Review: Medina Mediterranean Grill in St. Louis
Some dishes at the family-run Medina Mediterranean Grill showcase chef-owner Ibrahim Ead’s Palestinian heritage, but as the name indicates, many travel widely throughout the Mediterranean region. Fusion cooking is difficult to do well and can do a disservice to the foods of particular cultures by combining them. Medina has no such problem.
The restaurant seats about two dozen with sidewalk tables available in warmer weather. The decor is understated and tasteful. Arabic calligraphy and posters hang on the exposed brick walls, and tiles in muted tones surround the counter and open kitchen, where beef and chicken shawarma pirouette on onion-topped vertical spits. When you arrive at the counter you may get samples to help you order, but I was only offered the option on my first visit.
It's all about the shawarma
Shawarma varies among cultures and countries. Here, the Palestinian influence gives a sumac-forward flavor, lending a distinct, slightly tart bite. Before the meat is added to a dish, both chicken and beef are sliced from the skewers, seared on the grill and tossed with garlic tomato paste.
The Original Palestine was the most traditional sandwich offering, with a choice of beef or chicken shawarma atop pita with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and tahini sauce. It was a particularly flavorful version of a familiar dish. The Dodana with chicken shawarma was also a big hit. The meat was remarkably tender, served on pita with black olives, onions, feta, pepperoncini, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber sauce. Both are solid choices that didn’t disappoint.
Less traditional, the Juicy Jerusalem with chicken shawarma was served on toasted French bread with onions, roasted bell peppers, provolone and basil pesto. The pesto played a quiet but welcome supporting role in the overall production. On a menu with many tasty offerings, this well-constructed sandwich was my favorite dish.
Keeping with the nontraditional, fusion theme, the Medina Grilled Cheese sandwich (with cheddar, provolone, pepper jack and smoked Gouda served on French bread) was closer to cheesy bread than the typical, after-school snack version. I’ve never met a melted cheese I didn’t like, and there was nothing wrong with this sandwich, but the others have more to offer.
Falafel for the win
A self-service fridge holds hummus plates along with bottled drinks like soda, aloe and other juices. Goldilocks would choose this hummus; not too smooth or too chunky, it was just right. Topping options for the house-made hummus include pickles, chile sauce or whole chickpeas. Each comes with thin triangles of pita, which would benefit from being warmed before served.
For a few extra dollars, you can add a drink and chips or falafel to a sandwich to make it a meal. This brings up an important question: Who wants chips when there’s falafel? On the first visit, it was a bit dry, an issue quickly remedied by the accompanying garlic tahini sauce. On my second trip, the falafel was ideal – perfectly seasoned, crispy on the outside and substantial without being dense.
Several salads are available in whole and half sizes. I only tried the Aigosthena, which came with romaine (rather than the expected iceburg, which was a pleasant surprise), onion, tomato, olives, feta and a balsamic vinaigrette that was a bit too sweet for my taste. The Al-Andalus and shawarma salads both come with shawarma, if you want something more filling.
Dessert selections vary, but usually include baklava. This square of buttery goodness with walnuts was unlike most honey-heavy versions I’ve had. It was so good, baklava daydreams distracted me for weeks.
Medina Mediterranean Grill combines cross-cultural ingredients in a delightful way, which is no easy feat. It’s a great alternative to fast food: fresh and filling without weighing you down in the afternoon.
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