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Authentic experiences await at cafe

May 10, 2009|By OMNI VORE

The Mediterranean Cafe anchors the corner of West Washington and Charles Streets in downtown Charles Town, W.Va. The street sign tripod invited us in with promises of beef kabobs. Exotic Middle Eastern music greeted us as we entered. Staff members hailed us from their seats near the kitchen.

We were the first to arrive that Friday night. Immediately we were given a plate of feta cheese, warm pita bread and stuffed olives marinated in a dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and oregano. We felt welcomed.

Menu options covered foods from the Old Country: Italy, France, Spain, Lebanon, Morocco, Persia. Our eyes leapt to the description of food from Persia. Long ago, we had pored through a Persian cookbook by Maideh Mazda in which the author explored the glories of that region's cooking.

The Professor and I have loved Persian food ever since. To find a Persian meal in Charles Town was unexpected. So, with great delight we ordered from the Persian offerings on the menu.


Our appetizer was dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves) made fresh on the premises. Five hand-made dolmeh - cooked grape leaves wrapped around rice, ground beef and tomatoes - were served on a large white plate with tomato and lime slices. A small bowl held a dressing of yogurt, dill and cucumber. The dolmeh were served warm, not heavily spiced and were delicious.

The Professor took out his iPod. It worked; the cafe had Wi-Fi, a real plus in the business community and for those who are wired.

On Fridays, the Mediterranean Cafe featured a local musician. We were happy to see David LaFleur enter and begin to set up for his evening's performance of folk guitar music.

I looked up and saw a pressed tin ceiling and looked down to see large squares of black and white linoleum. The walls were painted peach and light orange, a pleasing background. Rugs covered the floor and the plate glass window was covered with sheer purple curtains and paisley drapes with tassels. A beaded curtain hung in a doorway.

Our hostess brought us fresh brewed coffee with lots of cream. We waited with anticipation for our main courses of kabob-e-barq (grilled steak kabobs with basmati rice) and khoresht-e bademjan (eggplant stew with chunks of beef) and lentils in a lemon-and-tomato stew served with basmati rice.

When our meal came, there were many kabobs of grilled beef. But when I looked at my stew, I was disappointed. It tasted very good, but was mostly rice. For $10.99, I wanted more. So I called our hostess over and said, "I am not happy with this. I need meat."

It is at a point like this that one can truly judge a restaurant. Our hostess passed this test. She said, "That's the way it is made here. I am sorry you don't like it, but we would be glad to make you a skewer of beef kabob. At no charge. It won't take long at all."

Our second kabob came and it was better than the first. It was fresh from the grill, sizzling hot and marinated to perfection. I appreciated the immediate apology and generosity. This is how restaurants should deal with patrons' problems. We were very happy customers.

We went on to the pleasure of dessert. "I will make you a dessert platter," our hostess had said. We trusted her.

She presented us with a plate with baklava, three cookies and two pieces of Turkish delight, a fig-and-pistachio confection. Simultaneously, we saw friends walk in carrying a bottle of wine.

"They don't have their liquor license yet," our friend explained, "but they can serve it."

A large party came in just then and sat down. Other groups followed with bottles of wine. LaFleur started playing "The Water is Wide," and, all of a sudden, the energy of the place exploded. Everyone was laughing and talking and sipping wine and eating appetizers.

We turned to our desserts. Each piece was very small, but oh, so very delicious. And real. The cookies were only a memory of a cookie - dry, not too sweet, melt-in-your-mouth crumbles. The baklava was crunchy and honeyed and utterly satisfying.

The Turkish delight reminded us of poor Edmund in C.S. Lewis' fantasy "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Edmund had a weakness for Turkish delight. How could we just eat one bite? There had to be more. But there was no more and we were running late. So we asked for our bill. And a little bit of information.

"Where is your chef from?" We expected to hear somewhere in the Middle East. But our hostess said, "Honduras. He worked in a Persian kitchen for 15 years."

"And the owner, where is he from?" the Professor asked.

"I am from Israel," she said.

We were amazed that our kind hostess was the owner. And we wondered at the cosmopolitan event of eating Persian food in the Mediterranean Cafe, whose chef is Honduran and whose owner is Israeli, in a small town in West Virginia.

Omni Vore is the pseudo-nym for a Herald-Mail freelance writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

The Mediterranean Cafe

4 stars (out of 5)

Food: 5 stars

Service: 5 stars

Ambiance: 3 stars

Value: 4 stars

Address: 132 W. Washington St., Charles Town, W.Va.

Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Style: Mediterranean cuisine

Phone: 304-724-9992


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