Last summer was a season of new experiences for me. One experience that I now revisit almost every week is my encounter with Greek and Mediterranean foods.
I had my first taste at the now-closed Jerusalem Café. I recall a friend asking me, "Are you bold?" and me saying, "Yeah, bring it on!" I had doubts, but I enjoyed every single bite, especially falafel. Since last summer, I have cut meat out of my diet and have embraced a vegetarian way of life. Luckily all my favorite Greek and Mediterranean spots have excellent options for us non-meaters.
Aladdin Mediterranean Grill (730 Lakeland Drive, 601-366-6033; 163 Ridgeway, Suite E, Flowood, 601-992-7340). What I love about Aladdin is the cozy atmosphere, but don't let that fool you; this place is lively. The signature vegetarian delight includes generous portions of hummus, falafel, dolmas (grape leaves filled with a mixture of rice, onions, currants, pine nuts, mint and spices, and then gently steamed) and baba ghanouj (a dip that is similar to hummus, but made with eggplant instead of chickpeas). While at Aladdin, I recommend indulging in their tiramisu. I don't know if Aladdin's coffee is stronger, or if its recipe is like no other, but its tiramisu is the best I have ever had.
Wraps Restaurant (1220 E. Northside Drive, 601-366-2006). When I first walked in, the photos from Greece, catchy phrases on the walls, drawings and signs all mesmerized me. They even had a map of Greece. For a quick, delicious meal, try the vegetable gyro. The vegetables are diced and seasoned to perfection and served with Wraps signature tzatziki sauce. Did I mention that this gyro is priced under $5? Wraps sells its tzatziki sauce (made with yogurt and cucumbers—and not over garlicky) and any other fixings you may need to create your own feast at home.
Keifer's (705 Poplar Blvd., 601-355-6825; 120 N. Congress St., 601-353-4976). I recommend the vegetarian option and a side of cottage fries with feta dip. I also liked Keifer's Belhaven location and atmosphere. My son Chase, who came along, asked if it was Shrek's house because of the hardwood flooring and the faux medieval windows and doors resembling the interior of the ogre's swamp house. "Of course it is," I told him. Chase kept looking for Shrek to walk in serving hummus.
Mediterranean Fish and Grill (6550 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-956-0082). The first thing I noticed was how cozy and romantic this restaurant is. With lace drapery, low lighting and smaller tables that mostly seat two, it's ideal for a quiet lunch or date. If you eat fish (not me, I'm allergic) or if you're dining with a fish-eater, this may be your best choice. The restaurant offers a huge selection of fish: grouper, mahi mahi, tilapia, tuna, salmon, and about six others. The unique thing is that you can have your choice of fish seared and added into a salad. I ordered the falafel, hummus, and the Greek salad. The falafel were very large and served with extra-thick tzatziki sauce.
Vasilios Greek Cuisine (828 Highway 51, Madison, 601-853-0028). Vasilios offers the normal non-meat options on their menu, and they pride themselves on having the freshest produce. I have to agree. With many Jackson area restaurants being "bring your own (adult) beverages," finding wine on the Vasilios menu was a nice treat. The kids' menu is one of the best among the other Greek restaurants I tried. Along with a unique Greek pizza, Vasilios offer several non-Greek fares like hot dogs, hamburger and chicken strips for the youngsters.
Kristos Greek Dining (971 Madison Ave., Madison, 601-605-2266). Meat eaters flock to the newest Greek restaurant in the area for its famous Greek meatballs. For my fellow vegetarians, I suggest the cran-chicken salad, without the chicken, of course. The salad is made with fresh lettuce, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, glazed walnuts and feta cheese. Yum! Kristos also has wine and live entertainment.
Petra Café (2741 Old Canton Road, 601-366-0161; 2902 Hardy Street, Suite 50, Hattiesburg, 601-268-8850). Petra has several choices for vegetarians. I recommend the breaded eggplant served with Grecian sauce. The falafel here is amazing, as is the vegetarian delight (sautéed zucchini, squash, onions and mushrooms on top of rice with feta cheese), and the spinach pie (spinach and cheese stuffed in a filo shell).
I recommend visiting this restaurant Friday nights for live belly dancers during the Arabian Dance and Dinner Party. While I was there, I heard several guests rave about how great the hookah was (available on the patio) with its assortment of 32 tobacco flavors. Petra is the first Mediterranean restaurant in the Jackson metro area to offer a lunch buffet. The buffet is Monday through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. Petra Café also has a grocery store at their Hattiesburg location where you can purchase everything needed to prepare a Mediterranean dinner at home.
For more mouth-watering treats and tasty eats, chow down over at the JFP Bite Club Facebook page. Be sure to bring your appetite!