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Mediterranean Cafe

Mediterranean CafeIn a word: David to the fast food Goliaths downtown.

The specs: #0374
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Yelp, Isthmus Ombudsman, Badger Herald, Dane 101, MyAlgeria.com, Cap Times; MySpace; Mediterranean Cafe on Urbanspoon

Latest Mediterranean Cafe news and reviews at del.icio.us

Ann ate the chicken apricot pie with a lemonade.
JM ate the falafel plate with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the chicken apricot pie with an Americano and a couple pieces of baklava to go.
Peter H. ate the lamb hummus plate with a lemonade.
The bill was $19.78 plus tip (for 2).
JM gave Mediterranean Cafe an A-; Nichole gave Mediterranean Cafe an A (see our grading rubric).

Mediterranean Cafe is another east campus/State Street institution, beloved of students, former students, random passers-by and anyone who appreciates a good value on homecooked, pan-Mediterranean eats. At lunchtime the line pours out the door and down the street but tables turn fast, thanks to ample staffing and fast hands. Daily specials, of which the chicken apricot pie was one, add variety to a small but solid menu.

Though our meal today was off to an inauspicious start - we dumped our lemonades - the staff cleaned up and replaced the drinks very quickly and with a smile. While we're on the subject of beverages, Nichole's Americano was hot and rich.

The ubiquitous pita was great. (Ever the good neighbor, Med Cafe collects bread scraps to feed some needy chickens and reduce waste at the same time). The salads that came with each of our meals featured very red tomatoes, fresh cucumbers and romaine lettuce with a light vinegar and oil dressing, with just a hint of dill. Rice was another staple of each plate, the grains of which were individual, lightly oiled, and a bit salty. 

FalafelPeter tried the lamb hummus plate, which featured excellent, tender lamb a la gyros meat. The schwarma was a bit on the sour side, and the hummus a little too runny. On JM's falafel plate, his favorite was the salad, while the rice and sauce were just OK. The falafel itself was quite good though a little dry despite the yogurt sauce, and he finished it off.

Chicken apricot pieAnn and Nichole both opted for the chicken apricot pie - think casserole. The sweet, starchy base of rice, apricots, and chicken pieces could have used a textural contrast. Though it included slivered almonds, these were sogged out. The base layer was topped with a creamy, custard-like stratum that tasted vaguely of rosewater but not cloyingly so. The pastry topping above that was nicely browned but under yet another layer of thinner plain yogurt. This all added up to a melange that started out comforting and warm but ended up a little too sweet - that and the large portions led Nichole and Ann to leave some of their lunches untouched.

While in the Ms, JM has bemoaned that too many places were women's places: Ma-Cha, Macy's Cafe, Madeleine's, Marigold Kitchen etc.  These places give off a vibe of emasculation. Or as Ann and Peter put it less bluntly, "Chick places always have salads and desserts. Guy places have big helpings of meat."  Med Cafe seems to be toeing the line between the manly portions and the more XX-chromosome cuisine. This turns out to also reflect the clientele, which is basically anybody who wants a fast & cheap lunch that is really tasty.   

Comments

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The prices have gone up a bit lately but it's still one of the most popular and best choices for the UW crowd. I eat here one or two times every week. Caspian cafe and King of Falafel are of equal caliber, and in some ways of even higher quality, but Med cafe is the only truly fast food of the three. Menu highlights include the massive spinach pie and moderately portioned schwarma plates. But my favorite has to be the super-affordable 'med sandwich'--a giant vegetarian pita wrap filled with feta, tomato, tabouli, and hummus.

Another great thing I must mention (in addition to the aforementioned details) is that the staff at Med Cafe are not only good with honoring special requests, but they remember them for customers as well. For instance, I requested to not have feta cheese on the salad that comes with the entrees, (long story, I can't eat cheese. Horrible for Wisconsin, I know). After the first few times eating there, they remembered every time to not put any on my salad. Much kudos to them for the great customer service!

If you even eat here, be sure to get the Arabic tea. It's very hot and sweet, and is only $1 for a cup ($.50 for a refill). I come here often as I'm passing by just for a cup of the tea.

I'm kind of concerned that you believe certain types of food, or certain portion sizes, to be gendered.

...And that the 'chick' types of food and portions are naturally inferior. Yeah, not buying it either way.

Thank you for your comment. Please let us apologize that our words conveyed the idea that foods are gendered. (That certain foods might be marketed to certain demographics is closer to what we meant, and is a whole 'nother conversation).

Let me say most emphatically that neither JM nor I desire to assign value based on gender, ever. When those kinds of patterns of thought manifest themselves in our lives or words we own up, examine, and apologize (see also my hamfisted attempt to talk about what made me uncomfortable about the "sorostitute" sandwich) - so again, I am sorry that we gave that impression.

We will try to do better. Thanks for keeping us on our toes.

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