins and out of ingredients and preparation, and are happy to answer questions when displaying the options on an impressive dessert tray, which boasts a wide array of cakes and other pastries.
Tony Hokayem, who co-owns Mezza, can also be seen mingling with guests and chatting at length with regulars. Energetic and warm, he appears proud of his establishment, and he has reason to be.
If you go
45 Williams Ave., Mystic
Food type: Mediterranean/Middle Eastern
Service: Friendly and accommodating
Price: Inexpensive to moderate
Hours: Lunch: Tuesday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner: Tuesday-Thursday, 5-8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5-9:30 p.m., Sunday, 5-9 p.m.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover
Handicapped access: Yes
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