When it comes to Greek food, I'm both a harsh and incomplete judge. Harsh, because my Greek Yia Yia was such a great cook that many dishes pale next to hers. But incomplete, because I've never been a big fan of some Greek staples, like moussaka and pastitsio. I'm more of a lamb, Greek chicken and dolmas kind of gal. But one dish remains her crowning glory: avgolemono (egg-lemon) soup. Frothy, pale yellow and swimming with orzo, my brother and I used to call this the "good dreams" soup, because it filled our little tummies with a glow of comfort and joy.
So, when some foodie friends raved about Café Medi in Hurst, I sallied forth with both hope and trepidation.
Trepidation was unfounded. Café Medi made me want to shout "Opa!"
The menu is a hybrid of Middle Eastern and Greek, with dishes like kefta kebabs and shawarma rubbing elbows with souvlaki, and, yep, pastitsio and moussaka (most around the $9-$10 range).
The appetizer list was filled with promising fare, and instead of settling for one or two apps, we went for the vegetarian plate, which comes with a medley of hummus, falafel, dolmas and spanakopita ($7.95).
The hummus was pretty perfect, smooth and creamy, with just the right tinge of garlic and olive oil. The dolmas -- grape leaves stuffed with rice, parsley, onion and spices -- were another of Yia Yia's specialties, so I'm often disappointed by these, too. Not this time. They were delicious -- even to my fellow diners, who didn't fancy themselves dolma lovers. The grape leaves were super-tender, and the onions concealed enough for this onion hater.
As for the spanakopita, sometimes it can be packed like a brick with spinach. But Café Medi's was a mouthwatering (if mammoth) mound of puff pastry, filled with just the right amount of feta cheese and tender spinach, with a savory touch of mint. And lastly, the falafel was light with a nice, crunchy texture; it could've used a bit more seasoning, but once you dipped it in any of the sauces (hummus, tahini or garlic), that quibble disappeared.
We all agreed that we could easily order the entree version of the vegetarian plate ($9.95) upon a future visit.
But now onto the main event. From the moment we walked in, two items on the specials board caught my eye, and I called them: Lamb chops! And lemon and rice soup!
One companion ordered the moussaka ($9.95), sometimes referred to as Greek lasagna because of its meat-and-cheese layers, and she adored it. The dish was a lively medley of flavors: ground beef, bites of eggplant and a light, velvety béchamel sauce (mmm ... nutmeg) neatly layered and topped with a marinara sauce that added a tangy sweetness. I snuck a few bites, and although I don't think it'll convert me into a moussaka maniac, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. All entrees come with rice, vegetables and a side salad, but she substituted the latter for a Greek salad -- the $3.95 upcharge wasn't bad, considering the size of the salad, which was topped with a Mount Olympus of feta.
Our other diner went the more Middle Eastern route, with an order of shawarma ($7.95) -- strips of juicy, marinated beef and chicken, served with a side of tahini and garlic sauce. He wrapped the meat in a perfectly warm pita, and the result was both filling and flavorful.
My lamb chops ($15.95) were meatier than many chops, perfectly cooked and succulent. But this is a Greek place (owner Manos Moursi has a Greek dad; so do I), so it could maybe afford a heavier hand with the oregano.
So what about the lemon and rice soup ($5.95) I yearned for? Just examining it from above, I had my reservations: 1) the color -- a kind of electric greenish-yellow; 2) is that dill flecking the soup?; and 3) rice instead of orzo. But I dove in with my spoon, and I couldn't believe my taste buds. The lemon was present but not overwhelming, and the broth consistency was as it should be -- somewhere in between frothy and sturdy. The dill was a lovely little complement. It wasn't the same as the "good dreams" soup of my youth, but I finally found an avgolemono soup that I like nearly as much as Yia Yia's.
With such raves all around, we were sure dessert would be a letdown. And we were partly right. The galaktoboureko (Greek custard) was a warm, yummy, cinnamon-dusted delight. But the baklava, that staple of Greek desserts, was too dry. You couldn't pick up a bite without reducing it to a smattering of crumbs. But maybe it was just an off day for baklava. In her lifetime, Yia Yia certainly had a few of those. I think she'd forgive.
And if she were still with us, she'd go with me to Café Medi and give it her stamp of approval.