Even though there are quite a few Mediterranean/Middle Eastern restaurants located in New Tampa, based on what I’ve already tasted and heard from customers, it’s still well worth a few-minute drive to the Eagle Plaza on Oak Grove Blvd. at S.R. 54 in Lutz to try the new Garden Mediterranean Grill.
Owners Raja Saad and her husband, Chef Hedi Jlassi (top photo) are both from the Arabic North African nation of Tunisia and they offer a huge variety of delicious Mediterranean-influenced food in a beautiful, but casual setting.
The restaurant now called Garden Mediterranean Grill has had a number of previous tenants, including a Latin restaurant and a number of coffee shops, but Raja and Hedi and their family believe that they have brought the right cuisine and the right price to the location — and yes, the food is delicious!
Whether you dine as a couple of bring a large family or group of friends to the Garden, you’re sure to find plenty of options, as well as huge portions.
To start, try the Foule (pronounced “fool”; center photo, far right), a delicious dish of puréed fava beans, garlic, lemon and topped with virgin olive oil. It’s served with the fluffiest pita bread I’ve had anywhere. To really get into the variety of starters, however, Raja and Hedi recommend the appetizer platter, which includes hummus, baba Ghanouj (mashed, cooked eggplant), labneh (strained yogurt), falafel (fried, ground chick peas) and grape leaves. Other starters include fried calamari, Nabulsi fried cheese, tabouli (chopped parsley, diced tomatoes, onions, dry mint, lemon juice and olive oil), shakshouka merguez (sautée of Merguez sausage and eggs cooked with tomatoes, onion, garlic and spices and even shrimp scampi.
So far, the only salad I’ve sampled is the tangy house salad (diced tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, lettuce, parsley, herbs, olive oil and lemon juice), but there also is a great-looking Greek salad, fattoush, tahini and Caesar salads. You also can top your salad with a variety of meats and seafood, including chicken kabobs (so good) or shawarma, beef or lamb shish kabobs, kufta (ground lamb) kabobs, delicious, fresh-cut gyro meat, salmon or shrimp.
I haven’t sampled any of the sandwiches yet, but I have had several of the meats available as sandwiches as entrée platters. The sandwich that looked the most interesting to me was the chicken shawarma quesadilla, which is a nice Middle Eastern take on the popular Mexican dish which combines sliced chicken shawarma meat and a delicious garlic sauce with cheese, onions and tomatoes stuffed inside a soft tortilla. There’s also fish, shrimp and falafel wraps on the menu.
The perfectly-season meat entrée platters all include long-grain yellow rice and amazing grilled veggies (onions and red and green peppers; Jannah and I order them well-cooked). Among my favorite entrées so far are the gyro, beef shawarma and chicken kabob platters, but my can’t-miss option so far is the lamb chop platter. You get four tender, delicious rib chops that are grilled to perfection.
Other entrée options include Turkish kabobs (ground lamb and beef, but Raja says they are different from kufta kabobs), Merguez sausage, lamb shanks and chicken tekka, which is a marinated half-chicken char-grilled in what appears to be an Indian-influenced blend of spices. I didn’t taste it but photographer Charmaine George said it was outstanding.
Although I can’t eat shrimp and personally don’t love salmon or tilapia, the seafood entrées include shrimp kabobs, salmon, fish and mixed seafood platters, as well as the char-broiled whole fish of the day, usually red snapper or bronzino. There are also are large meat-lovers’ platters (with shish, kufta and chicken kabobs, gyro and beef and chicken shawarma) and royal meat-lovers’ platters (add lamb chops, shrimp and salmon), both in sizes to serve 2-3 and 4-6 people, although all of them honestly look like they could serve even more people to me.
Desserts & Beverages!
Like most Mediterranean restaurants, Garden Mediterranean Grill offers dessert favorites like baklava, warbat (filo dough stuffed with cream) and a variety of cakes, but my favorite so far are the almond baklava fingers shown and the salted caramel cheesecake. I’ve yet to try the baklava with ice cream, but it’s definitely on my list. As for beverages, try the Turkish coffee, the Moroccan mint green tea and the fresh mint lemonade.
Garden Mediterranean Grill is located at 1900 Oak Grove Blvd., Lutz (zip code 33559) and is open Mon.-Thur., 10 a.m.-10 p.m., 10 a.m.-11 p.m. on Fri., 9 a.m.-11 p.m. on Sat. and 9 a.m.-10 p.m. on Sun. For more information, call (813) 528-8088 or see the ad on pg. 39 of our latest issues for a Grand Opening Special 15%-off coupon.