Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Café Mezza - something for everyone

"My menu has something for everyone; hearty pastas, traditional American sandwiches, fresh homemade soups and salads. While at the same time we have marinated grilled kabobs, steaks, and ‘mezzas’ or assorted Mediterranean appetizers such as hummus and baba ganooch."

-Chef Mike Tibi, Café Mezza & Grille website

Café Mezza looks like a bad idea -- an Americanized cross between Middle Eastern food, Italian food, and the Cheesecake Factory. The bright, casual restaurant is in a strip center on Westheimer, outside the Loop just west of Fountainview. They play loud, bad 80s music. They offer well over 50 different dishes, including salads, pastas, sandwiches, and grilled meats. Their food sounds vaguely Middle Eastern (kabobs, hummus), vaguely Italian (fettuccini alfredo, chicken parmigiana), or just American (turkey melt, fish taco, veggie burger).

Yet I keep going back to Café Mezza. Every dish I have tried has been surprisingly good. Here are some of the best:

-Baba ganooch is usually a puree of eggplant, tahini, and olive oil. But at Café Mezza, it also includes diced tomatoes and walnuts, which really improves the texture. On comes on a plate with two other appetizers for $10.

-Fatoush salad is usually a salad of tomato, cucumber, olive oil, and vinegar. But the Café Mezza version adds crumbled feta, crispy bits of pita bread, and generous amount of mint, which greatly improves the flavor.

-Chicken apple sausage ($13) is fabulous. It comes with angel hair pasta, creamy spicy chipotle sauce, baby spinach, and carmelized granny smith apples. The dish is rich, smoky, sweet, and very spicy.

-A beef tenderloin salad ($12) sounds like a list of trendy ingredients from 15 years ago: chuncks of beef tenderloin, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, feta cheese, roasted garlic, and garlic dressing. The flavor of the dressing, and the combination of the ingredients, make this a very tasty dish.

-The fillet mignon on the shish kabob platter ($13) is good, as are the grilled vegetables on the side. But the best part of this dish is the basmatti rice, which is more flavorful than any basmatti rice I have ever had.

Café Mezza offers various kids platters for $5 and over 25 different sandwiches for $6 - $8.

Café Mezza also is BYOB. They do not charge a corkage fee.

Yes, the food at Café Mezza is a cultural mishmash. Yes, the menu looks like a Mediterranean version of Cheesecake Factory. Yes, Café Mezza blatantly panders to mainstream American tastes. But every dish I have had is innovative enough to be interesting. It tastes a lot better than Cheesecake Factory, or any other restaurant of that ilk. I get to bring my own wine. And it's cheap. How bad can that be?

1 comment:

Allie said...

I just wanted to comment really quickly that the fact that this restaurant makes a proper baba ganooch (as opposed to moutabal, which is usually labeled as baba ganooch) is the whole reason I'm going to be checking this restaurant out. Thanks for reviewing them, so I know to try this place out!